Bran Muffins with Cocoa & Molasses

Wednesday, August 2, 2017 1
Print Recipe
Like any hobby or interest, and mine seems to circle back to cooking and eating, geeky obsessions often develop. While others may fixate on trying to decipher the latest trend in blockchain technology I’m lusting after bran muffins. Edgy, I know. As in life, one often lusts after things unattainable. In London, I can have any chocolate I want, but in this city of six thousand coffee shops, the only one I know of that does a bran muffin is Gails. Whereas most muffins are cake parading as breakfast, a well made bran muffin can legitimately sit beside your morning cuppa. Yes, they contain some sugar, but it’s minimal, and you could substitute something unrefined such as maple syrup or even stevia (in a fraction of the quantity though) if you prefer your mornings strictly sugar free.
After the chilling realisation that I’d spent probably hundreds of pounds over the years on Gails bran muffins, it became my culinary raison d’être to develop a recipe that would satisfy my persistent cravings. In fact, city dwellers, I dare you to trawl through your bank statement to determine how much money you’ve spent at coffee shops. I did and was horrified. I thought it was just £2.50 here and there but cumulatively it’s a holiday I was doing myself out of! So, would it be too vain to admit I really prefer my own bran muffins now? Genuinely, not for financial reasons but for flavour. They’re different anyway, and here’s how:
There are four elements in my bran muffins that give them their deep, complex flavour and darker colour – blackstrap molasses, cocoa, puréed raisins and spelt flour. The inspiration came from a recipe I love for Russian black bread, which, with its rye flour, is similar to pumpernickel but has triple the number of ingredients, every one worth including – in addition to cocoa and molasses, it has caraway, fennel, coffee and vinegar.
∼ Blackstrap Molasses
The colour of blackstrap molasses is blacker than black itself, and it imparts a deep, smoky, treacle flavour. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar-making process. To make commercial sugar, the juice is extracted from sugar cane or beet and, as it’s boiled down, sugar crystals form leaving some liquid behind: this liquid is molasses. Light molasses is drawn off after the first boiling, dark molasses drawn after the second boiling and finally, after the third boiling, the thickest, least sweet but most deeply flavoured syrup is left and it’s called blackstrap.
∼ Cocoa Powder 
This is not a case of adding chocolate for the sake of it. Pure, unsweetened cocoa powder can be used as much in savoury cooking as it is in sweet. It gives an underlying richness and can mellow out spicy dishes such as chilli con carne. In these muffins, it adds another layer of flavour. 
Puréed raisins
This is where some of the sweetness and a lot of the moisture in these muffins comes from. You take a cup of raisins and simmer them in a cup of water until they are plump and juicy, then, once they’re cooled, purée them and add to the batter. The idea comes from Nancy Silverton’s recipe which I discovered via David Lebowitz’s blog, and I think Gails uses this method too.
Spelt flour
Sure, it’s supposedly a healthier option, but I find myself using wholemeal spelt flour for its nutty flavour.
These ingredients deliver amazing flavour and moisture, and are perhaps part of the reason why these muffins have flat tops relative to their cakey counterpoints. They are none the worse for it, and it gave me an excuse to sprinkle some homemade granola on top. Admittedly, there are quicker muffins to make, but these are unusually moist, every bit as good on day 3 and pretty awesome on day 4 toasted with a swipe of butter, whereas most muffins die a dried-out death after 24 hours.


Makes 12 muffins

Note: you can also use a large 6 cup muffin tray if you want giant muffins, but increase the cooking time to 30-35minutes.



1 & 1/2 cups wheat bran (not oatbran!)
1 cup raisins + 1 cup water
1 cup flour (all purpose, spelt, or wholemeal), about 110grams
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
Butter – 4 tablespoons or 60grams
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract or paste
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line your largest baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the bran out evenly across it. You may need several smaller ones if the bran doesn’t spread evenly across your biggest baking sheet. Toast the bran for about 10 minutes. Tip: bran can burn easily so keep checking it, every oven is different and yours may cook faster or slower than mine. You’re looking for a light toasty colour, not a dark brown.
Let the bran cool on the tray while you prepare the rest of the muffin batter.
2. Place the raisins and water into a saucepan and simmer until all the water has been absorbed by the raisins, about 10 minutes. Remove raisins from pan and let cool.
3. While the bran and raisins are cooling, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl, set aside.
4. Using a freestanding or handheld mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until it’s the consistency of mayonnaise, then add the molasses, honey and vanilla and whisk a little more until just combined. Add the egg and whisk briefly until just incorporated. Add the buttermilk and raisins and whisk until just combined.
5. Whisk the cooled bran into the flour/cocoa mixture and, with the mixer on low speed, add these dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, whisking to combine. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl thoroughly to incorporate the ingredients.
6. Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F and line a 12-cup muffin tray with muffin papers. Evenly distribute the batter into the muffin cups.
7. Put the muffin tray into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 160°C/320°F, and bake for 20-25 minutes. In my oven, it takes 22 minutes and I remove the muffins when a skewer inserted into their centers only just comes out clean. Check after 20 minutes.
8. Remove the muffins from the tin and transfer immediately to a cooling rack.
I sprinkled a little granola onto the tops of some of the muffins but it’s definitely not necessary.
  • Lou North
    August 2, 2017

    Love this post ! And hands down the most delicious bran muffins I’ve even eaten 🙂

    • Debbie Rosenberg
      August 7, 2017

      Thanks Lou!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.