Ricotta cheese adds flavor and moisture to blueberry cake

NewsdaySeptember 4, 2013 

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Is there anything sadder than a half-full container of sour cream or yogurt, sitting forlornly in the refrigerator and waiting to reach its “best used by” date?

Yes, actually, there is. You can always put a few spoonfuls of sour cream on baked potatoes. The yogurt can be eaten for breakfast, with fruit or cereal. The saddest container in my refrigerator has always been half-filled with ricotta cheese. Inspiration struck one morning when I noticed the words “whole milk” on my ricotta container. I use milk when making cakes, so why not substitute some ricotta cheese?

If the idea of cheese in your cake seems wrong, remember that ricotta isn’t actually cheese. It is made with whey left over from the cheesemaking process, recooked (thus its name) with some acid until small curds form. With more character than milk but less character than sour cream, it can add fresh, creamy flavor to a cake without too much tartness.

For my experiment, I chose a not-too-sweet cake recipe that can be put together in minutes and pulled out of the oven before everyone else wakes up.

Cornmeal gives the cake some color and crunch. The ricotta lends it moisture and mild dairy flavor.

I kept it simple this time, dusting the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar. But I might add a streusel topping if I was serving it to houseguests. I’d cut up 4 tablespoons of butter and then use my fingers to work them into a mixture of 1/4-cup sugar, 1/4-cup flour and 1/4-cup yellow cornmeal until crumbs form. Then I’d freeze the crumbs while I made the cake batter, sprinkling them on top just before putting the cake into the oven.

ONE-BOWL BLUEBERRY-RICOTTA BREAKFAST CAKE

Makes 9 servings.

3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, room temperature

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup fresh blueberries, picked over

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk together ricotta and eggs in a large glass measuring cup. Whisk together flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Add ricotta mixture and lemon zest to bowl with flour mixture. Stir with a spatula until moistened (it will be lumpy). Stir in butter until incorporated. Stir in blueberries.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool in pan 5 minutes, invert onto a wire rack, and then turn right side up to cool slightly.

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