A curious, Australian spread known as Vegemite gives a mouthwatering, savory-salty flavor to these cheesy muffins.
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When I first created these savory, cheesy muffins it was right after I had seen a YouTube clip of a bunch of news anchors trying Vegemite on toast. Their reaction was not great… and one of them actually got sick. I also happened to be participating in a blogging challenge where I was creating recipes for every letter of the alphabet.
When I got to “V” I knew right away what food I wanted to have in my recipe: Vegemite! And though it might have been playing in an endless loop in my head at that time, I assure you it had nothing to do with that Men At Work song.
A little history: Vegemite was invented in 1922 by Australian chemist Cyril Callister. He was hired to create a yeast extract spread similar to Marmite, an English product which was popular in Australia but difficult to import after World War I. Callister created his spread using discarded brewer’s yeast from local beer breweries, and it was trademarked with the name Vegemite.
It is a very thick, dark brown paste, very salty and with a pungent smell that’s challenging to describe: kind of like dark, bitter beer. A bit like a very strong cheese. A bit of a burned, salty smell.
When I went shopping locally for some Vegemite I had zero luck. Our grocery stores and natural living stores have decent international foods sections, and at one place I did find a jar of Marmite. But, in the end I had to go to Amazon to get some Vegemite – and it came in a little, squeezy tube!
Definitely try to find at a store near you, and support them for carrying diverse products, but it’s nice to know that you have online as a back-up.
Armed with both Vegemite and Marmite, I found myself with a wonderful opportunity: to subject my loved ones to a taste test. (I’m sure my daughter is relieved that this taste test took place after she went back to college.)
I just recently watched Aussie actor Hugh Jackman share Vegemite with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show:
To summarize, here are Mr. Jackman’s tips on how to enjoy it:
- Get some white bread, the crappy, spongy, pre-sliced kind
- Lightly toast the bread
- Butter the toast
- Spread a tiny amount of Vegemite on the slice, about a 1/4 teaspoon
I feel bad that for my family’s taste test I only remembered one of these tips – the toasting. I toasted slices of wheat bread and spread one slice with a thin (but not thin enough) coating of Vegemite, the other with Marmite.
The Marmite was up first, my husband and son taking the tentative first bites.
Their reactions were… well, pretty much what I expected.
Maybe remembering the butter would have helped, but they both said the flavor was pretty strong and a little hard to take.
They moved on to the Vegemite toast, with understandable reluctance… and found that the flavor here was even more intense.
Vegemite is thicker, more bitter,
…hits the back of the tongue with a slap,
…and is a salty, yeasty, umami overload.
My family does a lot of taste testing for me and I really couldn’t create my recipes without them… and I feel bad because I know I burned through some trust on this one!
Next time some nice and easy chocolate chip cookies guys, okay?
So maybe enjoying Vegemite or Marmite spreads straight up on toast is a challenge, but as a backdrop for flavorful Cheddar cheese and diced chives the Vegemite is actually very tasty!
That sharp, intense flavor is softened in the muffin batter and is a great pairing with the sharp cheese and light, oniony taste of fresh chives.
By some miracle the boys agreed to try these muffins despite the experience of yeast extracts on toast, and to my relief they agreed that Vegemite finds its redemption here.
Vegemite & Cheddar Savory Muffins
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 6 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup Vegemite yeast extract spread
- 1 small handful of fresh chives, chopped (about 1/4 cup once chopped)
- 1-1/4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
- Pinch of black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Grease 8 wells of a regular muffin tin, or line them with paper liners.
- Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Set this aside.
- Whisk together the milk, eggs, melted butter and Vegemite in a medium bowl. The Vegemite is very thick so scrape down the sides of the bowl several times to make sure it is all incorporated.
- Add the liquid ingredients and the chopped chives to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir everything together with a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula: it’s important not to over-mix the batter, so use the spoon or spatula to stir with big strokes that get under all the ingredients and bring it all together quickly – a few floury lumps are okay. Stir one cup of the shredded Cheddar cheese through the batter.
- Divide the batter evenly between the 8 greased or lined muffin wells – they should 3/4 to completely full. Sprinkle the remaining Cheddar cheese over the tops along with a little black pepper. Place the pan in the oven and bake the muffins for 15-17 minutes. The tops should be browned, but not too dark – so watch the muffins closely during the last few minutes. A toothpick inserted in the muffins should come out clean.
- Remove the pan from the oven and allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife along the inside edges of the cups to release the muffins and place them on a cooling rack.
- The muffins are tastiest when enjoyed warm, split open with butter spread over the insides. They can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days – reheat them gently in a toaster oven or for a few seconds in a microwave before enjoying.
- Makes 8 muffins.