Q I have been experimenting with bran muffin recipes recently. Could you please tell me how you get a really dark brown/black muffin? Is it by adding more molasses, using dark brown sugar or food colouring? Do you have a dark bran muffin recipe to share?
A Flip through cookbooks and you'll see two main styles of recipes for (wheat) bran muffins. Those that are light in colour do not use almost-black-in-colour molasses, and those that are dark in colour do.
How much molasses is added and the type determines how dark your muffins will be. So will the addition of other darker-in-colour ingredients, such as dark brown sugar, spices and whole-wheat flour. No need to add food colouring.
In stores, you'll see three types of molasses for sale.
Fancy molasses is the sweetest tasting and lightest in colour. It can be used like syrup or honey - in your coffee, on waffles or in baked goods needing a very sweet taste.
Blackstrap molasses has a bitter bite and, as the name suggests, a very, very dark colour. Logically, it will impart that colour into a baked good, but its strong taste can overpower the other ingredients.
Cooking molasses, which I most often use, is in colour and taste somewhere between fancy and blackstrap. These attributes make it ideal for baked goods. In today's recipe I used a generous half cup of it, some dark demerara sugar and some of the ingredients noted above to create a dark and delicious bran muffin I hope Val will enjoy.
Dark and Delicious Bran Muffins
These moist and not overly sweet muffins taste great with a bit of butter or tangy cheddar cheese.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes: 9 large muffins
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups wheat bran (see Note)
3 Tbsp demerara sugar (see Note)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- pinches ground nutmeg and clove
1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries, or dried blueberries, or mix of dried fruit
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup cooking molasses
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- vegetable spray
Preheat oven to 400 F. Place the flours, bran, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices in a large bowl. Whisk to combine, and then mix in the raisins.
Place the egg in a second bowl and beat until the yolk and white are well blended. Mix in the buttermilk, molasses, oil and vanilla. Stir dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined.
Spray 9 of the cups in a 12-cup, non-stick muffin pan with vegetable-oil spray. Divide and spoon the batter into those 9 cups, filling each cup to, or slightly over, the top. Bake the muffins in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, or until they spring back when gently touched in the centre.
Cool muffins 10 minutes, and then remove from muffin pan. Enjoy them now, or serve at room temperature.
Note: I used Rogers brand wheat bran and demerara sugar, a darkstyle of brown sugar.
Q I hope you can again help me out by supplying me with a recipe for seafood lasagna, enough for about 12 people.
A The recipe below is from my book Everyone Can Cook Seafood. It also appears in a book called Halibut: The Cookbook. It's rich and fabulous and you can make it oven-ready ahead of time. It serves eight, but as noted, it's rich, so I'm sure Margaret could get 12 portions out of it, particularly if she serves it with a salad and crusty bread. She could also double the recipe if she's having very hungry seafood/pasta lovers over for dinner.
Sensational Seafood Lasagna
This lasagna is decadent enough to serve on any special occasion. Serve it with a mixed green or caesar salad.
Preparation time: 35 minutes
Cooking time: 55 to 60 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups fish stock or chicken stock (divided)
1 1/2 cups light cream or milk
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- salt and white pepper to taste
- pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 lb halibut or other firm fish fillets, patted dry and cut into small cubes
1 (500-gram) tub ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
16 lasagna noodles, cooked as per package directions
1/2 lb small cooked salad shrimp, patted dry
1 cup fresh or canned crabmeat, drained well
3/4-1 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the dried, powdered type)
- fresh basil leaves for garnish
Place 2 cups of the stock in a pot. Add the cream and garlic, and bring to a simmer. Mix the remaining stock with the flour until smooth. Slowly whisk into the stock mixture. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens. Season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg; mix in the cubed halibut. Remove from the heat and set aside. (The fish will cook through when baked in the lasagna.)
Combine the ricotta cheese in a medium bowl with the eggs and basil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350Â°F (180Â°F).
To assemble the lasagna, spoon a little sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Top with 4 noodles, 1/3 of the remaining sauce and 1/2 of the shrimp and crab. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Top with another layer of 4 noodles and then with the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with another layer of 4 noodles, another 1/3 of the sauce, the rest of the shrimp and crab, and another 1/3 of the cheeses. Top with 4 more noodles and the remaining sauce and cheese. Bake - tented with foil so it doesn't touch the cheese - for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until brown and bubbly. Let the lasagna rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Eric's options: This lasagna can be made ovenready several hours in advance. Cool to room temperature after assembling, then wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake. Add 10 more minutes baking time, as you'll be starting it from cold.
Eric Akis is the author of the bestselling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
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