These cranberry orange mini muffins are perfect right at the tail end of cranberry season. Each mini muffin has one whole cranberry in the center and is topped with a bright pink orange-infused sugar.
The tart cranberry is super satisfying and even better contrasted with the sweetness from the orange!
With their bright red cranberry centers, these orange cranberry mini muffins are the perfect Valentine's Day treat!
Cranberry season ends in November but you'll often find these bright red berries on sale through January as grocery stores sell off the ones they bought ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cranberries freeze really well — buy some extra and you'll have them when Valentine's Day rolls around.
This recipe was inspired by my lemon blueberry mini muffins. For Valentine's Day, pair them with homemade cocktails or sodas made with this strawberry simple syrup. They're also great with a scoop of orange cardamom ice cream.
These orange cranberry mini muffins need a few special ingredients, but none that should be too hard to find! As always, I recommend weighing the ingredients for best results. See recipe card for specific quantities.
- Flour - Regular all purpose flour is fine.
- Sugar - Plain granulated sugar.
- Orange zest - Fresh is best! Use a microplane or the small very pointy side of a box grater. You'll need the zest of one whole orange, but half of it will be used in the batter and the other half in the sugar you sprinkle on top of the muffins.
- Buttermilk - I know it's not the easiest to find but it's totally worth it for super tender baked goods. If you really, really, really can't find buttermilk see the FAQ below for some begrudgingly approved alternate ingredient suggestions.
- Eggs - One large egg! Get it to room temperature quickly by submerging it in warm water for 5-10 minutes before cracking it open.
- Vanilla - Vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, whichever you prefer.
- Cranberries - Fresh is best! You can use frozen ones, but let them defrost first and dry them off before pushing them into the muffin batter.
- Baking powder - I like this aluminum-free baking powder.
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt in all of my recipes. If you're measuring by volume, use half of another brand. If you're measuring by weight, you don't need to make any adjustments.
- Pink sanding sugar - I used bright pink and gold sugar sanding sugar I found at HomeGoods. The brand is Sugarwink and the color is "Heart of Gold," but I couldn't find them anywhere online. Others that will work are Fancy Sprinkles' Inner Goddess, Fancy Sprinkles' Tequila Sunrise, or Wilton Pink Spring Sugar. Basically any sort of "sanding sugar" topping. Non-pareils and log-shaped sprinkles won't work here. You could also use plain granulated sugar rubbed with the orange zest. (Bonus: Spicewalla has a cranberry orange sugar that you can use instead of rubbing the sugar with orange zest!)
We're following standard muffin procedure for these cranberry orange mini muffins! Start by whisking your dry ingredients, including the orange zest, together in a bowl. You want to get everything evenly distributed; this will cut down on how much mixing you have to do later.
In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. Then drizzle in the melted butter, whisking constantly as you do.
TIP: It's very important that the buttermilk and egg are at room temperature before you whisk in the melted butter. If the melted butter goes into cold buttermilk and cold egg, the butter will solidify and won't mix in smoothly.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and use a spatula to gently fold them together. The goal is to combine the ingredients in as few movements as possible.
Why? If you over mix the batter, the flour will start to develop a gluten network which means tough muffins! Stop mixing as soon as the ingredients come together and no dry bits of flour remain. This way your muffins are tender and delicious.
It's okay if the muffin batter is a little lumpy — the lumps will bake out in the oven.
Cover and let the muffin batter rest for 30-60 minutes at room temperature. This gives the baking powder time to activate. You'll notice when you come back to the muffin batter after it rests it has a thicker, airier consistency — you can see bubbles in it as you scoop!
While the batter rests, pre-heat the oven to 400F.
Use a 2-teaspoon scoop to portion the batter into a lined mini muffin pan. Scrape the scoop flat on the rim of the bowl as you scoop and you should get exactly 24 mini muffins.
Press a cranberry into the center of each muffin. It should go almost all the way to the bottom but not quite. Then use a toothpick to push, press, and twirl the batter from the sides over the top of each cranberry to hide them inside.
In a small bowl, use your hand to rub the remaining orange zest into the pink sanding sugar. Wear gloves for this step if you're worried about the sugar dyeing your hands pink! If you don't have pink sanding sugar, regular granulated sugar is fine too.
Then top each cranberry orange mini muffin with about ¼ teaspoon of the sugar mixture. Use the back of the measuring spoon to push the sugar around to get an even coating on top of each mini muffin.
Bake the cranberry orange mini muffins for 13-15 minutes at 400F. They won't brown much on top (you wouldn't be able to see it through the pink sugar topping if they did!). They should rise up a bit though and dome on top.
If you insert a toothpick into the side of one, it should come out clean. You know, as long as you didn't accidentally poke into a cranberry!
Let them cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
You don't need any fancy equipment to make these orange cranberry mini muffins. Here's what I used:
- 24-well mini muffin pan - You'll need a pan specifically for mini muffins or this recipe definitely won't work!
