A great healthy breakfast and snack!
Throughout my childhood, my family crammed well-worn duffel bags, puffy nylon sleeping bags, and 1”-thick roll-up mattress pads into our navy blue minivan twice each summer. While my brother and I quietly turned the pages of our chapter books in the backseat, Mom steered us up the winding, narrow mountain roads up to Yosemite or Lake Tahoe while Dad navigated from oversized paper maps (remember those, before GPS and smart phones?) from the passenger’s side.
After arriving and claiming a campsite, we pulled the tent from the trunk first, driving stakes into the ground with a hammer and clipping the collapsible poles to the polyester. Once erected, we schlepped our gear from the car into the tent, trying desperately (and failing miserably) to brush the dirt from our feet and bags before entering. Even with leaving our sneakers outside, we still ended up sweeping out an entire dustpan’s worth of debris by the time we packed up to head home!
We spent most days exploring the trails, hiking to places like Cascade Falls, Eagle Lake, and Vikingsholm Castle. Along with copious amounts of water, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent, Mom also stashed plenty of snacks in her backpack to bribe our tired little legs to continue walking. (Those plastic tubes of mini M&Ms worked every time!) If we managed to return to the parking lot without any whining or begging to turn back, she promised a reward of s’mores after dinner. Mom was—and still is—one smart lady!
Despite the treats of gooey marshmallows and melted chocolate, I treasure memories of early morning breakfasts even more. We rose with the sun, before any other party in the expansive campground, and bundled up in sweatshirts while Mom boiled a pot of water on the small green gas-powdered stove. She handed us each two coffee mugs: one for Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate, complete with the mini marshmallows, and the other for Quaker Instant Oatmeal.
I always reached for the paper envelope of apple cinnamon inside the variety pack box. Mom never objected; she seized every opportunity to add extra fruit (and veggies) to our diets! Because I preferred my oatmeal thick, I rarely added the full amount of water, and I stirred rapid circles with my spoon to help it cool faster. After scraping the last morsels from our mugs and downing our final sips of cocoa, we scrubbed our dishes in freezing cold buckets of water and pulled on our shoes for another day of hiking.
Biting into one of these Apple Bran Muffins instantly transports me back to those wee summer hours where we sat around the cold wooden picnic tables with our mugs of oatmeal. Tender fruit and warm cinnamon fill each hearty muffin, melding with the comforting taste of spicy molasses and sweet honey. Made with only clean natural ingredients, each low fat muffin will keep you full all morning long and satisfy any sweet-tooth breakfast lovers!
This easy recipe begins by soaking the oat bran. It’s similar to oatmeal: it can absorb a lot of liquid! Mixing the bran with milk, yogurt, and vanilla moistens it while also bringing out its subtle nuttiness and sweet oaty flavor. If added along with the whole wheat flour, it would turn the muffins dry and crumbly. So to keep the muffins moist, soak the bran for at least 15 minutes.
Oil and melted butter both work well in these muffins. I prefer the ease of measuring oil, but others enjoy the taste of butter. If you opt for melted butter, make sure the egg warms to room temperature before cracking it into the butter’s bowl. A cold egg rapidly chills the hot melted butter, resulting in small chunks of semi-solidified fat. Not good! To quickly raise the temperature of a refrigerated egg, place it in a small container of warm water before preparing the dry ingredients.
I sweetened these clean-eating muffins with natural ingredients: honey and molasses. While the thick honey contributes the majority of the sweetness, the molasses is actually the most important ingredient! Its deep robust taste—almost like a combination of maple and caramel—shines through and really makes the muffins sing. (It also brings back fond memories of baking bread with my dad every holiday season!) When paired with cinnamon, its warm smell wafts throughout the entire kitchen, filling every nook and cranny with the most tantalizing aroma. Waiting for the muffins to bake is pure torture!
Dice your favorite apple to mix into the muffins. Fuji, Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Granny Smith… It doesn’t matter! Whatever you store in your fridge or fruit basket will work just fine. I left the skin on for extra fiber and nutrients, but just like the variety of apple, that’s a matter of personal preference. Feel free to remove the peel if you’d like!
This batter is thick… Really thick. It actually resembles dense wet cookie dough, so pull out a spoon or ice cream scoop to transfer the batter to the muffin tins. No liquid measuring cups here! Leave them in the oven for 17-19 minutes and not a second more. Because they continue to cook a little bit while cooling in the hot muffin tin, you want to pull them out when they’re just barely done to preserve their moisture.
Rich molasses, warm cinnamon, and tender apples accompany the nutty oat bran in these healthy Apple Bran Muffins. They’re soft and naturally sweet, with the perfect kiss of comforting spice. Despite their squat appearance, these incredibly moist muffins make for a hearty, wholesome breakfast—the fiber keeps you full all morning!
As much as I savored those sweet packets of instant oatmeal, I enjoyed these clean-eating muffins even more. I nibbled on one in the morning… Another as a sweet treat after lunch… And a third as an appetizer before dinner. I initially planned on freezing half to save as healthy snacks for the future, but with how quickly I sped through these, I’d need to triple the batch for that to happen!