Bey To Bay: Toscakaka Cake

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It took me awhile to write this post. I don’t even know how to start describing my obsession with this incredibly delicious Swedish cake. It’s the type of cake that you want to bake over and over again, show off at gatherings, and eat at least two slices with a cup of coffee. It’s simply a wonderful recipe that you want to keep all to yourself and not share with anyone else.

But it would be selfish of me to find a cake recipe that brings so much joy and not share it on the blog (I didn’t develop the recipe after all!). I came across this Toscakaka cake several years ago here and I’ve been making it ever since. The contrast of the crunchy caramel almond layer with the thick buttery soft cake layer that instantly melts in your mouth is completely addictive. It’s a really big hit among my friends and family – so when my talented and coffee-obsessed best friend Jeremy came up with the idea to try a coffee and cake pairing post, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine our creativity.

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For the pairing, we wanted something light but lively to complement the buttery depth of the toscakaka. Jeremy’s work frequently takes him to the Hudson Valley, so he picked up a bag of Honduras Pacavita Reserve at The Pantry in Cold Spring, a small-batch shop that only recently started roasting but releases some of the best coffees around. Central American varietals are known for their balanced flavor profiles, and a light to medium roast unlocks all sorts of wild flavors that are also smooth and not overwhelming—just what we wanted.

Pourover is Jeremy’s method of choice for delicate coffees like this. His standard setup is a classic Chemex with a Stagg kettle by Fellow Products, brewing at 200 degrees. The paper filter smoothes out the edge and grittiness, bringing out all those subtle complexities of the coffee. The profile of the Pacavita couldn’t have blended more beautifully with the toscakaka. The herbal-lemon note sponged right into the cake’s moist body, layering on an entirely new effect, while the mild cocoa note married the crunchy almond topping seamlessly.

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Note: This is our first collaboration in our “Bey to Bay” series. More on that in our second post! Stay tuned 🙂

Recipe from Poires au Chocolat, paired with Organic Reserva Pacavita coffee from The Pantry

Cake:
70ml milk
1 tsp lemon juice

75g unsalted butter
3 large eggs, room temperature
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp fine sea salt

Almond Topping:
150g flaked almonds
125g unsalted butter
125g packed light brown sugar
50ml whole milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional, could replace with vanilla extract)*

1. Preheat oven to 320°F (160°C). Grease a deep 9″ round cake tin with a removable bottom with melted butter and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Toast the almond flakes on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes until they’re a light golden brown, then set aside.
3. Melt the butter for the cake in a medium saucepan then pour into a bowl and leave to cool (keep the pan to use later). Stir the lemon juice into the milk and leave to sit (or use 75ml buttermilk).
4. Whip the eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a stand mixer on high for 4 minutes (be careful not over-whip) until the mixture is light in color and thick (when you remove the whisk, the trail should stay visible for at least 5 seconds).
5. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg bowl then gently fold in with a big metal spoon or large spatula. Drizzle half of the milk over the top and fold in. Repeat with the next 1/3 of flour, the rest of the milk, then the rest of the flour. Finally drizzle half of the melted butter over the top, fold in, then repeat with the remaining butter. Be very gentle but thorough, scraping the bottom – it’s easy to get little pockets of flour but you need to conserve as much volume as you can. Carefully transfer to the tin by scraping it gently out from as little height as possible.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until set and golden. A toothpick should be able to be removed cleanly.
7. While it bakes, make the almond topping: Place the butter, sugar, milk, salt and espresso powder into the saucepan and stir as the butter melts. Keep heating for a few minutes – it should bubble and thicken slightly. Stir in the almonds and set aside. When the cake is ready, turn the oven up to 390°F (200°C), remove the cake to a rack and spoon the glaze over the top. Spread the almonds out into an even layer. Place back into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes until the glaze is darkened and bubbling. Cool for a five minutes then slide a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen the sides and remove the cake to a rack.

It keeps well in an airtight container for two to three days.

