IN MID-2020, as sourdough was engulfing kitchens across the country, I had a different baking drama afoot. I’d overbought cottage cheese, of all the pedestrian ingredients, and after eating it in my favorite ways (sprinkled with chives, on English muffins, as a dip for chips), I had a pint or so left.

On the hunt for recipes, I sifted through a discouraging heap of internet results that reminded me that this delicious cheese still sails adrift in an ocean of diet culture, but of course, it hasn’t always been that way. At one point, cottage cheese was as common in baked goods as yogurt is today, and plenty of nostalgic bloggers are reviving their grandmothers’ cherished recipes.

Like yogurt, cottage cheese adds tangy flavor to the final dish; is acidic enough to react with baking soda; and is available in nonfat, low-fat and full-fat varieties. However, cottage cheese has almost twice the protein, which lends a little structure-building ability. Whipped smooth with a blender, its texture is midway between sour cream and room temperature cream cheese, with a flavor not unlike a salty lassi.

So it should be no surprise that before cottage cheese became the restaurant “diet plate” standard (frequently paired with an undressed hamburger patty and a canned peach slice), it had a starring role in pastries from sandwich buns to biscuits to pancakes. Even more simply, and predating baking powder, a basic three-ingredient dough was layered with cinnamon sugar, nuts or jam and used in closely related cookies such as rugelach, kolacky and geese feet, old-fashioned precursors to coffee shop glazed butterhorns.

Without those sweet additions, the dough bakes into a tender dinner roll that’s a bit like puff pastry (minus the effort) and a bit like canned crescent rolls (minus the palm oil and preservatives). Whether you opt for the cookie version or the rolls, it suits the winter holidays.

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This works with low-fat or full-fat cottage cheese, but bakes up slightly crisper with the delectable “double cream” cottage cheese made by Good Culture (which I found at PCC and remains my absolute favorite).

Cottage Cheese Butterhorns
If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter in by hand as you would for pie crust, then stir in the whipped cottage cheese with a broad spatula. If you like, roll out the dough in one or two big sheets, and use it to top a casserole or dessert just as you might use canned crescent dough. Everything bagel seasoning or herbes de Provence are pleasant savory sprinkles if you want extra flavor; sweet can be anything from jam or Nutella to chopped pistachios and chocolate.

1¼ cups cottage cheese
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

1. Using a blender or immersion blender, blend the cottage cheese smooth.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and butter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Blend in cottage cheese just until a sticky dough forms that looks like cheese curds. Shape into three flattened balls (about 4 inches across and 9 to 10 ounces each), wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

3. The next day, remove the dough, and warm on the counter for about 15 minutes. How you roll the dough depends on the final shape you want, but begin by generously flouring a countertop and rolling pin.

For triangles: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Roll each piece of dough into a 9-inch square. Cut into 9 equal squares. Fold each square into a triangle. Use a chef’s knife or bench scraper to transfer triangles to a prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. Firmly press down on the tip opposite each triangle’s fold. Chill shaped rolls in the fridge while the oven preheats to 375 degrees F. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.

For crescents and rugelach: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Roll each piece of dough into a 10-inch circle. Slice each circle into 12 equal wedges. Sprinkle with desired toppings. Starting at the outside, roll up each wedge. Place on a prepared baking sheet about 3 inches apart, with the ends tucked underneath. Chill shaped rolls in the fridge while the oven preheats. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown; some filling will ooze out and caramelize.