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Whole wheat cranberry sauce muffins a clever way to use leftovers

This recipe for whole wheat cranberry sauce muffins uses the leftover fruit sauce from Thanksgiving.  (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
This recipe for whole wheat cranberry sauce muffins uses the leftover fruit sauce from Thanksgiving. (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special to the Washington Post

This recipe is a scrumptious solution to a puzzle I face every year: What to do with all the leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving? One answer I have come to rely on is to freeze it in ice cube trays, then transfer the cubes to a freezer bag, so they can be thawed as needed to, say, accompany roasted chicken, spread onto sandwiches or blitz, still frozen, with milk and a scoop of almond butter into a frothy smoothie.

But this year, I wanted to try something different, and remembering how much I enjoy bursts of the tart berry in baked goods led me to these muffins. A full cup of cranberry sauce is stirred right into the batter, infusing them with cranberry flavor. Using sauce made from whole cranberries ensures plenty of those crimson bursts throughout, as well.

True to form, this recipe is more healthful, too, without sacrificing any of the tender, cake-y goodness we want from a muffin. I use whole wheat pastry flour, which is light and mild-tasting (you could substitute a mix of all-purpose and regular whole wheat flours), along with almond flour for a boost of protein, healthy fat and subtle nutty flavor. (If you don’t have almond flour, you can simply whir blanched almonds in the food processor until they are very finely ground.)

To sweeten the muffins, I employ one of my new favorite baking ingredients, date sugar, which is essentially finely ground dried dates. It looks and tastes similar to brown sugar – which you can use instead, with modifications noted in the recipe – but you get all the minerals and antioxidants inherent in the dried fruit, plus fiber. The muffins are also made with healthful oil rather than butter.

Spiked with warmly fragrant orange zest and cinnamon and redolent with cranberries, these muffins are an edible reminder of the pleasures of the season. If you don’t typically have cranberry sauce left from the holiday, you’re going to want to make extra just to be able to bake them.

Whole Wheat Cranberry Sauce Muffins

⅓ cup grapeseed, safflower or another neutral oil, plus more for brushing pan

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour, or ½ cup each all-purpose and regular whole-wheat flour

½ cup almond flour

¾ cup date sugar or light brown sugar (see note)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon fine sea or table salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup prepared whole fruit cranberry sauce

½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest

¾ cup whole or reduced-fat milk

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of an oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Brush the wells of a 12-cup muffin pan with oil.

In a large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, almond flour, date sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda until combined. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil and eggs until combined, then whisk in the cranberry sauce and orange zest until combined.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet in two batches, alternating with half the milk at a time, until just combined. Stir in the nuts, if using.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan and bake for 18-21 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean, and they are golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a knife or offset spatula around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Note: If using brown sugar, increase the whole wheat pastry flour to 1 ½ cups, reduce the milk to ½ cup, and whisk the brown sugar in with the liquid ingredients.

Storage notes: Leftover muffins can be stored in a container, with a lid slightly ajar, at room temperature for up to three days; sealing the container tightly might result in sticky muffins.

Where to buy: Date sugar can be found at health food stores, well-stocked supermarkets and online. Whole wheat pastry flour can be found at well-stocked supermarkets and online.

Yield: 12 muffins

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