My eyes were bigger than my stomach a few weeks ago at the farmers’ market and I came home with way more cherries than I could possibly eat in the three days before I headed out of town. Now I know that cherries don’t freeze terribly well compared to say, strawberries or blueberries, but it seemed a better option than letting the excess go bad. Since then, the question has been what do with said cherries. Though I LOVE the taste of fresh cherries when they’re firm and just ripe, I’ve always had a little bit of an aversion to the squishiness of cooked cherries. Nevertheless, when I saw this recipe for cherry-vanilla ricotta muffins in Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe, the cookbook my friend Zarin gave me as a graduation present recently, I knew I had found a home for my frozen cherries.
I popped the muffin tins in the oven on Sunday morning and did what every good baker should do- reward yourself by licking the mixing bowl! The hints of cherry and vanilla, mixed with the creaminess of the ricotta, evoked the flavor of a light, Italian-style cheesecake. I was happy to find that after baking, the muffins retained that flavor and had a large moist crumb. And because the cherries were sliced thin, rather than mixed in large pieces, I didn’t have any of the issues I normally do with the texture of cooked cherries. I used a combination of Bing and Rainiers, both of which seemed to work perfectly in both a batch of regular sized muffins and a batch of mini muffin tops. I’ll admit the mini-muffin tops, shown above, didn’t quite puff up the way we might have hoped, but though they aren’t the most photogenic muffins, the taste more than made up for it. Mollie Katzen also suggests a lemon ricotta variation (double the lemon zest and omit the cherries), which I can only imagine it would be an equally delicious start to a lazy Sunday morning.
Cherry-vanilla ricotta muffins (makes 8-10)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1/2-2/3 cup sugar
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butterm melted
1 1/2 cup cherries (fresh or frozen, undefrosted), pitted and sliced, or 1 cup dried cherries
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly spray muffin tins with nonstick spray.
2. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Put the ricotta in a second medium-sized bowl and beat in the buttermilk. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with a whisk after each addition. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla.
4. Pour the ricotta mixture, along with the melted butter and the cherries, into the dry ingredients. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, stir from the bottom of the bowl until the dry ingredients are all moistened. Don’t overmix, some lumps are okay. Batter will be quite thick.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. For smaller muffins, fill the cups about 4/5 full or for larger muffins, fill them up to the top. Base in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (The baking time may be slightly longer if you are using frozen cherries, as they give off more liquid. For smaller muffins, bake approximately 12-15 minutes.) Remove the pan from the oven, then remove each muffin from the pan and place on a rack to cool. Let cool before serving.