Friday, March 12, 2010

Cleo Coyle's Shamrock Pistachio Muffins (with Ricotta)

Here in New York City the St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of the biggest of the year.

Hot coffee is a must for me and my husband on those cold March mornings when we line up with our fellow New Yorkers to watch the parade.

Portable food is also a good idea, especially when it’s green. So this year I created a special St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Pistachio Muffin using ricotta cheese.

Why ricotta? Because even though everyone is Irish on March 17, I’m Italian every other day of the year, and this sweet, soft Italian cheese is a fantastic ingredient for making a tender, delicious muffin.
BTW - Below are a few of my photos and my YouTube video (just uploaded this weekend) from 2008's St. Patrick’s Day parade here in NYC. The parade is one of my favorites in the city. Both the New York Fire and Police Departments march in large numbers, and the spectators are often dressed as colorfully as the marchers.

Click the arrow in the window above to see the video
that I uploaded to YouTube this weekend...

As for today’s recipe…this is a wonderful muffin for a coffee break or breakfast. They're moist and tender, even a day or two after baking, and the ricotta cheese gives them substance without making them dry or heavy, so they're satisfying as well as delicious. (Try them warm, right out of the oven, split open and slathered with butter or cream cheese!)
If this muffin were a book, I would title it A Tale of Two Pistachios. The finely ground pistachios give the batter its pale green color. These finely ground nuts also distribute the pistachio flavor through the batter (like an almond or chestnut flour), so there’s no need to add any artificial pistachio flavoring. At the same time, the roughly chopped pistachios give your mouth a contrasting experience, providing bursts of crunchy nut flavor like a good pistachio ice cream. I hope you enjoy the recipe and (of course)...
Have a Happy St. Patrick's Day! ~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle’s Shamrock Pistachio Muffins
(with Ricotta)

To get this recipe in a PDF document that you can print or share with friends and family, click here.

Makes 12 muffins

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk (whole or reduced fat)1 cup ricotta (whole milk or part-skim)1/4 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (very important - measure after sifting)1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup whole pistachios (measure after removing shells)
1 teaspoon green food coloring (optional for shamrock shade)

Step 1 – Prepare pistachios:

Remove the shells by hand and measure out 1 cup of whole pistachios. (I use natural, dry roasted California pistachios, available in most grocery stores.) Roughly chop 1/2 cup of them (just place in plastic bag and bang away with a meat hammer or another fun smashing device). The final ½ cup of whole pistachios must be ground finely using a food processor or blade grinder. *See my tips at the end of this recipe for getting the best results on this.
Step 2 – Make batter: Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, vanilla, milk, ricotta, and salt. Add sifted flour, baking powder, and the finely ground and roughly chopped pistachios from Step 1. Blend all ingredients only enough to make a smooth batter.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not over-mix at this stage or you will develop gluten in your batter and toughen your muffins. Be especially careful with adding the food coloring. Resist the urge to continue adding food coloring and playing with the dough’s shade. Every time you work that batter, you are toughening it up. Add it once and let it go!
Optional: To make your muffins “wear the green” for St. Patrick’s Day, add 1 teaspoon of green food coloring when adding the final ingredients to your batter. This will turn the batter an emerald green shamrock shade.

(See photo below) The batter on the left was made a shamrock shade with green food coloring. The batter on the right is au naturel.

Step 3 – Prepare muffin pan and fill cups: Preheat oven to 375° F. Line muffin cups with paper holders. Fill each muffin cup to the very top with batter. This will give you a nice, rounded muffin top. You can bake the muffins naked or add a sprinkling of some roughly chopped pistachios.
Step 4 - Bake and cool: Bake the muffins about 25 minutes. Muffins are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (with no batter on it). Allow pan to cool for a few minutes and transfer the muffins to a cooling rack. Do not allow muffins to stay in the hot pan or the bottoms may steam and become tough.
(See photo below) I topped this batch of muffins with a sprinkling of roughly chopped pistachios, but these muffins are just as good with plain tops. If you want to try something deliciously decadent, finish the baked and cooled pistachio muffins with cream cheese frosting...oooohhhh, baby!

