Food You Can Eat: Ricotta Bars and Muffins

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I always seem to end up with more ricotta than I need. I’m usually buying it for just a baked penne/rigatoni/etc, and those ricotta tubs are big. So I started looking into new recipes to use it up, and I found two different baked goods that are now house favorites. I’ll also include a recipe to make your own ricotta at the end. 

Ricotta crumb bars

When I made these, I made two changes from the original found at this link. One change I recommend, one I do not. DO consider adding some jam. It adds a nice burst of sweet/tart flavor that really complements the creamy delicate bars. DO NOT replace some of the butter with vegetable oil (I did this because I didn’t have enough butter. I did a half recipe with 4 tbsp butter and 4 tbsp vegetable oil. It worked, and they were still good, but I could tell the crust would have tasted much better with all butter. The crust is not sweetened, so it really needs the butter to give it flavor.)

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup room temperature butter
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (1 lb)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional – raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 13×9 inch baking dish. Or, as I realized later, it probably would make life much easier to line the dish with parchment paper so the bars could be easily lifted out of the dish after baking. 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the butter in 1 tbsp pieces to the flour and mix in with a fork. The butter should be dispersed in the flour with pea sized butter pieces throughout. (You could also pulse it all together in a food processor, but it’s not hard to do with a fork and clean-up is easier.) 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the ricotta, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until thoroughly combined. 

Put 2/3 of the flour mixture into the prepared dish and press it firmly into the bottom. Pour the cheese mixture over the crust. (If you’re adding the jam, I dropped small spoonfuls over the top of the ricotta mix. It occurred to me that it probably would have been easier to spread it on the bottom crust rather than dealing with putting it on top of a liquid layer, but I kinda liked the effect of uneven bursts of jam over the top.) Sprinkle the remaining flour mixture over the top.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Let the bars cool for 10 minutes before cutting them into squares. They are delicate, so handle gently. Store covered at room temperature for 3 days or refrigerated for a week. 

Lemon ricotta muffins

These have probably become my favorite muffin recipe. The texture is wonderful, and the flavor is subtle. I tried to make them once with just the bottled lemon juice from my fridge, no zest, and the dominant flavor became olive oil. I still liked them, but they were definitely not as good. The recipe is from here, though I reduced the sugar a bit because that’s how I roll.

  • 7.9 ounces all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups, but make sure it’s lightly spooned into measuring cups and not packed)
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt; make a well in center. In a separate bowl, combine ricotta, water, oil, zest, lemon juice, and egg. Add ricotta mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. (If you don’t make muffins often – it is important not to overmix if you want your muffins light and fluffy! You want to just barely incorporate the liquid into the flour. Clumps are desirable and will quickly hydrate as the muffins bake. The more you stir, the more you develop the gluten, and you will end up with chewy muffins with “tunneling” of bubbles that got trapped inside the gluten network. Also, too much mixing can make your baking powder go flat and you could end up with dense muffins that don’t rise enough.)

Grease 12 muffin cups or use liners coated with cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin cups. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over batter. Bake at 375° for 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pan before moving to a wire rack.

Homemade ricotta

I didn’t have a proper sized strainer so I clipped the cheesecloth to the bowl instead

I’ve always heard “it’s so easy to make!” but usually that’s a load of crap. This time, it was actually legit – ricotta really is quite easy. The only reason I tried this is because ordering groceries seems to often result in my getting things very close to expiration. The first time this happened with milk, I tried making yogurt, to… mixed… results. The second time I had too much milk that was going to expire, I decided to try my hand at making ricotta, and it was easy and tasty. You just need to have a food thermometer and a cheesecloth. You can also theoretically use a very clean dish towel, or even coffee filters (though they’re small and could tear). 

  • 1/2 gal whole milk, not UHT-pasteurized
  • 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar (or 1/3 cup lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pour the milk into a pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, monitoring the temperature with a thermometer, and stirring occasionally to avoid burning on the bottom. The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from the heat if it starts to boil.

Remove from the heat. Pour in the vinegar and salt. Stir gently to combine and then let it sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. It should separate into white curds and watery yellow whey. If it’s not separating, you may need to add another tablespoon of acid. 

Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheesecloth. Carefully pour the curds and the whey through the strainer. (It may be helpful to transfer big curds with a slotted spoon first to keep them from splashing and making a mess as you pour.)

Let the ricotta drain for about ten minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. I made the mistake of squeezing the ricotta in the cheesecloth, which made it too dry. But if it gets too dry, just stir some of the whey back in. The crumb bar recipe gave me a decent guideline for how wet/dry store-bought ricotta typically is: 2 cups should be about 1 lb. 

Fresh ricotta can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.



    • Well, I’m using third party services like Instacart (I don’t know many grocery delivery services that are run by the stores themselves), so the shoppers don’t care about inventory. They just can be careless. Most of them (most…) at least have the sense to pick decent produce that isn’t bruised to shit, because they need high ratings from customers. 

      • I’m guessing that the shoppers also have to be quick, so they’re not going to spend time looking at the tags on the bread bags, or the expiration dates on the baby spinach tubs to see which ones are fresher, much less digging down where the newer stuff is.  They need to grab and go so they can make more money on volume.

  1. The bars and muffins are fantastic! You can never have enough ricotta. I sometimes make my own, out of tedium. The first time The Better Half caught me straining he asked, “What are you doing?” “I’ll let you guess. What am I doing?” “I don’t know. Creating new life? Nuclear experiment?” “Neither of the above, bad-sci-fi-movie-obsessed husband. I’m making ricotta.” “You can make that at home?” “Where do you think it comes from? It’s really quite simple and people have been making it for centuries.” 

  2. Very impressive. Both the bars and the muffins look accessible to make, and mmm mmm good to eat! And homemade ricotta? Who knew? I will get some cheesecloth and give a whirl.

    • This is also how you make cottage cheese, its fraternal twin, if you’re inclined to make your own. This I also do sometimes, just out of boredom. Having read far too many Kennedy biographies I get the feeling that First Lady Jackie’s private, non-State Dinner diet consisted of at least 50% cottage cheese and 20% cigarettes, with some fruit, steamed asparagus, and salmon thrown in occasionally.

    • Let me know how your ricotta making goes!
      I just realized I should have discussed uses for the leftover whey you end up straining out. You can use it in place of water in most baked goods, or to cook your rice/pasta/beans in for a little extra flavor. Supposedly it also makes a good base for meat marinades and helps tenderize? However, because whey contains the bulk of the lactose from the milk, I go easy on my husband’s delicate stomach and don’t make anything from it. I instead dilute it and give it to my plants, who seem happy with the arrangement. Some people also like drinking it straight up, or putting it in smoothies. I imagine any ravenous hounds would also very much enjoy it. 

  3. Um, yum. I love these both, even though my lactose-intolerant self is also doubling over imagining the consequences of chowing down on entire batches of these, as I know I would want to do!

  4. Ohh I want to make ricotta now! 

    I have a few coworkers that make paneer at home and I keep meaning to try that as well. It’s very similar in process, you just have to basically rinse and make a bundle and compress it so it makes the finished product. 

  5. the muffins/bars are a little puzzling to me, but thanks for including the instructions to making ricotta, I had no idea it wasn’t more complex than that…

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