(Delayed Post from February 23rd, 2010)

I have a confession to make: I cry when I even think about watching The Notebook, and I bake when I’m stressed. Now, I never knew that first part until earlier this week, when I began describing the movie to Walker, and I started getting all teary. I think almost everyone on the planet can agree that it is a movie that you just can’t help crying over, but I’ll go out on a limb and suppose that most people wait until they’re actually watching it to cry over fictional characters.

The second part I’ve known for quite some time now. In fact, it’s a tried and true pattern. Got a term paper due? Put on a chick flick and make some brownies. Boyfriend troubles? Surely a rom-com and cupcakes will make everything better.

Now, after college, its taken on an entirely new set of instigators. Dog stressing you out? Bake something non-chocolate so that she can have some of the dough. Oven in the apartment is broken and your landlord is ambivalent? Burn some cookies to demonstrate the problem.

This week, it was nothing disastrous, but instead something great that had me biting my fingernails and looking for something constructive to do with my hands.

I have a brand new job! And with nothing to procrastinate over, and nothing to actively do to prepare for it, I’m stressed. And stressed means baking. But at least this time my stress baking results in filling breakfasts and tasty snacks for my first week of work!

Orange Walnut Muffins with Ricotta Centers
Adapted from both Pink of Perfection and Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

1 liter whole milk
juice of half of a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
1 1/3 cup walnuts, 1/3 cup of which will be an optional garnish
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest, plus 1 additional teaspoon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup fresh orange juice

Preparation

1. Make ricotta: Over direct heat, bring liter of whole milk to a boil. Squeeze in half a lemon, and let boil for another two minutes. Pour into a cheese cloth lined strainer, and let sit for up to an hour. The longer it sits, the drier the ricotta will be. Break up the ricotta with a fork, and add up to 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, to your taste.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush muffin tins with oil. Place walnuts in food processor and pulse until finely ground. Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor, just very finely chop 1 cup of the walnuts, breaking up any large pieces. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together orange zest, flour, baking powder, salt, and ground walnuts. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and stir in eggs, brown sugar, orange juice, and oil until just moistened.

4. Prepare ricotta mixture and walnut garnish: mix ricotta with 1/4 cup sour cream, and set aside. Roughly chop a 1/3 cup of walnuts for garnish, and set aside.

4. Assemble the muffins: Pour one spoonful batter into each muffin tin, then one spoon full of the ricotta mixture, then one more spoonful of batter, or enough to cover the top of the ricotta. Don’t overfill the cups. This recipe’s batter will not rise much, but try to only fill up to the 3/4 full point. Sprinkle with a handful of roughly chopped walnuts, if you wish. Bake until the tops look entirely set up, and don’t give way when you tap them, 20 about minutes. Run a knife around the outside of each muffin, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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