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The berries in these barley pecan muffins do not make it into the title of the recipe, as the batter is the main attraction and is a suitable canvas for the fruit of your choice.

Tara O'Brady/The Globe and Mail

Baking could be considered a hard sell in January, but I am a firm supporter. It's not that these muffins are remarkably healthy or particularly suitable for the often-austere themes of the month, but they are a return to an everyday kind of baking after the gloriously immoderate productions of December.

These muffins are low effort and can be knocked together fast enough to fit into midweek schedules. With little attention, I can make the batter in the time it takes for the oven to preheat. And they're not utterly without dietary virtue. Relatively reserved when it comes to sugar, with whole-grain barley flour and pecans offering a woollen crumb, these are muffins in the true sense, not cupcakes in disguise. Brawny and well-sized, with a wide cap, a proper rounded peak and a sturdy, golden crust, these are muffins meant to keep coffee company in the morning or stave off hunger after school.

You'll notice the berries in the photo do not make it into the title of the recipe. The batter is the main attraction here, and is a suitable canvas for the fruit of your choice: Don't let the listed cranberries and blueberries hold you back. After the holidays, I swirled in some cranberry chutney sharpened by ginger and fully seasonal with clementine zest and juice. Forced rhubarb would be apt – cooked down to a compote or diced small – or consider a smudge of marmalade as a filling. The fresh fruit could be replaced with dried, such as figs or dates plumped in hot tea, then met with chopped dark chocolate in the batter. Or shelve the fruit entirely and run with the chocolate alone.

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Notes

The combination of high baking temperature and lack of liner helps the muffin bottom develop as much of a crust as the top. If liners are preferred, the bottoms will be more delicate.

I like nuts in muffins for the texture they add; to leave them out, replace with an equal amount of one of the flours.

Barley pecan muffins

Butter to grease the pan

1 1/2 cups (150 g) cranberries

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar, divided, plus extra for sprinkling

1/2 cup (85 g or 60 g, respectively) blueberries or raspberries, fresh or frozen

2 cups (255 g) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup (85 g) barley flour

1/4 cup (30 g) pecans, toasted and ground

1 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 tsp medium-grain kosher salt

2/3 cup (155 g) melted unsalted butter or neutral-flavoured oil

2 eggs

1 cup (250 ml) milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Scant 1/4 tsp almond extract, optional

Method

Preheat oven to 400 F (205 C) with a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin with butter or fill with liners (see note at the end). Tip the cranberries into the bowl of a food processor with the metal blade attached. Pulse the berries until chopped to confetti, stopping the motor and scraping down the bowl once in the process. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of the sugar, pulse once, then scatter the blueberries over top and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, remaining sugar, ground pecans, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a jug or a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the melted butter and eggs. Pour in the milk, then extracts, and beat until smooth.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients then pour in the wet. Stir to combine, making sure there’s no flour lurking at the bottom of the bowl, but do not overmix.

Drop a couple generous teaspoons of batter into each of the muffin tin’s wells. Tumble the berries onto the remaining batter, then fold a few times – the fruit needn’t be fully incorporated, so ripples are welcomed. Divide the batter evenly across the pan. The cups will be quite full. Sprinkle with extra sugar (use coarse or raw sugar for a more glistening top).

Bake until the muffins are enthusiastically puffed and golden and springy to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Leave the muffins in their pan on a rack for five minutes, then free them from their confines and arrange on the rack to cool completely. The muffins are best the day they are made, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature; they also freeze well.

Notes

The combination of high baking temperature and lack of liner helps the muffin bottom develop as much of a crust as the top. If liners are preferred, the bottoms will be more delicate.

I like nuts in muffins for the texture they add; to leave them out, replace with an equal amount of one of the flours.

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