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
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!