Za’atar Honey Butter Rolls

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There are countless ways I use za’atar while snacking or cooking, and if you love it as much as I do then you would totally understand why I want use it in almost everything including these soft honey bread rolls.

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I’ve baked these bread rolls a couple of times especially at dinner gatherings because not only are they easy to make but also every person who tastes them says that they’re light, fluffy, and airy. I just love a good home made bread recipe that always gives consistent and reliable results. So after mastering the basic recipe I decided to add za’atar in the dough (that always seems to be a great idea to me). The result is incredibly delicious – the combination of the sweet honey and earthy thyme flavor makes it so hard to eat just one roll!

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Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

240ml (1 cup) whole milk, 110°F
21g (2¼ tsp) instant dry yeast
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
85g (¼ cup) honey
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
60g (¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
½ teaspoon salt
450g (3½ cups) bread flour
45g (½ cup) za’atar

30g (2 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature very soft
15g (1 Tablespoon) honey
Extra za’atar for sprinkling

1. Pour warm milk into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Sprinkle yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar on top of the milk. Give it a light stir with a spoon and allow to sit for 5 minutes. The mixture will be frothy.

2. Turn on the stand mixer running on low speed, gradually add the honey, egg, egg yolk, melted butter, salt, and 3 cups of flour. Beat for 1 min and add remaining ½ cup of flour. Beat for another minute on low speed. The dough should be thick, slightly sticky and pulling away from the sides of the bowl as it mixes. If the dough is too sticky add more flour 1 Tablespoon at a time.

3. Form dough into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes, then place into a large bowl greased with olive oil and coat all sides of the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a slightly warm oven to rise until doubled, about 2 hours. For this, I turn on the oven to 200°F (93°C) for a minute only then turn it off. I also place a bowl for boiling water to increase the level of humidity and keep the oven lights on (helps create a warm environment),

4. Once doubled in size, punch down the dough to release any air bubbles. Remove dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Using a dough scraper, cut the dough in half. Cut each half into 8 evenly sized pieces for a total of 16 pieces (the balls have to be equal in size to bake uniformly). Shape into balls and arrange in a greased 9×13 baking pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size and puffy, about 1 hour.

5. 30min before baking, preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Bake the rolls for 20min until the tops are golden brown and the edges of each roll look cooked. While the rolls bake, mix the topping ingredients. Remove the rolls from the oven when they are done and brush a generous amount of honey butter onto each warm roll and sprinkle with za’atar.

6. Cover leftovers and keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months, then thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Warm up in a 300°F (149°C) oven for 10 minutes.

Make ahead tip/overnight: After dough has risen two hours in step 3, punch down the dough inside the mixing bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days, then remove from the refrigerator and continue with step 4.

Karabij (Semolina Rosewater Pistachio Cookies)

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I’ve always been curious about the science of baking. Understanding how ingredients work together to create specific baked goods is so fascinating and that’s what keeps me driven to try out new recipes and techniques. For example, when I think of a simple pie crust recipe, so many questions rush through my mind: Should I use American butter, European butter, or vegetable shortening? Do I need a fork, pastry cutter or stand mixer to blend in the cold butter? Ice cold water, vinegar, or vodka? Ceramic, aluminum or glass pie dish? Not one technique is “correct” or the best – it’s all a matter of using your best judgement and understanding how all these factors result in unique outcomes.

Baking is like a fun guessing game: you never know what you’re going to end up with. Once you get the basic principles of how ingredients work together, then you feel so liberated to experiment with recipes and use your creative imagination to create almost anything. So when people ask me how I got into baking, or why I’m so passionate about it, that’s usually my answer. Baking makes me feel happy, powerful, and liberated. I love that word.

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So I’m sharing a Karabij recipe today. For those of you who are not familiar with these cookies, they’re typically traditional Lebanese cookies made with a semolina butter rosewater dough that’s filled with a sweetened pistachio paste. I’ve been baking a lot with semolina and pistachios lately. They’re two of my favorite ingredients – and I really can’t wait to play around with some baking techniques to (hopefully!) create a completely new recipe for my next post.

