I've been having some pretty bizarre dreams lately. Some have such an elaborate storyline that remind me of a Hollywood production. Some have elements that are so disconnected from each other that they seem like excerpts from a scattered life lived in my own little dream land. All of them incredibly vivid, all of them making it hard for me to wake up in the morning. I feel like I've been sleeping a lot but not getting any rest.
I consider dreams to be a straightforward reflection of my waking concerns, things that preoccupy me in my social life. I'm not the kind of person who gives unnecessary explanations and meaning to simple dreams or rush to interpret them. Freud would be furious at me for this, I know.
I've read somewhere that dreams have been responsible for numerous inventions, scientific discoveries, works of art, books. It is said that Mary Shelley dreamt up the story of Frankenstein. That to me is amazing. You can just fall asleep and let your mind do all the work for you without you even trying.
Well, my dreams, however complicated or strange they may be, have yet to lead me to a momentous discovery or a noteworthy idea for a book. But they do sometimes lead me to great food or rather the yearning for it. Perhaps it's the fact that I'm a bit greedy at times but every now and then I dream about food. I've had dreams that I'm baking cakes, always chocolate cakes, that I'm gobbling an enormous souvlaki bought at an Athens street vendor near the house I grew up in, I've even had a dream once that I was at a family gathering where the centerpiece at the dining table was a humongous bird, supposedly a chicken, with crispy skin. I kid you not. These are dreams I've actually had and I'm not afraid, or embarrassed, to admit it. Do any other people have dreams like that, I wonder, or is it just me?
Now, these muffins here, I have not dreamt about but they are indeed dreamy. They are not sweet muffins, these are savory ones made with some delectable ingredients guaranteed to produce a spectacular result. Cheese, eggs, dried figs, milk, herbs, flour. Mix them all together and you end up with a splendid array of fluffy and light muffins.
Greece ranks second in the world in the production of figs and I can attest to the fact that they are absolutely delicious. I practically lived off the stuff each end of summer while I was growing up. There was an old huge fig tree in the back yard of our summer house near the sea and every kid in a two kilometer radius came to feed off those glorious fruit. We would climb up the branches of the tree, shaking them fiercely to release the ripe fruit and then we would greedily eat them, one after the other. I was lucky that I could find Greek dried figs in Holland because my muffins wouldn't be the same without them.
The batter is a usual one for muffins. Eggs, milk and flour but the rest of the ingredients are the ones that make all the difference. The cheese of choice for these muffins is Gruyère. Gruyère is a hard yellow cow's milk cheese originating from Switzerland that is most commonly used for fondue. While I was baking the muffins, my little expat kitchen filled with the aroma of melting cheese and for a moment I thought I was baking a cheese pie. But no, it was something far better than that.
The nutty and slightly tart flavor of the Gruyère and its creamy texture balances perfectly with the sweetness of the dried figs and the earthy flavor of the fresh herbs. The cheese melts beautifully inside and around each muffin, taking on a golden brown color as it bakes in the oven. The eggs help the muffins puff up but once taken out of the oven they fall down a little, creating a cute dent in the middle. They are so unbelievably light in texture that you'd think there's no flour in them. No stodginess whatsoever. Specks of green from the fresh rosemary and thyme make their appearance once you bite into the muffin and the crunch of the small sweet fig seeds make their presence known in between your teeth.
These are better eaten within the same day that you bake them, preferably straight out of the oven. They are perfect for breakfast or for a Sunday brunch with fresh orange juice, served on a champagne glass for a touch of luxury, but I also love having them in the evening as a snack, while watching a movie, with a glass of white sweet Riesling wine, a rose Gewürztraminer or a big glass of lager beer. I'm sure you won't be able to resist them and you'll end up nibbling on them all day long so by nighttime they'll be long gone. They're that enticing!
Savory Muffins with Gruyère Cheese, Dried Figs, Rosemary and Thyme
Adapted from Dina Nikolaou
The original recipe calls for the Greek cheese Graviera but unfortunately I couldn't find any in Holland. Gruyère though is excellent for this recipe, if not better. In case you cannot find Gruyère or Graviera I would suggest you use Swiss Emmental which is a great substitute.
If you have trouble finding fresh rosemary or thyme you can use dried. Instead of 1 tsp of each herb use 1/2 tsp.
Yield: 16 muffins
3 medium-sized eggs
180 ml (3/4 cup) olive oil, plus a little extra for greasing the muffin pan
240 ml (1 cup) whole milk
160 g self-rising flour
1 tsp baking powder
200 g Gruyère cheese, grated
160 g dried figs, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground mixed peppercorns (black, green, white, pink)
Special equipment: one or two 12-cup muffin pans, paper liners (optional)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
In a large bowl, crack open the eggs, add the milk and olive oil and beat lightly with the help of an egg beater. Then whisk in the flour, salt and baking powder. You will end up with an almost runny batter.
Add the grated cheese, chopped dried figs, herbs and pepper to the batter. Mix well with a rubber spatula, making sure the figs get well coated with the batter. This will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the muffin pan cups.
Pour 3-4 drops of olive oil in each muffin cup and brush it all over the inside of each cup to prevent the muffins from sticking to the pan. Alternatively you can place paper liners in each cup.
Fill each cup about 3/4 full with the batter, using a spoon.
Bake, on the middle rack of the oven, for 25-30 minutes or until when inserting a knife in the middle of the muffin it comes out clean. The muffins must have a nice golden brown color when you take them out of the oven.
Let them cool in the pan for a while and then place them on a wire rack.
Refill the same muffin pan or use another if you have and continue baking the rest of the muffins.
The muffins are best eaten on the same day they're made but you can also eat them the following day. Keep them lightly covered with tin foil at room temperature.