Muffin-Off: Cranberry Edition

I got to guest judge a muffin-off! I could not have been more excited. I want to tell you about all of the wonderful muffin submissions, but first I’ll give you a little backstory. My roommate Sarah, of guest post fame, works for City Year. A year ago, Sarah was preparing her submission to their quarterly muffin-off. I was insanely jealous that her work mates gathered four times a year to make and enjoy muffins using a certain theme ingredient. Since I could not formally participate in the muffin-off, I instead helped Sarah with each of her submissions over the past year, all the way from searching for recipes to putting finishing touches on her treats.

I don’t remember who initially thought of it, but one of us came up with the idea of me serving as a guest judge for one of the muffin-offs. With the winter competition fast approaching, Sarah asked me to write a little synopsis of my background and why I would be qualified to judge a muffin-off that she then gave to her colleagues. Shortly thereafter, she gave me the excellent news that I would indeed be a guest judge in this week’s muffin-off.

So on Wednesday morning, I headed down to the City Year headquarters with Sarah. I was greeted by Nan of the muffin-off committee, who donned her swanky muffin-off shirt. Past theme ingredients have included corn, chocolate, and blueberry. This muffin-off’s theme ingredient was cranberry. Once the submissions were all laid out, the other judges and I were given clip boards. We were to try at least a piece of each of the 13 submissions and rate each according to three categories: outside appearance, taste, and “look and feel,” aka presentation and creativity.

I would be content to be assigned this task any day, but it is not quite as easy as it appears. It takes time to cut a piece of muffin, taste it, ponder the muffin, and then think of a numeric rating for the muffin in each of the three categories. It took a fair amount of time to evaluate each of the muffins. Here’s a look at some of the creative presentations and delicious muffins that I got to sample.

The winning submission combined a two layer coffee cake muffin, sandwiching a layer of cranberry jam in the middle, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar on top presented on a charming tic tac toe board.

The most inventive and most extravagant presentation by far was the full-on cranberry bog landscape. Bakers Danielle and Charity baked Orange Cranberry Walnut Muffins and presented them along with fresh cranberries in large bowls of water to mimic the look of a cranberry bog. The cranberries in the front-most bowl, instead of water, floated in hot cider that people could spoon into cups and enjoy with their muffins.

I loved the gold garland and ribbon adorning these Morning Glory Muffins with dried cranberry, apples, carrots, and pecans.

The cranberry-colored napkins and placemat were a fun backdrop for these cranberry muffins with sour cream and  a sugar and nutmeg topping.

Muffin 13, though not extravagant in presentation, was one of my favorites taste-wise. It was a moist cranberry and chocolate muffin with a layer of white chocolate on top. It was sweet and just slightly decadent.

Muffin 12 added a unique twist by using eggnog along with cranberry and a buttery crumb topping.

These Cranberry Orange muffins with a touch of cinnamon were picture-perfect with a coating of sugar on top. They looked like those enticingly large muffins sold in a cafe.

Another crowd favorite were the Sweet and Tangy Chocolate Cranberry Muffins. The muffins were packed with mini chocolate chips, fresh cranberries, and orange zest, and topped with a drizzle of chocolate ganache. The muffins were definitely the cakey-est of the bunch. They were light, with a fine crumb, but rich and nicely sweet with small bits of chocolate and cranberry. 

The pumpkin cranberry muffins had a cute presentation. They combined a moist, dark pumpkin with fresh cranberries. They were hearty and spicy and not too sweet.

Muffin 7 combined an amazing taste and texture with both a spread on the side and an impressive presentation. The muffin had a complex flavor with fresh cranberries, walnuts and nutmeg. The muffin alone was delicious but it became quite the showstopper with the addition of the spread made from cranberries cooked with butter and brown sugar. And for a unique presentation, the bakers created ice sculptures using cranberries along with red and silver snowflakes and garlands.

Sadly, I did not snap a picture of Sarah’s submission, but she baked delicious Orange Cranberry Pecan muffins with orange juice and zest, fresh cranberries, crushed pecans, ginger, and nutmeg. She also had one of the most unique presentations, and set her muffins up with speakers that played music from, who else, The Cranberries.

I had such a wonderful time at the muffin and was so grateful to participate and have the opportunity to sample the culinary prowess of City Year’s employees. Many thanks to Sarah, as well as Chris, Nan and the muffin-off committee for inviting me to join. I am excited to see what future muffin-off have in store.


City Year aims to inspire and support citizen service across the globe to unite people from all races, religions, cultures and ethnicities in building a more just world. City Year’s signature program, the City Year youth service corps, unites 1,750 young people age 17-24 for a year of full-time community service, leadership development, and civic engagement.

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5 Responses to Muffin-Off: Cranberry Edition

  1. funandfearlessinbeantown says:

    This looks like it was a lot of fun! I’m impressed with the backgrounds that everyone made for their presentation too. I’ve guest judged a few things and I always find that it is a lot harder than it looks!

  2. Daisy says:

    with all those incredible sounding muffins, it’s a wonder a winner was even able to be chosen. Looks like so much fun, what a great event to participate in!

  3. Megan says:

    Those sweet and tangy chocolate cranberry muffins would be my favorite. This looks like such a tough job! 😉

  4. A muffin off? I am full just reading this post. That looks like a lot of fun for an awesome cause.

  5. Emily says:

    Agreed about the cranberry muffins. Food judging is definitely something I’d love to do – hope you had fun!

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