Alfajores

_MG_9810The weather in Brussels is starting to feel positively autumnal with cool mornings, fierce winds and long rain showers. Instead of embracing the change of the seasons, I have escaped the impending colder months for a short holiday with Alessandro in Italy. After spending some time with his family we hit the road South to Puglia to relax on the beach, grill anything and everything the ocean has to offer down here and eat our weight in watermelon.

While the barbecue is warming up for tonight’s seafood feast, I just wanted to briefly say hi and talk about these alfajores I shared on Food52 the other day.

I first fell in love with these when I was studying Spanish in Argentina when I was fresh out of law school (which, incidentally, is also where Alessandro and I met). Argentina is known the world over for the quality of its steaks, and after having spent several months in Buenos Aires, I can attest that Argentinians are obsessed with meat. Their steaks weigh over two pounds each, and grown men are ridiculed if they so much as think about ordering the ‘chica’ version (which is still close to a pound of meat).

But if there’s one thing Argentinians obsess about even more than meat, it is dulce de leche. This confection, not unlike the French confiture de lait, finds its way into medialunas (the Argentinians’ answer to French croissants), into numerous ice cream flavors, onto all dessert menus, and into my favorite Argentinian cookies: alfajores.

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At their most basic, Argentinean alfajores are nothing more than cookies made from two flat disks of melt-in-your-mouth rich and buttery shortbread that are sandwiched together with a dollop of dulce de leche. Sometimes they are also rolled in coconut or dipped in white or dark chocolate. However they are served, alfajores are the perfect sweet antidote to the rather strong and dark coffee young Argentineans drink all day long as an attempt to keep their eyes open at work despite a social life that does not seem to provide for much shut-eye.

Head on over to Food52 for the recipe.

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Apricot, Almond and Saffron Cake

 

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I turned 30 a few days ago and as birthdays go, it was a relatively quiet one. Being quite introvert, I have never been a big fan of large birthday parties. While some friends urged me to have a big celebration, what with turning the big 3-0 and all, I am glad I celebrated the way I did, with my family, Alessandro, good food and plenty of cake and champagne.

Alessandro was the first to arrive in Brussels. The first couple of days he was here, we would meet for lunch somewhere halfway between my office and my flat and in the evenings we would cook something from our trip to the farmers’ market earlier that week. Then, on Thursday, my sister arrived straight from her holidays in Greece and we celebrated her arrival with a wonderful spread of fresh bread, tomatoes, olive oil from her friends’ family’s trees in Greece and local varieties of cheese saltier than the Mediterranean.

For my actual birthday on Friday, my parents came over from Germany. There was cake, a birthday card from my sister that made me cry (in a good way), my 94 year old grandmother who sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone, a wonderful birthday meal in a former leather factory here in Brussels and that was washed down with plenty of champagne and wine and a whole pile of presents to unwrap.

Both Alessandro and my sister Helena stayed with me which meant my usual supply of fresh almond milk was finished rather more quickly (I wish I could, at least in part, blame Alessandro for this, but Helena and I managed to do that just by ourselves). Several batches of almond milk later and I was left with rather a lot of almond pulp. So the day my parents, Alessandro and Helena left, I baked a cake. This apricot, almond and saffron cake.

I am a firm believer that perfectly ripe and juicy stone fruits should not be fussed with too much and are best eaten raw. But, when it is cake you fancy (maybe because you have been going through a litre of homemade almond and there is a lot of leftover almond pulp), cake it shall be. Ever since making these saffron cookies and this saffron and polenta shortbread, I have been meaning to combine saffron and stone fruits like apricots or peaches and I am glad I finally did. It is a heavenly combination.

Apricots can be bland and even a bit dry, but bake them into a clafoutis or a cake and even the blandest apricots will suddenly burst with flavour, their soft skins barely containing the sweet apricot juice, the flavour more tart than sweet and with a hint of muskiness that goes so well with saffron.

