Ricotta Muffins Trio

Have you noticed the recent rise in the word "sexy", in a culinary context? Or, maybe sexy has been an epicurean buzz word for awhile now, and I'm just getting around to noticing. On Top Chef, season 7, for instance, Angelo used the adjective regularly; even over-used it to the edge of annoying, I felt. Though dishes looked and sounded breathtakingly deserving, his frequent usage of the s-word, or some variation, started to seem a little contrived, and made the speaker seem, in my opinion, a bit wet, if that makes sense. Of course, sexy definitely has a place on the plate, and in the kitchen. And, I've stumbled on a new magic ingredient that adds a little sensual appeal to a wider range of creations than I would have imagined. The best part is, while adding indulgence through heavenly texture and flavor, it can still fit into the umbrella of light and wholesome, relatively ... and it's ricotta cheese.

What began as a solution to an accidental purchase of an extra container of part-skim ricotta cheese a couple of weeks ago has pleasantly morphed into a journey of experiments I might like a little too much. Along the way, I've learned a couple of things about ricotta that surprised me.  For instance, its varying fat content can be lower than cottage cheese, and it is typically lower in sodium. The full fat version is still half the calories and saturated fat of cheddar cheese. Ricotta also delivers a good dose of protein, calcium, zinc and selenium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. I also discovered (though I've yet to try this) that it is (apparently) fairly easy to make your own (will update when I can confirm/deny!). If you're up for it, try this recipe from 101 Cookbooks.

Here are my faves so far in the ongoing ricotta chronicles:

Smitten Kitchen's Ricotta Muffins

This was the first trial aimed at simply getting rid of the extra ricotta, and they were sooo good! I did lighten them up somewhat, and left out a few ingredients I didn't have: 1) did not use fennel seeds, 2) used whole wheat pastry flour, 3) reduced sugar to 1/2 cup brown, 3) reduced oil to 1/2 cup and added 1/3 cup applesauce, 4) added extra yogurt to the ricotta filling in place of sour cream. All these changes, and they were still delicious, so if you're in a more decadent mood, the original recipe is sure to please. The recipe also makes a substantial amount of batter, so you can either bake more than the stated 12, or enjoy generously overflowing muffin tops!

  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) walnuts or pecans
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 3 cups unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (though I imagine that olive oil would be a delicious swapwhoops, many commenters who tried it said that the olive oil was way too heavy; listen to them, not me!)
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 6 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly butter a 1/2-cup capacity muffin tin.

**The directions are pretty lengthy, and it's worth going to the original site for this recipe, so I'm just posting the ingredients to give you the general idea!

Whole Wheat Strawberry Muffins with Ricotta Filling

This was the second round of the ricotta experiments, and this time I had strawberries that were starting to fade and begged to be baked. Relative to the previous recipe, they were simpler and had more of a wholesome quality, yet I was still thrilled enough with them to bake them again for Easter, and I reserved a few in case they had to stand in as my own birthday cake. This is because, Dave and I have been in the habit of playing out an annual saga wherein I secretly hope he will figure out a birthday cake for me, and he agonizes over how picky I am and doesn't buy one. We come from two different traditions with regard to birthday cake, you see, and in my family, a birthday is not really a birthday without it, even if you don't want to eat it. To be fair on Dave, though, I am really difficult to bake for. I'd usually rather be in control of my baked goods ... but not on my birthday. For the past few years, I've made something for someone else, and snuck a piece in the freezer for my turn. These about fit the bill for me, if I was going to have to make my own cake again, reminding me of a healthy take on strawberry cheesecake in a muffin.  (*Props to Dave, fyi, the muffins did not double as birthday cake, because Dave got me a mini, individual mint chocolate chip ice cream cake, much to my sisters' approval, yay!)

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup honey or brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cup plus an additional 1/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 1/3 cup olive or canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 1/2-cup capacity muffin tin (lightly butter or use cooking spray).

2) In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and flax meal together to combine. Make a large well in the center and pour in the yogurt and oil. Whisk together the liquids and gradually draw in the the dry ingredients, mixing until combined. The batter will be a bit thick and sticky. Fold in the strawberries.

3) To prepare the filling, place the ricotta in a small bowl and break it up with the back of a spoon. Stir in the extra yogurt.

4) Fill each muffin tin about one-third of the way with batter. Place approximately one tablespoon of the filling into the center of each muffin, then top with the remaining batter.

5) Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Lemon Blueberry (or Strawberry ... or Raspberry) Ricotta Muffins

This is the first experiment I went out and bought a new container of ricotta for, and it was so worth it.  I saw the Tuscan Lemon Muffins in this month's issue of Cooking Light, they looked so scrumptious, and they used ricotta. I'd had this idea I wanted to make lemon blueberry ricotta muffins, and this seems the perfect template. I made some changes, reducing the oil and sugar (used honey), increasing the fresh lemon juice and zest slightly, eliminating the salt, and adding some Greek yogurt and fruit. I also used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose. I made both lemon blueberry and lemon strawberry versions.  These are light, fluffy and lemony. They are also lovely, cheerful, soothing, and dare I say, sexy. This recipe version goes as a shout out to my teammate Steph, who shares these qualities, and deserves some good, blissful relaxation this week. : )

  • 7 9/10 ounces all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (or honey--but add with wet ingredients)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup blueberries or chopped strawberries
  • Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 375°. 2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder; make a well in center. Combine ricotta and next 7 ingredients (through egg). Add ricotta mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in fruit. 3. Place 12 muffin-cup liners in muffin cups; coat with cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake at 375° for 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.