*TIPS ON GRINDING NUTS: When a recipe asks you to finely grind nuts, you are creating a “nut flour,” which can give a lovely flavor to any dough or batter. But be careful not to ruin that wonderful flavor by over grinding. Make sure to pulse the grinder or food processor, running it in short bursts. And be sure to stop the grinder as soon as the nuts are pulverized. Why do this? Grinding without pause will create a high RPM on the blades and the friction will overheat the nuts and burn them, imparting a scorched taste to your finished product. If you over-grind, you’re facing the same issue. So pulse, baby, pulse. Do not over grind, and...

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle
author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries

To get more of my recipes or to find out about the books in my nationally bestselling Coffeehouse Mystery series, visit me at my official website:

Comments welcome!
Just click on the comments link below...


  1. Pistachios! Yum! What green-filled fun! Thanks for sharing, Cleo! ~Avery

  2. What a great idea! Ricotta is perfect to work with and makes such good sense for muffins. I love pistachios and these muffins look tasty AND festive!!


  3. Cleo-

    Pistachio is one of my favorite flavors. How clever of you to muffinize it for St Patty's.
    I used to live in New Haven and the St Patty's parade there was HUGE. I remember 32 degrees and green beer -- good times!

    Enjoy the parade!

  4. These are beautiful and I love the variations you provided. How fun. Believe it or not Chicago has eliminated our St. Paddy's Day parade. Budget cuts. I'm not sure if Mayor Daley's still planning to turn the river green, but I really hope that tradition hasn't been cut! Enjoy your parade!


  5. We have a St. Paddy's Day birthday in our house. Can't wait to try these. Thanks.

  6. I linked to this post on my blog today :) Happy Friday!

  7. What a sweet blend of Irish and Italian. You are the Queen of muffins, Cleo! Yum!

    ~ Krista

  8. These sound amazing - I never heard of pistachio muffins before, but now that I've read your recipe, I can't imagine how I lived this long without trying them.

    Have fun at the parade!

  9. I love pistachios! I'm sure the ricotta just makes these even more delicious. Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

  10. @Juju - Sending my warmest java thanks for posting a link to today's muffin recipe on your "Tales of Whimsy" blog! You are clearly an internet literary goddess. (For anyone who wants to check out Juju's tasty blog and her cool list of "Friday Blasts" click here)


  11. @Avery, Elizabeth, Jenn, Krista - Sweet comments. Thank you all!

    @Julie - I am so very sad to hear that Chicago has cancelled its St. Patrick's Day parade. I'm with you and do hope the mayor at least does the green river! Hey, do you remember the thriller feature film The Fugitive, based on the TV show? Harrison Ford disappears in the Chicago St. Patrick's Day parade -- a great thriller-getaway moment. And the film even shows the city's green river. Fingers crossed, the Chicago budget cuts are only temporary and the parade will return next year.

    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”

  12. Replies to...

    @Carol Kilgore - Happy Birthday (a little early) to that special St. Patrick's day b-day person in your house. I hope you have a great (green) celebration.

    @Ingrid King - Pistcahio ice cream is one of my favorites and I really wanted to reproduce the flavor in a muffin. If you decide to make these, take a taste of the batter. With the ricotta in there, I swear it tastes just like pistachio ice cream!

    @Janel - Thank you for dropping by today! As I mentioned to Ingrid, with the ricotta in the batter, it tastes just like pistachio ice cream, one of my all-time faves. :-)

    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”

  13. Thanks, Katy! - and they taste good, too. I'm eating one this morning (Sunday) for breakfast, smeared with soft butter. Two days after baking they are still moist, tender, and delicious. (The ricotta really is a secret ingredient.)

    Just be sure to store your cooled muffins in a plastic container or do what I do, simply put them on a flat plate and cover the whole thing with plastic wrap. They will stay fresh and delicious for days!

    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”

  14. I'm getting quite jealous about all the green revelry building up to the day! I almost wish I were Irish! Lovely cupcakes Cleo - I do like the green ones (my second favourite colour) and pistachios too :)

  15. These look great, and I really love the use of ricotta. Must be SO moist.

  16. Hi again Cleo :) I've given you an award because I like your cookie cutters - KIDDING!!! I think you're cool and your site is awesome - so many things I love in one place; coffee, mystery and yummy recipes! Here's the link, hope you'll take a look and accept!