- 2-teaspoon cookie scoop - If you're precise and press the muffin batter flat into the scoop (as opposed to heaping scoops) before dropping it into the muffin tins you will get exactly 24 cranberry orange mini muffins.
- Toothpicks - You'll need these to cover the cranberries with muffin batter. It's much easier with a toothpick than trying to use a knife/spoon/spatula.
- Hearts & Arrows Meri Meri Mini Cupcake Liners - I picked them up at HomeGoods, but I've linked to them here on Amazon in case you can't find them there!
- Pink Sanding Sugar - I used bright pink and gold sugar sprinkles I found at HomeGoods. The brand is Sugarwink and the color is "Heart of Gold," but I couldn't find them anywhere online. Others that will work are Fancy Sprinkles' Inner Goddess, Fancy Sprinkles' Tequila Sunrise, or Wilton Pink Spring Sugar. Basically any sort of "sanding sugar" topping. Non-pareils and log-shaped sprinkles won't work here. You could also use plain sugar rubbed with the orange zest.
👩🏻🍳 Expert tips
- DO NOT OVER MIX. This is the biggest mistake people make with muffin recipes. When you mix the batter together you're starting to create gluten strands — those gluten strands tighten up and create tough muffins with air trapped inside. For tender muffins gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with slow, smooth strokes. Stop mixing as soon as there are no dry bits in the bowl and walk away. Don't worry about lumps, they'll bake out in the oven.
- Your liquid ingredients need to be at room temperature before you add the butter. If your eggs and buttermilk are cold when you add the melted butter, the melted butter will firm up and incorporate unevenly.
- To quickly get eggs to room temperature: Submerge the eggs in hot tap water for 5-10 minutes.
💭 Recipe FAQ
You can use Buttermilk powder. Mix it in with the dry ingredients and use 57 grams (¼ cup) warm water in place of the buttermilk. America's Test Kitchen even approves of this swap. I tested this myself and it worked remarkably well, way better than I expected! I wouldn't say it's a perfect buttermilk substitute for every recipe (According to Stella Parks' buttermilk substitution tests, the best substitute for buttermilk is actually kefir, but I'll admit it does work just fine here.
Baking powder is double acting — it reacts first in contact with liquid and again in the heat of the oven. Letting the batter rest helps fully hydrate the baking powder and helps your muffins rise higher in the oven. This is a tip I picked up from Hummingbird High's sky high blueberry muffin recipe, and while these muffins won't rise nearly that high, the resting period will give them an extra boost and a nicer texture.
I don't recommend it unless you can't stir comfortably. One of the biggest reasons muffin recipes fail is because of over mixing. The high speed and power of most mixers will give you tough muffins with lots of tunneling inside. If you need to use a mixer, make sure to use the lowest possible setting and stop mixing as soon as the batter is combined. Even better would be to stop mixing just before it's combined and finish by gently hand mixing.
Yep. Let them defrost first, and dry them with a towel before you pop them into the muffins. If they're wet, the muffin batter will slide right off.
Raspberries — cut in half or quarters, depending on how big they are. They have a similar tart flavor and are really good paired with the orange zest.
Cranberry Orange Mini Muffins
- 113 grams all purpose flour
- 70 grams sugar
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 grams diamond crystal kosher salt (½ tsp, use ¼ teaspoon of any other salt brand)
- zest of ½ an orange
- 57 grams unsalted butter (melted)
- 57 grams buttermilk (room temperature)
- 1 large egg (room temperature)
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla
- 24 cranberries
lemon sugar topping
- zest of ½ an orange
- 48 grams pink sanding sugar
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a mini muffin tin with muffin liners.
- Meanwhile, whisk dry ingredients, including orange zest, together in a bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together room temperature buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. Slowly drizzle in melted butter, whisking well until thoroughly combined.
- Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and gently fold together with a spatula just until combined. Do not over mix.
- Cover muffin batter and let rest 30-60 minutes.
- Meanwhile, rub pink sanding sugar and orange zest together in a bowl to use for muffin topping. The pink sugar can sometimes stain your fingers — wear gloves if you're concerned about this!
- Use a 2 teaspoon scoop to portion muffin batter into lined mini muffin tin. Press a single cranberry deep into the center of each muffin, then use a toothpick to push (or twirl) the batter over the blueberries to hide them. Top each muffin with ¼-½ teaspoon orange sugar.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes at 400°F. The muffins will not brown on top, but a toothpick inserted should come out clean (as long as you don't piece a cranberry).
- Let cool in muffin tin 5-10 minutes, then remove to a rack to finish cooling completely.
- To quickly get eggs to room temperature, submerge them in hot tap water for 5-10 minutes.
- It's very important that the buttermilk and egg are at room temperature before you whisk in the melted butter. If the melted butter goes into cold buttermilk and cold egg, the butter will solidify and won't mix in smoothly.
🌡️ Food safety
- Bake to a minimum temperature of 190°F.
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove