My husband has this funny thing that he says, a particular saying that is not at all congruent with his age, gender or personality. It's his go-to all-purpose exclamation; he uses it when he stubs his toe, when he discovers a twenty dollar bill in the dryer, or when someone cuts him off in Los Angeles traffic. At any given moment, from the other side of the house, I might hear it...
"Mother of pearl!"
I do not know where he picked up this ill-fitting idiom. It's something I imagine a pious 70-year-old woman in Savannah might say in place of a more gauche expletive. The first time I heard him say it, I think I even did an actual real-life spit take.
And yet, when I pulled these glorious ricotta blueberry muffins from the oven, buttery white with golden crusty peaks and shocks of deep purple, all I could think was, "mother of pearl!" (Which was quickly followed by, "How badly burned will my tongue be if I lick the gooey blueberry juice off the hot pan?")
Only twenty minutes earlier I had furrowed my brow at what I thought was a wine-induced error in measurements. The batter for this recipe is not what one would expect: it's closer to bread dough, thick and dry and practically unstirable. I had to use my fingers and a spoon to grab chunks of dough to put into the muffin pan, instead of pouring it in. It seemed so wrong that I retraced my steps and measurements, and even considered starting over. If I hadn't already used all my blueberries (for which I'd stopped at two markets after a long day at work) I would have started from scratch. Instead, I shoved the pan into the oven, defeated, and started thinking of a quick batch of cookies to make as a backup. Which is why when I opened the door to the oven twenty minutes later and saw the most dramatically cragged and bueberrygasmic muffins, my own words failed me, and I was forced to borrow my husband's.
So, these are the Mother of Pearl Ricotta Blueberry Muffins.
I'm sorry I doubted the recipe, because its brilliant. Listen to this: you take the sugar, add the zest of one lime, and then kind of mash the zest into the sugar with your fingers, until the sugar is moist and completely infused with lime. After you've done this step, lean forward and take in the aroma. The smell will send you, and the flavor in the end result is subtle and perfect with the creamy ricotta and sweet bursts of melted berries. The tops of the muffins are crunchy and the crumb is light as air, but kept grounded by that smooth ricotta.
They're the muffins you imagine you'd be served at the most beautiful countryside Bed and Breakfast of your dreams. But even better.
You know what? I take it back. These should be called the Holy $@#! Ricotta Blueberry Muffins. They're way too good to be polite about.
(Your Expletive Here) Ricotta Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
3/4 cup ricotta, preferably at room temperature
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/3 cups blueberries
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin tin, or fit the molds with paper muffin cups.
Whisk the ricotta, eggs and vanilla together, then stir in the melted butter.
Working in a large bowl and using your fingertips, rub the sugar and lime zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Switch to a whisk and stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Put the ricotta mixture on top of the dry ingredients and, using a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend—don’t worry about being thorough. The batter will be thick and heavy and that’s fine. Fold in the blueberries.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds, slide the pan into the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden, springy to the touch and a knife inserted into the center of the muffins will come out clean. Pull the pan from the oven and carefully lift each muffin out of its mold and onto a rack to cool.
Yields 12 muffins.
Note: These are DEFINITELY best eaten the day they are made, even worth waking up early to make, but you can wrap them airtight and freeze for up to two months; re-warm in a 300°F oven or split them and toast. And feel free to substitute the blueberries with another berry -- raspberries would be delicious. However, avoid strawberries, as they're too watery.