And the bran muffin answer is…Nancy Silverton

Feels like I’m in Anaheim – except that Mimi’s would have an orange slice and maybe some melon on there, too

The answer to the long-lived question of how to come close to Mimi’s Cafe honey bran muffins is this: Stop searching for Mimi’s Cafe bran muffin recipe altogether and just use Nancy Silverton’s terrific recipe. It addresses all the problems I noted previously here and in this way to office mates I shared these with two weeks ago:

I had tried several copycat recipes that gushed they were “just like Mimi’s honey bran muffins!”, but all of them were so far away – mostly way-too-sweet, dense brown muffins with a small handful of bran added as if in afterthought, and many with a sickly-sweet brown sugar/butter/honey glaze deposited in the tin before the batter that incorrectly hardens on the bottom of the muffins.

The results of Silverton’s recipe really are very close to if not even better than Mimi’s Cafe bran muffins: full of earthy bran flavor, soft and light in texture, and not oversweet. To complete the Mimi’s experience, drizzle a little diluted honey onto the bottoms of the still-warm muffins after you invert them out of the tin.

The ingredients are pretty easy to commit to memory, and most of it is in half-cups. Note that there’s almost three times as much bran as flour in the recipe. This is key.

Clockwise from upper left: raisins simmered in water, still to be puréed; vegetable oil; water; unprocessed bran, toasted; egg plus egg white; all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; buttermilk; lightly diluted honey; light brown sugar; raisins left whole. The orange zest was in a tiny prep bowl that I forgot to put in frame.

Drizzling the diluted honey on the still-warm muffins

I can confirm that these do not last long at all

My notes and then the recipe:

  • You can easily find bran in US supermarkets that have a small Bob’s Red Mill section, usually in the baking aisle.
  • Make sure you butter the bottom and sides of the muffin wells or these will stick, even in a non-stick tin (I forgot once). I also smear a little butter all around the top as well so the muffin tops don’t stick.
  • Resist any temptation to use golden raisins – they’re not right for this recipe (I tried them once).
  • Once you mix the dry ingredients into the wet, get the batter in the pre-buttered tin and into the oven without delay (I use a #20 ice cream disher for quick portioning). The baking powder and baking soda react quickly with the buttermilk and you want them to start baking while the batter is nicely puffed up.
  • My only addition to Silverton’s recipe is that I let the muffins cool in the tin for about five minutes, then loosen the muffin top edges with something that won’t scratch the non-stick surface, then invert the muffins onto a sheet of parchment paper on the counter (catches dripping honey), where I immediately drizzle a microwave-warmed 2-to-1 honey-water mixture onto the bottoms of the muffins for the full Mimi’s Cafe effect. I use a condiment squirt bottle to drizzle a teaspoon or so on each small muffin, or a couple teaspoons each for large size muffins.
  • Mimi’s correctly serves their large-size bran muffins warm and upside-down with a pat of butter on the side. If you don’t warm these before serving, both texture and taste will suffer. From room temperature, microwave one small muffin for 20 seconds; 35 seconds for one large muffin.

Bran Muffins – Nancy Silverton

Her introduction from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery:

Every baker has her version of a bran muffin, and I have mine. Most recipes call for sweetened bran cereals and lots of sugar, defeating the purpose of this healthier style of muffin. I make mine the way they should be, with lots of toasted unprocessed bran and pureed raisins. When toasted, bran adds a distinctive, nutty flavor. The cooked and pureed raisins saturate the muffins, giving them their unusually dark color and moist, fruity quality.

Special Items: ½-cup-capacity muffin tin, lightly coated with melted butter; (optional) pastry bag fitted with a wide tip

  • 2 cups unprocessed bran
  • 1½ cups raisins
  • 1½ cups water
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest, finely chopped (about one-third of an orange)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 extra-large egg white
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup stone-ground whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

Spread the bran on a baking sheet and toast for 6 to 8 minutes, until toasted, stirring halfway through to ensure that it doesn’t burn.

