Tag Archives: ricotta

Strawberry Walnut Ricotta Muffins

I’m detecting a pattern here: something about cold weather makes me want a big, hot breakfast. Usually my breakfast is a small, rushed affair: a couple of turkey sausages and I’m on my way. This weekend, though, promised inches of snow and icy conditions in Charlotte. Breakfast had to stand up to the cold!

Thankfully, Smitten Kitchen had recently equipped me with a killer muffin recipe. Deb posted these fantastic-looking Ricotta Muffins last week. They were billed as a very slightly sweet, nutty muffin with a surprising hint of fennel. Very intriguing, but I fiddled with the idea a bit to produce more what I was craving. I ditched the fennel, sweetened these babies up a bit, and added in some fresh strawberries. The result is really a whole different beast: sweet, fruity, light, cheesy, nutty, hearty . . . a breakfast superstar!

…but a beast, nonetheless. These things are fussy. The ricotta and sour cream filling is runny (as Deb mentions in her post, perhaps it’d be different if you were to use fresh ricotta and crème fraiche), so the batter has to be piped on top of it, which is quite a mess.

The muffins are also very tender (what with the ricotta mixture in the middle, as well as strawberries breaking up the muffin, in my case) and so they can’t be scooped out of their wells. Instead, I had to let them cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before inverting them onto the cooling rack. They cooled with their cute little muffin bottoms in the air, and finally, they were firm enough to turn over and stick in the fridge. My kitchen was a disaster area — bowls, beaters, pans, cutting boards, berries — but I wouldn’t be writing this if they weren’t worth it.

Like so many fruity baked goods, these were amazing after being refrigerated overnight. Wonderful news, because you probably don’t want to spend the time and effort required to make these first thing in the morning. I popped them into the microwave for 30 seconds before Mike and I managed to devour, oh, 11 of them. Full disclosure! The two of us ate ELEVEN MUFFINS! I told you they were worth the trouble. The ricotta makes for a fluffy, moist, gooey muffin, and the strawberries were lovely with the tang from the yogurt and sour cream. They weren’t too sweet — perfect for breakfast (though who am I kidding . . . I can definitely do dessert for breakfast on occasion).

Muffins freeze well, too, so why not make a double batch and freeze up a few for later? I actually intended to do just that (my double batch made 27 muffins), but at the rate Mike and I are going . . . yeah, we’ll see how many of these make it to the freezer! I hope you’re enjoying some hearty, warm breakfasts of your own this winter (and for all my friends enjoying summer across the globe right now, run through a sprinkler or two for me!)

Strawberry Walnut Ricotta Muffins



Recipe by: Pastries from La Brea Bakery (adapted by Smitten Kitchen, and then by Willow Bird Baking)
Yields: 12-14 muffins

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (2 ounces) walnuts (can substitute pecans)
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
1/2 cup (4 ounces) ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
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 (I used Cake Release. Butter and flouring the tin will also work. Make sure that when you invert the pans, these babies are going to come out!)

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Shake the pan halfway through to ensure that the nuts toast evenly. Cool, chop finely and set aside. Turn the oven up to 350°F.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda 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 incorporated. Fold in chopped strawberries.

To prepare the filling: Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and, if stiff, break it up wtih a rubber spatula to loosen. Stir in the sour cream or crème fraîche, confectioners’ sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Using a pastry or plastic bag with the corner cut off, fill each muffin tin one-third of the way with batter. Place one tablespoon of the ricotta filling into the center of each muffin. Pipe the remaining batter into the cups, filling them to just below the rim (resist the urge to overfill). Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the nuts over the top of each muffin.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly brown and firm to the touch. Let cool in pan for about 15-20 minutes before inverting over a cooling rack. Let cool upside down. When completely cool, refrigerate in an airtight container until it’s time to eat! Heat for a few seconds in the microwave before eating.


Mixing up the batter and some overfilled muffins fresh from the oven.


Cooling off upside down, and then getting packed up for the fridge.


See that snow in the background? Brrr!


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Plum and Cream Mini Tortes

I was reading over the William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say,” again this weekend after a sweet reader made my Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes and thoughtfully sent me a picture. Those blueberry gems were the first entry on Willow Bird Baking, and I still remember the ice cold blueberries; the cool, dense crumb; the frigid frosting . . . all that cool deliciousness is what led me to paste Williams’ poem into the entry. What was really lovely about reading the poem again is the word that jumped out at me this time around.

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

PLUMS. Ice cold plums. Purple orbs bursting with juice, beaded with water, basking in my colander. Bulging indigo skins covering deep orange-red flesh, plucked up to the cutting board and sliced with a splush. Plush, perfect, plump plums perforated between my . . . teeth. If only there were a p-word for teeth! But you get the idea, alliterated or not. I began fantasizing about performing great culinary feats with those delicious spheres.

A friend told me about an Original Plum Torte recipe she has fond childhood memories of. The recipe sounded delicious: cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over roasted plums inside a spongy cake. The recipe also sounded gorgeous: I love the look of naked plum halves baked until they bubble with fruity sugar. It’s a lovely presentation. I was sold.

To add to the charm, I decided to turn the torte into rustic mini-tortes in parchment paper liners, topped with a dollop of Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting and a dusting of cinnamon. I wanted to hand each person their own rich, juicy little plum, surrounded by cake and wrapped like a present in crisp paper.

The Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is just something I whipped up today. I wanted a creamy component to slather on like clotted cream on a scone. I decided to use ricotta because I love the texture and flavor, especially with fruit, and I wanted to give the mini tortes a rustic Italian feel. I was sorry more of the ricotta flavor didn’t come through — it’s just so mild, and perhaps I shouldn’t have added vanilla — but the cheese did add a rich facet to the flavor and mellow the sugar. This ensured that the frosting had just the right amount of sweetness for this hearty dessert.

I say all this like it was a given that these were going to be amazing. But really, I was nervous. I bought big plums; what if the torte didn’t rise around them enough? What if they simply fell apart when unwrapped (some were a little messy)? What if Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is disgusting? My lovely friend Katie can attest to my uncertainty — today at an amazing Beth Moore simulcast, we caught up after not seeing each other in over a year! While chatting about our lives (by the way, Katie bakes, so expect some joint baking endeavors! Yay!), I mentioned these mini tortes only to immediately disclaim: they could be kitchen failures, I hadn’t tried them yet, they looked wonky, and so on and so forth.

Thankfully, my fears have now been allayed. Every beautiful, splushy Plum and Cream Mini Torte I bit into (I won’t bother telling you how many I ate . . . ahem) resulted in mmmms and ahhhhs. Sometimes it’s hard to read between the lines on a food blog and decide if a given dish was really fantastic or just good. In the interest of clearing up confusion: these are fantastic, and perhaps one of my favorite desserts of all time. And since the recipe is so simple (so glad my friend shared it), you should definitely give them a try. Hope you love them!

Plum and Cream Mini Tortes


Recipe By:

The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook, by Marian Burros and Lois Levine (plum torte, adapted by me)
-Me (frosting)

Yields: About 12-15

Mini Torte Ingredients:
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch salt
6-8 halves small, pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums
1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:
1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners or parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each well. Resist the urge to overfill — the batter will rise! Gently press a plum, skin side down, into each well. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

3. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake part comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. (If not adding frosting, serve as follows: let the torte return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.)

4. Make the frosting: mix all ingredients together until fluffy. Pipe or dollop frosting onto the center of each plum mini torte.

Notes: Try to buy small plums and cut them about 1/4 inch away from the center or a little more. You want small rounds to fit in the center of your mini-tortes without making the cake spread too much. If the cake spreads too much, it won’t snuggle around the plum as it rises and may fall apart when you peel off the paper.


Making my parchment paper liners and readying my mini tortes for the oven.



Baking and fresh out of the oven.


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Baking to Freeze: Classic Italian Lasagna

Classic Italian Lasagna is the second recipe in my “baking to freeze” series (see the introduction post here, if you missed it!)

This recipe could quite literally take you all day to make, but if you’re like me and you love a culinary challenge, go for it! If you’d rather cut out a bit of the labor, you can substitute a jarred spaghetti sauce of your choice for the tomato sauce.

Pay special attention that you season each part of the lasagna well (the pasta, the sauce, the meat, the ricotta mixture).




Cooling off in the fridge before freezing! My first real lasagna!




Baking to Freeze Recipe #2: Classic Lasagna


Recipe by: Adapted from Giada DiLaurentis, with tomato sauce by Tina
Yields: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

Quick Tomato Sauce:
olive oil
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon diced shallots
1 large can tomato puree
1-2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons basil (to taste)
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper

Béchamel Sauce:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the lasagna
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk at room temperature
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, recipe follows (I would add more for a bolder tomato flavor)
Salt and white pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground chuck beef
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 pound lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:
Make quick tomato sauce: Sautee onion, garlic, and shallots in olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Add a large can of tomato puree and all spices and herbs. Let sauce simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Make béchamel sauce: In a 2-quart pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When butter has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and tomato sauce. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a saute pan, heat extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Into the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish (disposable oven-proof baking dishes are wonderful for freezing in), spread 1/3 of the béchamel sauce (NOTE: if you’re freezing the lasagna but don’t have a disposable baking dish, line a glass baking dish with foil and leave the ends hanging over the dish. Assemble your lasagna in the dish and bake. Then, after you’ve cooled, you can freeze the casserole, pull it out using the ends of the foil, and store it in a large ziplock bag. When you’re ready to thaw and bake, you can use the original dish). Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread a layer of all the ricotta mixture and then a layer of all the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella cheese on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining béchamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place lasagna dish on top, cover and put on the middle rack of the oven and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for about 15 minutes. (If freezing, bake for 30 minutes covered, remove cover and bake for 5 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and wrap well — double up layers of plastic wrap. Store in freezer for up to 3 months).

Thawing Instructions: Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook 20-30 minutes or until lasagna is heated through and bubbly.

Pictures of the process:


Béchamel sauce with tomato sauce mixed in.




Lasagna assembling about to begin.




Lasagnas ready for the oven (and an interested Byrd in the background).




Yeah . . . that’s my usually tidy kitchen after a full day of lasagnaing (during which I think I used almost every dish and utensil I own — and most of my roommate’s as well). And I’m a clean-as-you-go person, too, but what can I say?




All packaged and ready!




A nice plate of lasagna and cheesy garlic bread after reheating!

Click here to download thawing/baking instruction labels and recipe card to include with this dish.

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