May 16, 2010

What Makes me Bake: Rhubarb Muffins

My baking mood comes on the days when certainty and stability are easiest to obtain through knowing that mixing specific ingredients in the specific proportion will yield a very definite result. I have started anticipating my yet another house moving which makes me very baking prone these days. 

Rhubarb Muffins: Posing for a Shot
In the last two years I have changed four flats and I guess it is a thing to do for a Muscovite. Moscow is one of those cities where the ingenious population is dramatically going down due to the invasion from the various regions of Russia and the ex-Soviet republics. Crowds hungry for meaningful jobs, big money and good lives rush into the capital. Arguably, many modern Muscovites are effectively migrant workers - maybe very skilled but still very migrant.

Well, I am one. Moscow for me is about making money and spending extravagantly on good restaurants, branded clothes, expensive watches, posh cars and ridiculously expensive real estate. I am still clueless as to how Muscovites have families or even live long in the aggressive environment of the outrageous traffic jams, notorious air pollution and millions of non-smiling people. And changes… ongoing and uninterrupted changes – changes in the circumstances of your own, people you share flats with and people who own and rent flats. In my case this meant moving fours houses in the last two years.

My first place was my sisters' dorm which did a brilliant job in getting me started in Moscow when I was back after my extravagant abroad travels. As my sister went to the parents' place in our home town for the summer break I took over her dorm room. I was a bit like that little girl in the Three Bears fairytale who ate with someone else' favorite spoon and slept on someone else's comfortable bed. But then I had the ongoing déjà vu as many of things around me were very familiar –interior decorations my sister got when visiting me in India or her IKEA kitchen supplies that resembled the ones I used when living in Norway. So somehow I felt at home.

Two months later with a dream job and a dream boyfriend at hand I moved into my second place. It was a sweet downtown flat in a five-storey house with the old-Moscow-feel creaky parquet and a balcony overlooking a quite courtyard. I've actually grabbed that place as the landlady would not want girl tenants. I insisted on a meeting where I went suited up which seemed to demonstrate enough of seriousness to convince the landlady. We shared the place with Masha from Novosibirsk whom I met through a website connecting people looking for a flatshare in Moscow. Ah, this were glorious times of getting to know the best of Moscow – long working hours, great bars and restaurants, weekend shopping and movies and business trips to Siberia. The landlady should have trusted her instincts though: in less than half a year Masha was buying a flat of her own and I moved in with my boyfriend.

The third place was little far off from the centre en route to Sheremetievo airport. The flat was wonderful: tastefully renovated by an architect who used to rent it and packed with all the conveniences for comfortable living. It was about the time when I developed a habit of taking cab to the gym in the mornings, using dishwasher, infallibly cooking at least one meat dish per day, online ordering my groceries, think nothing of listening to the regular complains about everything and hating my own life. After staring at that preview of a family life in Moscow I had to run. Quick.

In desperation I moved to my fourth flat, a shoebox in the downtown. When I brought all my stuff there the room was enough just to accommodate my suitcases and bags. Of course I thought of it as a temporary solution and of course it turned to be my longest occupied housing in Moscow to date. While living there I abandoned the shopping and restaurant habits, sustained the taxi habit, resumed the weird places travelling habit and acquired yoga and vegetarian eating habit. Andrey, my flatmate, was a born cook and it really was fun to cook together or share meals. I am particularly fond of the memories of the muffin making session we had once when after piloting a few recipes we've approved a recipe of muffins with cottage cheese and sour fruits of choice. As I am spending most of my time in Ukraine now (which I will soon leave too) I am left with baking tributes. So here is my seasonal tribute to the memories of my Moscow life. I know that they don't have rhubarb there this year yet but I have taken advantage of rhubarb available at the farmers market here to make muffins and delighted to share this rhubarb recipe here. 

Rhubarb Muffins Recipe
Rhubarb Muffins:

Ingredients (12 servings)

For muffin batter:
300 g whole-wheat floor
100 g brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg
250 g plain yogurt
100 ml milk
120 g chopped rhubarb (about 1 sm long)

For cottage cheese filling:
200 g cottage cheese
1 egg
2 tbsp brown sugar

For caramelized rhubarb topping: 
140 g olive oil (because I don't use butter)
200 g brown sugar
600 g chopped rhubarb
110 g multigrain flakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F). Grease the muffin cups / silicon baking pans with olive oil.
  2. Prepare the caramelized rhubarb topping: put a sauté pan on a medium flame and when it is warned up add olive oil. Then put sugar in the pan and start stirring with wooden spoon to bring the sugar to caramelize– in 3-5 minutes sugar will dissolve and starts turning dark brown (or light brown if you use white sugar). Add chopped rhubarb and shake vigorously to coat the rhubarb into the caramelized sugar for 2 minutes. Add multigrain flakes, keep shaking for 1 minute and set aside.
  3. Make the muffin batter: In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients (whole-wheat floor, brown sugar, salt, baking soda and ground cinnamon). In a smaller bow mix the whisked egg, milk and olive oil. Now combine the dry and liquid ingredients: in the large bowl make a small well in the centre, place the liquid mixture there and start stirring from the centre. Mix the muffin batter just long enough to moisten all the dry ingredients but don't over mix. Mix in the chopped rhubarb.

    Rhubarb Muffins: The Process

  4. Prepare the cottage cheese filling: In a small bowl beat cream cheese to remove the lumps. Add egg and brown sugar. Beat until smooth then set aside.
  5. Place the muffin butter in the muffin cups to make them half-full. Then add one tablespoon of the cottage cheese mixture right in the middle of the batter in each cup – press the cottage cheese mixture into the batter slightly. And finally add the caramelized rhubarb on the muffins to fully cover the tops.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees F (195 degrees C) for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve cold – they are lovely with vanilla ice-cream!

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