Lemon, cornmeal balance flavors in New Orleans muffins

Noelle Carter

Lightly sweet and with a tender crumb, a batch of fresh lemon cornmeal muffins can be a powerful thing. Just ask reader Susan Slesinger of Seal Beach; she’s been thinking about the little cakes at chef John Besh’s Willa Jean restaurant in New Orleans ever since she was in the Crescent City last July.

The muffins, a creation of chef Kelly Field, are the right balance of buttery cornmeal cake and fresh lemon, with both zest and juice folded into the batter along with ricotta and mascarpone cheeses, giving the muffins a rich but gentle tang. Topped with a sweet lemon glaze, a batch of these works equally well for breakfast or dessert, or any time you’re craving a little taste of New Orleans at home.

Willa Jean’s Lemon Cornmeal Muffins

1 hour, plus cooling time. Makes 11/2 dozen muffins.

11/2 cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornmeal

21/4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

11/2 teaspoons salt

7 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup plus 5 teaspoons (6 ounces) sugar

Very finely grated zest from 5 lemons

2 eggs

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup plus 11/2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons plus 21/2 teaspoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

11/4 cups ricotta, at room temperature

1/2 cup mascarpone, at room temperature

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Slowly beat in the lemon juice, oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract until fully combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the ricotta and mascarpone cheeses.

Slowly beat one-third of the flour mixture into the muffin batter, then beat in one-half of the cheese mixture. Beat in half of the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the cheese. Finally, beat in the last of the flour just until incorporated.

Portion the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake until the muffins are puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove and cool the muffins in the tins on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before removing. Cool completely before glazing.

Glaze and assembly

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup cream (milk or water can be substituted)

Prepared muffins

Whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon juice and cream to form a glaze. Drizzle a generous tablespoon over each of the muffins and serve immediately, or set aside to allow the glaze to set up before serving.

Note: Adapted from a recipe by Kelly Field, chef and partner at Willa Jean restaurant in New Orleans.