Monday, September 22, 2008

Cottage Cheese Muffins

There's a Jewish bagel shop named Solly's down the street. J. and I happened across Solly's one day when we were out shopping, most likely getting derailed by kitchen supply stores and funky clothing and home deco shops along the route of our well-intentioned trip. We were in desperate need of a pick-us-up, because we were getting grumpy. J., an insatiable sweet-tooth, always opts for a sweet treat, and I, a borderline hypoglycemic, grabbed the nearest thing to a protein fix I could see: a cottage cheese muffin, the last slouching muffin in the basket.

Solly's saved our shopping lives that day.

The muffin was airy, buttery, creamy, softly textured and the perfect antidote to the shopping blues. I had never had anything like it before. I haven't had anything like it since.

I've spent many hours scrounging online for recipes that might help me to reproduce these tasty morsels, but they're always off-the-mark. Too sweet, too herby, too much flour, not enough buttery goodness... so I decided to try my hand at recreating them from the simple muffin formula of about 50% fat and 90% moisture (thank you, Rose Levy Berenbaum, for your meticulosity that enables us all to be spontaneous).

I took equal parts cottage cheese and buttermilk and added just enough flour and egg to hold it together. A little parmesan for good measure, olive oil to make them pliable, plenty of baking powder and soda to give them a little loft, and some salt. They smelled amazing while they baked and tasted even better. I put in too much salt, though, for the parmesan and the salted cottage cheese I was using, but other than that... after popping one into his mouth straight from the muffin pan, J. mumbled around his mouthful of muffin, "I think you've got it just about right, hun."

So here it is. Cottage cheese muffins a la Solly's Bagelry. Reincarnated in my kitchen.

Cottage Cheese Muffins
(makes 12 regular-sized muffins)

1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
a dash of salt

In a small bowl, whisk together the cottage cheese, buttermilk, egg, and olive oil together until incorporated. (If you wanted to make a perfectly smooth muffin, you could do this in your blender, with a few quick whirls of the pulse button. I prefer a more textured muffin, so I did this by hand.)

In another, slightly larger bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, parmesan, baking powder and soda, and salt. Pour in the wet mixture, working in quick strokes and stirring just enough to make the batter come together. Do not overmix! That would make these beautifully fluffy and airy muffins too chewy.

Spoon into greased (very important) muffin tins. (For additional flavor, you can sprinkle your parmesan on the tops of the muffins just before baking instead of putting the parmesan into your batter. If you put the parmesan on top, you will want a little extra salt in the muffin batter to compensate.) Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the tops are golden. Serve warm.... without butter. (J., who is a butter-aholic when it comes to any kind of baked good, even pronounced these butter-free! Seriously, he would put butter on cookies if I let him.)

These muffins do well for a few days stored in an airtight container. They're lovely when they're warmed in the toaster oven. Perfect alongside a bowl of hearty soup or as a mid-morning protein-filled snack.