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Apricot, Almond and Saffron Cake

Note: A couple of months ago  I stopped buying milk and switched entirely to homemade almond milk. I make 500ml every 5 days or so which leaves me with 125g of almond pulp every time. I have been using a lot of the almond pulp to make grain-free granola with cacao nibs, brown sugar and sea salt (adapting the buckwheat granola recipe from Golubka’s new book). Nonetheless, slowly but surely, almond pulp is accumulating in my freezer. This cake is the perfect way for making a dent in my stash of almond pulp. 

Serves 8-12

Ingredients

150g butter, softened
150g sugar
4 eggs, separated
30g goat yoghurt
180g ground almonds or almond pulp leftover from making almond milk
180g wholemeal spelt flour or brown rice flour
2 pinches saffron, finely ground
12 small apricots, cut in half, stone removed

Directions

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a round cake pan.

2. In a large bowl beat the softened butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy, ca. 5 minutes. While continuing to beat on medium speed, add the egg yolks one by one, beating well after each addition. Stir in the goat yoghurt.

3. In a separate bowl whisk together the ground almonds, flour and the saffron. Fold into the butter, sugar and egg yolks.

4. In a clean bowl and using a clean hand whisk, beat the egg whites until firm. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it before carefully folding in the rest, making sure not to deflate the batter too much. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and distribute the halved apricots over the top. Bake for ca. 60 minutes or until the cake is well rise and a knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies with Chickpea Flour

_MG_9509Chickpea flour, also known as gram flour or garbanzo bean flour, is nothing other than dried chickpeas ground to a flour-like powder. It’s been a pantry staple of mine ever since I discovered what the Italians call ‘farinata’ – thick, pancake like slabs of chickpea flour batter, flavoured with rosemary and salt and that have been cooked (well, practically deep-fried given the amount of oil used) at a high temperature on well-oiled baking trays. Street food at its finest (and simplest). Chickpea flour is also great to have on hand when making veggie burgers as it helps absorb excess moisture. And, chickpea flour is a nutrition powerhouse, containing at least double the amount of protein than regular wheat flour while being rich in vitamin B6, iron, magnesium and potassium.

Why should you care you ask? Because baking chocolate chip cookies with chickpea flour yields what are possibly the most delicious chocolate chip cookies ever (and that just happen to be gluten-free). Moreish, nutty – so good in fact I managed to destroy the first batch before I could share any with anyone else.

Admittedly the cookie dough for these cookies is astoundingly unappetising (I had heard about this before but nonetheless I was surprised at just how terrible the cookie dough tasted – it was so bad that when I first baked these cookies I was worried they would be a total flop). And that is truly sad. There is hardly anything I enjoy more than sitting cross-legged on the floor watching a batch of cookies bake while cleaning out the cookie dough bowl spoon in hand. If this is the main enjoyment you get out of baking chocolate chip cookies then I am afraid these cookies are not for you. But if you care more about the final result, then go on, make a batch of these!

_MG_9502In other news, after feeling in a bit of a food rut, I have recently been cooking up a storm, no doubt helped by stocking up on a few more cookbooks and browsing through the archives of some of my favourite blogs. There have been lurid green chickpea crepes loosely based on a recipe from Golubka‘s beautiful new book and inspired by these green pancakes from Green Kitchen Stories (I blended 2 large fistfuls of spinach into the chickpea crepe batter). My mornings have been filled with bowls of fresh fruit and cacao nib and buckwheat granola from Golubka’s new book and I discovered my fancy vegetable peeler doubles up as a julienne peeler so I have been making zucchini noodles with a creamy dressing not unlike this.

Also, I have shared another recipe over on Food& – this time it’s my recipe for individual double rye treacle tartlets, one of my favourite recipes this year.

_MG_9490Chocolate Chip Chickpea Flour Cookies 

These cookies were inspired by Anna, the pastry chef at Amali in NYC. I have never eaten any of her pastries but her twitter feed keeps me inspired to no end. While I had heard of chickpea flour as an ingredient in Middle Eastern cookies, until she mentioned the addition of Chickpea Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies to the cookie plate at Amali, I had not ever come across traditionally Western cookie recipes made with chickpea flour. And what can I say, the discovery has been nothing short of a revelation.

Makes 8 large cookies. I read somewhere that cookie recipe yields should be stated in multiples of 12, i.e. one dozen, two dozen etc. Now, that may work for some recipes but not all. The cookie dough for this recipe can be eeked out to yield a dozen cookies but then they are far too small. You could double the recipe and make 12 cookies but then I would fear the cookies would be grotesquely large (like larger than the palm of my hand). So 8 it is. 8 cookies that should fit on a single sheet pan (there is nothing that I detest more than having to bake cookies in batches – the only time of year I put my differences aside is Christmas when baking cookies in batches on the 23 of December is really the only way to ensure I can eat cookies for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every meal and snack in between from the 24th in the morning to the 26th in the evening). 

Ingredients
50g butter, at room temperature
55g caster sugar
55g light muscovado sugar
1 egg
120g chickpea flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
75g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions

1. Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a sheet pan with silpat or parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl cream the butter with the sugar on high with a handheld mixer for 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Add the egg and beat to incorporate.

4. In a separate bowl whisk together the chickpea flour, baking powder and salt. Together with the chopped dark chocolate, stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

5. Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon drop generous tablespoons of dough onto the sheet pan.

6. Bake for ca. 15 minutes until puffed up and golden brown in colour. Let cool for 5 mins before carefully lifting the cookies onto a cooling rack to cool completely. The cookies will keep for about 5 days at room temperature.

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Moroccan Almond Milk

_MG_9384Almond milk seems to be growing more and more in popularity and it is probably my favourite non-dairy milk. Soy milk with its eggy taste never quite grew on me and I tend to find rice and oat milk either thin or starchy. Almond milk, preferably the unsweetened kind, has a really subtle flavour, is wonderful poured over cereal and creamy enough to make a decent dairy milk replacer in milky coffees.

There was a summer when I still lived in London when I made a lot of my own almond milk – a great alternative to the rather pricey packs of almond milk stocked by most organic supermarkets and that somewhat surprisingly tend to be full of a whole lot of sweeteners, thickeners and emulsifiers (and shockingly small quantities of almonds). Thankfully, this now appears to be changing, thanks in part to the girls behind The Pressery who sell their own freshly made almond milk across London. I was hoping to pick up a bottle of The Pressery almond milk when I was over in London the other week, alas my chicken pox had other plans for me.

Back in Brussels I stocked up on some organic almonds and thanks to a few rather warm summer days decided that the first thing I was going to make with my almond milk was Moroccan almond milk. Like the mint tea served all over Morocco, whether you go to a restaurant or someone’s house, Moroccan almond milk tends to be almost unbearably sweet but, just like Moroccan mint tea, it is also irresistible. Typically served over ice (just like Horchata), a few drops of orange blossom water and a sprinkling of cinnamon is what makes Moroccan almond milk so unique (and so delicious).

_MG_9397While the weather in Brussels is currently pretty horrendous (think days and days of rain and big fat clouds hogging the sky), there were just a few days last week where we had perfect summer weather and where nothing felt better than starting the day sitting on my balcony with a glass of this iced Moroccan almond milk. As much as I don’t miss the weeks and weeks of 40 degree weather I had to endure in Rome last summer when baking, cooking, heck any kind of movement, was out of the question during most days, I do hope Brussels has a few more days of real summer weather in store for us this year to enjoy iced drinks like this almond milk and iced coffees (especially as I have just discovered the first place selling cold drip coffee here in Brussels!).

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Note: The recipe below is effectively two in one, or maybe one and a half: a recipe for homemade almond milk, which really could not be simpler (and while having a nut milk bag is useful it is by no means essential, a piece of cheesecloth or a clean tea towel will do the trick), and a recipe, or rather a suggestion, for giving your homemade almond milk a Moroccan touch with some orange blossom water and cinnamon. While you could use store-bought almond milk, unless you have access to really good quality fresh and creamy almond milk I would recommend you make your own. It tastes so much better, will keep in the fridge for a few days and is very straightforward to make. While most recipes for almond milk recommend using blanched almonds, I always use the unblanched almonds – they are cheaper and it saves me the hassle of blanching them myself. And while the almond milk in Morocco is tooth-achingly sweet just use however much sweetener feels right to you – I often don’t use any sweeteners for this or just a small amount.

Ingredients

For the almond milk
250g almonds
1l water
Water for soaking
2 tsp orange blossom water
Ca. 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Optional: simple syrup, honey or another liquid sweetener

Directions
1. Place the almonds in a big bowl and cover with water. Place somewhere cool to soak for 8h or overnight.

2. Discard the soaking water and add the almonds to your food processor. Add 500ml of the water and process until the almonds are finely ground.

3.Strain using a nut milk bag or a clean cheesecloth or clean tea towel resting in a sieve or a colander suspended over a large bowl. You might want to strain the almond milk twice to remove even the finest almond pieces. Add the remaining 500ml water and whisk to combine.

4. To serve, add a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water per glass (250ml), stir and serve over ice. If you prefer a sweeter almond milk, stir in some simple syrup, honey or other liquid sweetener to taste (most Moroccan recipes call for 150g sugar per litre of almond milk – for me that is far too sweet, but gives you an indication as to how sweet you can make this recipe should you so wish).

5. The almond milk will keep fresh for about 5 days if stored in the fridge. The milk may separate but this is normal in homemade almond milk – just shake the closed bottle before using if the milk separates.

For my next batch, I might add some macadamia nuts to the mix as this article in the New York Times has made me curious to see how much creamier a nut milk I might be able to make at home with that.

As for the leftover almond pulp, you can add this when making granola, baking bread or making nut-based porridges.

In case you are not going to use it within a couple of days, you should freeze the almond pulp as it spoils fairly quickly, even when stored in the fridge.

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Cherry Crumble with Orange Blossom Water and Mahlab

_MG_9322    After a month of plenty of work I was particularly excited about a short trip to London last weekend. Staying with my sister Helena in her little cottage overlooking the Regent’s Canal always feels a little bit like going home and I had carefully scheduled my entire weekend to be able to see as many friends as physically possible in a 48h window while at the same time trying to visit at least a handful of new cafes, restaurants and bars in London. Yet in the end, my weekend in London lasted 5 days and turned out rather differently from what I had planned.

When I woke up on Friday morning I noticed a slight rash on my face and upper body. A quick trip to the pharmacy during my lunch break confirmed my initial suspicion – according to the pharmacist I was likely having an allergic reaction to something. I picked up a light anti-histamine and eventually made my way to London where I met up with my sister and the lovely Mehrunnisa for dinner. Helena took one look at me and said I was not having an allergy but rather had likely contracted chicken pox, something a last minute doctor’s appointment on Saturday morning confirmed.

_MG_9327_MG_9332Given how contagious chickenpox is I ended up cancelling all my plans, delayed my train back to Brussels by a few days and spent my time housebound at my sister’s place. At first I was pretty upset at not being able to see any of my friends (other than a couple of friends who had already had the chickenpox as children and who came over to keep me company). Yet in a way it was also nice to be forced to slow down for a few days. I would not wish chicken pox on anyone (the itching the first couple of days is enough to drive anyone mad), yet those days I was stuck at my sister’s place were a wonderful opportunity to catch up with Helena when she came home from work in the evenings, to read, to get some much needed sleep and just to relax, something I had not done in a long time.

Nonetheless, as I slowly started to feel better I was itching to get back into the kitchen and I had cherry crumble on my mind. I think a lot of fruit is best enjoyed as is and does not particularly benefit from being fussed over. One of the few exceptions are cherries. As delicious as they are fresh I love how just a little heat is enough to release their sweet juices in abundance and and soften them just so. And as much as I love a mixed fruit crumble, at heart I prefer those crumbles made with a single fruit, letting the flavour of fruits that might only be in season for a short few weeks a year really shine.

_MG_9359Cherry Crumble with Orange Blossom Water and Mahlab

Note: I hesitate to say that the orange blossom water and mahlab are optional in this recipe as they are what transforms this cherry crumble from perfectly nice to something rather special. While cherries and orange blossom water are not a particularly common pairing they go together rather well – the orange blossom water brightening the flavour of the dark cherries. That being said, if orange blossom water and mahlab are hard to come by where you are, by all means leave them out, the crumble will still be delicious. Alternatively, you could add some ground cardamom to the crumble mixture (I would start with 2-3 pods, the seeds ground finely). I did not add any sugar to the filling as my cherries were perfectly ripe and very sweet but by all means use a couple of teaspoons of sugar if your cherries are not particularly sweet. 

Serves 2

Ingredients
250g cherries (or 2 small handfuls)
1/2 tsp orange blossom water
15g muscovado sugar
40g brown rice flour
20g rolled oats
1 tsp ground mahlab
Pinch of salt
25g butter, at room temperature

To serve: creme fraiche, greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream

Directions

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

2. Pit the cherries and distribute evenly among two small oven-proof bowls. Sprinkle the orange blossom water over the cherries.

3. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, oats, mahlab and salt. Add the butter and rub into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles sand. Scatter the crumble mixture evenly over the two bowls.

4. Place the bowls in the oven and bake for ca. 20 minutes. You want the crumble to be a deep golden colour and the juice from the cherries to bubble up through the crumble topping.

5. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before serving with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Kinako, Sesame and Muscovado Financiers

_MG_9255While some people seem to struggle to get their head around Japanese sweets, I fell head over heels in love with mochi, matcha and black sesame anything and everything when Alessandro and I went to Japan 5 years ago.  Unlike matcha or black sesame, kinako was never the star of any of the sweet confections we tried yet it was still present, dusted over glutinous rice flour dumplings or ice cream, adding a deliciously nutty flavour.

Kinako, better known as roasted soybean flour outside of Japan, means ‘yellow flour’ in Japanese and that is exactly what it looks like.  It is made by pulverizing roasted and skinned yellow soya beans (although you can also buy kinako made from whole soya beans).  Apparently you can also buy kinako made from green soya beans which has a greenish hue.  Although you can make your own kinako, it is much easier to pick up a small bag at a Japanese supermarket (especially as most recipes don’t require huge amounts of kinako).

In terms of flavour, it is often described as beany (similar to chickpea flour) which I don’t think does the flavour real justice.  I think it tastes nutty and earthy, similar to roasted peanuts, delicious if used in small quantities (but admittedly cloying when overdone).  As it is gluten-free it cannot be substituted one for one for flour containing gluten in recipes relying on gluten for structure. However, replacing as little as 25-30% of the flour called for in a recipe with kinako is enough to get its flavour. I would simply treat kinako as a flavouring element in a recipe, similar to matcha or cocoa powder.

As for these financiers, they were born when I was packing up my boxes for my move to Brussels and there was an open bag of kinako I wanted to finish. I have made these financiers a few times now and simply love their flavour every time I make them. Kinako and sesame seem to have a natural affinity for each other, both deliciously nutty yet with a hint of sweetness. Adding a little bit of muscovado sugar adds some caramel notes and really rounds out the flavour of these financiers.

If you are wondering what else you can make with kinako, I am sharing my recipe for a black sesame loaf with a kinako glaze over on food&. Also, Chubby Hubby has a recipe for kinako latte which I have made a few times and which is delicious.  I bet kinako latte would be amazing over ice and with boba for a twist on bubble tea now that temperatures have reached the mid-20s even here in Brussels.  Lastly, I have heard that David Lebovitz has a recipe for kinako ice cream in one of his books and that is one ice cream flavours I would love to try. I am also thinking that kinako would be amazing in oat cookies.

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Kinako, Sesame and Muscovado Financiers (GF)

Note: While the recipe calls for white sesame seeds, they can be made with black sesame seeds or a mix of both – if you only use black sesame seeds, the financiers will have a much darker colour once baked. Using brown rice flour will make these financiers gluten-free, but as suggested below you could also use spelt flour flour. I think financiers really taste best the day they are made but these will keep a couple of days in a container with a lid.  

Makes 9 regular-sized financiers or 6 large ones 

Ingredients

25g toasted white sesame seeds
70g brown rice flour (you could also use spelt or buckwheat flour)
20g kinako
3 egg whites
50g caster sugar
25g muscovado sugar
90g melted butter, cooled

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.  If not using a silicone mould, grease your financier mould with butter.

2. Grind the sesame seeds with the brown rice flour, sugar and kinako until processed into a fairly fine powder (don’t worry if the sesame seeds are showing some reluctance to being ground finely – any larger bits will lend the financiers a bit of bite).

3. In a separate bowl whisk the egg white until frothy and white (if whisking by hand this will take 2-3 minutes).  Add the dry ingredients, melted and cooled butter and stir everything together.

4. Fill each mould ca. 2/3 to the top, place in the oven and bake the financiers for ca. 15 mins. (20 mins. for large, muffin-sized, financiers) – the financiers are ready until puffed and slightly cracked in the centre and starting to colour around the edges.

Rose Petal and Raspberry Spelt Muffins

_MG_9236I did not intend to be away from this space for this long without stopping by to say hello but somehow the usual one week turned into two and those quickly turned into three. Suffice to say work has been busy, I have been away, first in Italy and then in Germany, I have been trying to get on top of my never-ending list of final moving and flat-related errands and some recipes have been taking longer to test than expected (white chocolate miso brownies, I am looking at you!).

These muffins were inspired by a rosy tart I am working on and that will be shared on food& in a few weeks. While Monday mornings are as good a time as any to swap weekend indulgences like buttery croissants or pancakes doused in maple syrup for porridge, there is nothing like a homemade pastry and a good cup of coffee to take the edge off the start to another busy week at work.

Dried rose petals are not exactly pantry staples but together with some raspberries, chopped almonds and a pinch of ground cardamom they do make for rather special muffins. If you also have some salted butter and some rose petal jam, even better – you can toast your muffins, slather some of that salty butter on top and finish it with a heaping spoon of that fragrant jam. Sitting on the balcony, milky coffee  in your hand and munching your way through one of these muffins and suddenly it being another day at work with the weekend still impossibly far away does not feel all that bad.

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If you follow me on instagram or twitter you may have already spotted this, if not, I have just started contributing on food& – together with the rosy tart, I will be sharing a series of recipes on their site, both old favourites and new ones. The first one, for carrot and mace financiers has just gone online – you can click here to see the recipe and read the post.

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Rose Petal and Raspberry Spelt Muffins

Note: I am the first one to be worried about a dish tasting soapy (and thus unpleasant) as soon as I read the words rose blossom water, rose petals or rose petal jam on a menu or in a list of ingredients. But my friend Sarah gave me the idea to pair rose with something acidic to allow the floral flavour of rose to shine without any soapy undertones. Rose and raspberry is a flavour combination that immediately makes sense once you try it – raspberries themselves have a complex flavour verging on floral and a slight tartness that is perfect for cutting through any soapy notes from the rose petals. Together with ground cardamom and a handful of pistachios and almonds, rose petals and raspberries give a classical spelt muffin recipe a Middle Eastern touch, making your muffins that bit more interesting and delicious than a standard blueberry muffin. 

Ingredients
225g wholemeal spelt flour
30g pistachios, roughly chopped
30g almonds, roughly chopped
10 rosebuds, finely ground
100g sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
A pinch of salt
Seeds of 4 cardamom pods, ground
150g raspberries
150g full fat yoghurt
90ml full fat milk
1 egg
100g Butter, melted

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease a 12 hole medium size muffin tin.

2. In a bowl whisk together the flour with the chopped nuts, ground rose buds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pinch of salt and ground cardamom. Add the raspberries and stir to distribute evenly in the flour mixture.

3. In a jug mix the yoghurt with the milk, egg and melted butter.

4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and briefly stir together until just combined.

5. Divide the batter between the muffin holes and place in the oven for ca. 25 minutes or until just starting to colour and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffins comes out clean.

6. Let muffins cool in their tins for ca. 5 to 10 minutes before carefully removing the muffins from their tins to cool completely. These muffins will keep for a couple of days if stored somewhere cool and dry.

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