In a small saucepan, stir together 1 cup of the raisins and 1 cup of the water and simmer on low heat until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Place in a blender or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and process until pureed.

Pour the bran into a large bowl, add the buttermilk and remaining ½ cup of water, and stir to combine. Stir in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.

Add the oil, whole egg, and egg white, mixing well to incorporate.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the raisin mixture. Add the remaining whole raisins and stir to combine.

Fill the pastry bag half full and pipe or spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling the cups to just over the rim and mounding the batter slightly.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the muffins are well browned and firm to the touch.

Yield: 12 regular size or 6 large muffins

Menu from the very first Mimi’s Cafe in Anaheim, California; click for a larger size

I borrowed it from the restaurant around 1980 and have no intention of returning it

My slow-cooked bacon method is here.

Real dinerware like the 13″ oval platter at the top of this article – which weighs more than two pounds – is over here.

“Here, put this in your bag”

17,545 scanned, searchable menus from 1850-present at the New York Public Library, including lots of airline, train, ship, and hotel menus.

Here’s the à la carte and suppers back page of the Parker House Boston menu for Thursday, 28 September 1865. Those were the days, eh? Tenderloin with truffles, a buck-thirty. Gimme one of those widgeons, too, wouldya? By the way, what is a widgeon?

At the end of this post is a menu I borrowed around 1980 from the original Mimi’s Cafe, in Anaheim, California – the first of just two or maybe three branches at the time. Consistently the best breakfast restaurant I’ve ever visited, with sticky honey bran muffins to die for – still true in this century. I would most often order the Oeufs et Pain Perdu that featured a sourdough French toast stuffed with cream cheese and orange marmalade, which I believe dreams are made of.

There are 145 Mimi’s these days, but their expansion has been limited to the southern half of the US, so I have to make do with my own not-quite-so-great version of those muffins. I can tell you that all the people on the web who claim “I finally made honey bran muffins just like Mimi’s!” are optimists at heart, sure, but I’ve tried their recipes – most of which feature a too-small proportion of bran and a pre-bake brown sugar-honey glaze deposited in the tin before the batter that incorrectly hardens on the bottom of the muffin – and have decided that they either have exceedingly poor memory or can’t help fibbing because they so want it to be true. None of them are even close to Mimi’s, which is rich in earthy bran taste and whose bottom glaze may simply be diluted honey drizzled on after baking when the muffins are inverted hot from the tin. I’ll publish my recipe when I further refine it to the point where it really is close. It’s not there yet. Edited to add: Shortly after I wrote this post, I tried Nancy Silverton’s bran muffin recipe and immediately abandoned mine.

Founder Arthur Simms, an Army Air Force bombardier and navigator in WWII who later directed the MGM Studios commissary in the late 1940s and 1950s and opened other restaurants before Mimi’s, is said to have named the restaurant after a French woman he met at a party celebrating the liberation of Paris in August 1944. That was probably in England since there were no Army Air Force bomber crews in France in 1944. This conflicts slightly with the PR-embellished version, which one restaurant reviewer passed along like this: “A WWII veteran ace flyer, Simms dedicated Mimi’s to a fetching French woman whose town he liberated from Nazi occupation.” Ahem.

This menu has been tacked up in my kitchen in its folded form ever since those first visits during a week-long trip to work with a customer in Cerritos, a prominent electrical contractor that had done the electrical work for, among other large projects, Anaheim Stadium and the iconic Bonaventure Hotel in L.A. – that one with five circular glass towers seen in the opening montage of a lot of TV shows. I went to Mimi’s every morning after my first breakfast there and returned each time I visited Kirkwood Electric in the following years. I recall one visit when the women on the Kirkwood staff took me out to a nice dinner, but precious few details past the – ten, was it? – kamikazes they bought me over several hours. The other place I frequented was Polly’s Pies near the Kirkwood office because they had a rather glorious tuna melt on thick-sliced whole wheat bread that they baked on the premises. They haven’t expanded much and are still in Southern California only.

Click either image for 1920-wide.