Amanda is my original culinary partner in crime. Back when I lived in Cambridge, MA, we would spend at least one night each weekend cooking. Planning menus, grocery shopping, and enjoying the fruits of our labor with Amanda were (and still are!) among my favorite ways to spend a day. Now that we live across the country from one another, it’s a bit harder to keep up with each other’s culinary adventures, but after hearing about these muffins over the phone as they were baking yesterday, not only did I want the recipe, but I thought is might be fun for her to be a guest blog them. She very graciously agreed and below are her onion and shallot muffins in her own words…
Toscannini’s is one of my favorite cafés in Cambridge. In a city with a lot of excellent ice cream, Toscannini’s is probably my all-time favorite, mostly for their really inventive flavors that are also subtle and not too sweet. One Toscannini’s location also has really good muffins and scones, and that’s where I had what quickly became a surprise favorite—a cheddar and onion scone. It was a surprise because I love dessert and anything sweet. I can usually be counted on to pick the baked good that has the most frosting, glaze or powdered sugar on it, as opposed to the savory cheddar and onion scone. But one day I was feeling like branching out and am really glad I did. The cheddar and onion scone is a perfect mixture of a breakfasty baked good and a savory snack. Looking through my cookbooks for something similar I could make at home, I found Williams-Sonoma’s onion and shallot muffins.
I was immediately excited about these muffins not only because they looked like a good stand-in for the cheddar and onion scone (the “onion and shallot” name being sort of misleading, because one of their main ingredients is actually cheese) but also because they allowed me to use a shallot, which, I learned from Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, is an essential ingredient of a true chef. I’m certainly not a chef, but since I’d somehow managed to go 30 years without ever purchasing or cooking with a shallot I figured it was about time, even if I did find Anthony’s Kitchen Confidential persona pretty overbearing. I also tend to like whatever I make from my four Williams-Sonoma cookbooks (including my favorite banana bread and ice cream recipes—the mint chip is completely amazing) so these muffins seemed like an excellent choice.
I didn’t have the Jarlsberg or Swiss cheese the recipe called for, so I substituted cheddar, which I tend to like more anyway. The end result was a muffin quite like– if not quite as great as– my favorite Toscannini’s scone. For me, this was a good thing but others may find these muffins a little dry. In fact, the batter was also dry when I made it- so much so that I had to add a few more tablespoons of milk in order to fully moisten the dry ingredients with the wet ones. The end result is something not quite like a conventional muffin in texture, and may even be closer to a biscuit than a scone. The addition of fresh parsley and dried oregano adds a nice flavor, though, and the melted cheese on top makes the usual best part of the muffin- the muffin top- even better. I’ve been eating these muffins alone but they’d also be great as a side with a salad or a bowl of soup. All in all I’d definitely recommend them, but suggest some recipe tweaking (more moisture) for those in search of a true muffin texture.
Williams-Sonoma’s Onion and Shallot Muffins (makes 12 muffins)
5 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 medium to large shallot, minced
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups grated Jarlsberg or Swiss cheese (I used cheddar)
3 tbsp minced flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
4 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
½ tsp celery seed
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease muffin cups with butter. In a frying pan over medium heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and shallot and sauté until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
2.In a bowl, stir together the flour, 1 cup of the cheese, and the parsley, baking powder, salt, oregano and celery seed.
3. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and milk until blended. Add the cooled onions, along with any oil left in the pan.
4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the liquid mixture until just evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy. Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling it level with the rim of the cup. Sprinkle each muffin with some of the remaining cheese. Bake until golden, dry and springy to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin should come out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature.