These muffins are small, incredibly moist and absolutely the best-tasting bran muffins I’ve had yet (and I’ve never met anyone, at any age, that didn’t adore them). This recipe is purposely large so you can keep the batter in the refrigerator for (at least) three weeks and create fresh-baked muffins in the morning, afternoon or anytime you choose. As a matter of fact, this batter seems to bake even better when it’s cold–straight from the fridge! And, although most muffins are at their best on the day of baking, the texture of these stay perfect for days… This recipe is a real winner.
Mix granulated sugar with toasted wheat germ, in the ratio of 1 to 2 (use half as much sugar to wheat germ). Per each 12 muffins, you will need about 1 scant tablespoon sugar with 2 scant tablespoons of wheat germ.
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If planning to bake some or all of the muffins right away, preheat the oven to 400ºF. (If using a black muffin tin or a convection mode, preheat to 375ºF.) Spray the tops of one or more 6- or 12-cup nonstick muffin tins with vegetable spray and line the cups with paper liners.
Place bran cereal, wheat bran, buttermilk and cut prunes into a large mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Set aside so the cereal has a chance to absorb the buttermilk. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream shortening with brown sugar and molasses. Add eggs, 1 at a time, combining well after each addition. Add vegetable oil and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and mix once more. Scrape this mixture into the bowl with the swollen bran mixture. Stir well. Pour the flour mixture on top of the wet ingredients and, using either a batter whisk or a wide blending fork, gently but thoroughly combine the batter.
If including the topping, mix the granulated sugar with wheat germ and set aside. (I often make a larger batch and store what I don’t use in the refrigerator, covered. That way, when I want to make more muffins, using the cold batter, I already have my topping made.) Generously fill a medium-sized ice cream scoop with the batter and place uniform portions into each muffin cup, filling just to the top. Alternatively, use a spoon to fill each cup. Sprinkle the topping generously over the muffin batter. Place into the preheated oven and bake 22 to 25 minutes; if using a black muffin tin, after 20 minutes, reduce temperature to 350 F and bake for 2 to 5 more minutes, covering loosely with aluminum foil (shiny side up) if the tops are becoming overly brown. If using a convection mode, bake at 375F for the entire time. Muffins are done when they reach just a bit past the top of the tin, are a deep brown color, and a toothpick will come out just clean when inserted into the center. (Don’t over-bake; the muffins will continue to cook from residual heat, once removed from the oven.)
Remove tin to a wire rack and place another rack on top. Invert muffins onto the wire rack and let them cool upside down (These muffins will not have large domed tops.) Serve warm or at room temperature.
If not baking all the muffins at once, place the remaining batter into a heavy-duty container with a tight-fitting lid. Label and date the container and refrigerate. Spoon directly from the refrigerator into prepared muffin tins and bake as directed. The batter should remain good for at least 3 weeks under refrigeration. Also, if you ever run out of batter when filling your tin, just fill the empty cups 3/4 full with very hot tap water and your muffins will bake just fine.
Once cool, the muffins can be placed on a tray and covered with plastic wrap. Store at room temperature (they will stay moist and perfect for days, but won’t last that long!)