If you’ve been paying attention to the produce section of our local grocery stores this past week, you may have noticed that fresh cranberries have arrived. I adore baking with fresh cranberries, and marvel at how the right recipe can transform these hard, sour berries into pools of gently tart and jammy flavor, as happens in these jumbo-domed Cran-Orange Streusel Muffins.

The sweet citrus of oranges is the perfect complement to the tart cranberries, and this recipe uses both orange juice and orange zest to ensure that every bite explodes with flavor. My favorite tool for zesting citrus fruits is the Microplane zester, which gently removes the zest without collecting any of the bitter white pith.

These muffins boast a light and tender crumb studded with fresh cranberries and a muffin top that is sugary crisp, perfect for coffee dunking. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
These muffins boast a light and tender crumb studded with fresh cranberries and a muffin top that is sugary crisp, perfect for coffee dunking. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

While these muffins appear to be jumbo-sized, a regular muffin tin and a few helpful tips are all you need to achieve the impressive, streusel-topped height of these muffins. The first tip is to fill the muffin cups with the batter nearly reaching the top, so that the muffins rise and cover the top of the pan as they bake.

Filling the muffin cups nearly all the way to the top will help give these regular-sized muffins a jumbo appearance. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Filling the muffin cups nearly all the way to the top will help give these regular-sized muffins a jumbo appearance. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

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The second tip is to bake the muffins at a high temperature (425 degrees) for five minutes, and then reduce the heat to a moderate temperature (375 degrees) for the remainder of the baking period, about 13 to 16 minutes, depending on your oven.

The high heat will release steam that allows the muffins to rise up high, and the lower temperature ensures that the center of the muffins continue to bake evenly as the top sets. The result is a muffin that is regular-size on the bottom, with a large, sugary-crisp top that is ideal for dunking into your morning coffee.

The main fat in these muffins is canola oil, which makes the batter come together quickly because there is no creaming required as is often the case when using butter. In addition to the oil, orange juice and buttermilk are also added, both for flavor and purpose as the acids in these liquids will help activate the baking powder to produce a soft and crumbly texture as well as the impressive rise.

The streusel topping is made with sugar, flour, orange zest and cold butter and cut together with a pastry cutter (or fork) until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
The streusel topping is made with sugar, flour, orange zest and cold butter and cut together with a pastry cutter (or fork) until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

With so much liquid, the batter is easy to mix by hand or with an electric mixer. Once the liquid ingredients have been combined with sugar, eggs, orange zest and vanilla extract, a blend of dry ingredients, including flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, is gradually stirred into the liquid just until incorporated and the flour is no longer visible. Resist the urge to overmix, which can create a tougher crumb structure.

Once combined the batter is ready, the fresh cranberries are folded into the mixture until evenly distributed. Before adding the berries, I like to dust them lightly in flour, which helps to keep them from falling to the bottom of the muffins as they bake.

Dusting the fresh cranberries with flour will prevent them from falling to the bottom of the muffins. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Dusting the fresh cranberries with flour will prevent them from falling to the bottom of the muffins. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

These Cran-Orange Streusel Muffins will fill your kitchen with the aromatic fragrance of the upcoming holiday season, and their deliciously tart and tender crumb and crispy tops will entice even the most reluctant to become cranberry lovers.

The muffins are covered with a generous amount of streusel topping before going in the oven. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
The muffins are covered with a generous amount of streusel topping before going in the oven. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Cran-Orange Streusel Muffins

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Makes: 12 muffins

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

½ cup canola oil

½ cup buttermilk

¼ cup orange juice

Zest of 2 oranges (about 2 ½ to 3 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups fresh cranberries (if using frozen, do not thaw), lightly dusted with flour

Streusel topping ingredients:

½ cup sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold butter, cut into half-inch cubes

Zest of 1 orange (about 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with butter or cooking spray, coating the top of the pan as well as each cup.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt until well combined; set aside.

In a separate, large bowl, use a whisk or stand mixer to mix the sugar, eggs, oil, buttermilk, orange juice, zest and vanilla extract until combined.

Slowly stir in the flour mixture, mixing just until combined and the flour is no longer visible. Fold in the cranberries until evenly distributed. Use a large ice cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter into the muffin cups, filling each nearly to the top.

To prepare the streusel, in a small bowl, add the sugar, flour, cold butter and orange zest. Use a pastry cutter or fork to cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the streusel mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the top of each muffin, making sure to keep the crumbs inside the cups.

Bake in the center of the oven at 425 degrees for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for 13 to 15 more minutes, until the tops are set and lightly golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the muffins cool in the tin and then gently remove them and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Store the muffins in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.