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Make about 35-40 cookies (mine were about 1″ wide and 2.5″ long / 2.5cm x6cm)

Semolina dough:
200g semolina flour (or farkha, finer wheat)
100g farina flour (or smid, coarser wheat)
10g powdered sugar or 1 tablespoon
100g (1 stick) melted butter
26g (2 Tbsp.) rose water
26g (2 Tbsp.) water

Pistachio paste:
100g (3.5 oz or 1 cup) ground pistachio
60g (5 Tbsp.) powdered sugar
15g (1 Tbsp.) rose water
10g melted butter

• Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
• In a medium bowl, mix the semolina flour, farina, and powdered sugar.
• Add the melted butter and mix well. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for an hour.
• Mix in the rose water and water then cover with the damp cloth or kitchen towel and leave the dough to rest for another 30 minutes. If the dough is still crumbly, add water until it just comes together.
• In a small bowl, mix the ground pistachio, powdered sugar, rose water and melted butter until homogeneous and forms a dough. Cover with damp cloth or kitchen towel, set aside.
• Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).
• Scoop one tablespoon of the semolina dough and roll into a log between the palm of your hands then flatten it to form a thin dough.
• Scoop approximately 2 teaspoons of the pistachio dough and put the filling down the middle. Shape the cookie into rounded logs or fingers with rounded edges.
• Fill and shape the remaining dough and transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven.
• Bake the cookies for 25 minutes until golden (don’t bake too long or the cookies will harden!) If you prefer a reddish toasted top, place the sheet for 5 minutes under a broiler at the end of the baking time.
• Take out the baking sheet and let the cookies cool down completely. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
• Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up 3 months.

Pistachio Baklava

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The intense smell of melted butter began to swirl in my tiny apartment. I peeked into the oven to assure that the little diamond shaped baklava pieces were nicely bronzed and crisp. I knew it was time to take them out. Placing the pan on the stove, I quickly reached for the cold rose flower and orange blossom sugar syrup and poured it slowly between the cracks of the baklavas. As soon as the syrup hit the crisp phyllo dough, a satisfyingly loud sizzle took me aback. I marveled at the bubbly golden surface that looked insanely delicious and wondered how I’m going to get through the next couple of hours waiting for them to cool down. I sprinkled some leftover crushed pistachio nuts on the glazed pastries and immediately started taking pictures on my phone to send to my family in Beirut.

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A few minutes later, my mom inundated me with questions “Is the phyllo dough crunchy? Are they too sweet? Do they taste like REAL baklavas?” I could tell from her voice that she was filled with skepticism about the idea of baking Lebanese baklava at home. But let me assure you that these delectable pastries tick all the criteria of a really good baklava: browned buttery crackly top, thick middle layer of lightly sweetened ground nuts, and chewy bottom with just the right amount of sugar syrup oozing out with each bite. I’m not comparing its taste to the best Lebanese sweet shops who have decades of experience in baking these delicacies, but these come pretty close. It’s a worthwhile weekend baking project that will surely impress people and put a beaming smile on your face.

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Recipe adapted from Wandering Spice

Ingredients:
Sugar Syrup
400g (2 cups) granulated sugar
240ml (1 cup) filtered water
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp rose flower water
½ tsp orange blossom water

Nut Filling
450g (3 cups) high quality whole shelled unsalted raw pistachios
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp rose flower water
4 tbsp sugar syrup
240 ml (1 cup) clarified butter (recipe below)

Clarified Butter
226g (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed

Decoration
2 tbsp. ground pistachios

Directions:

1. Remove phyllo dough from the fridge and thaw according to package instructions.

2. Prepare the syrup: place sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the syrup to boil for 3 minutes without stirring. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes until it reaches a light, syrupy consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the rose flower and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool down completely and store in fridge (this step can be made a couple of days in advance).

3. Place the pistachios and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Slowly pour 4 tbsp. of sugar syrup and the additional ¼ tsp of rose flower water into the mixture. Continue pulsing until the pistachios are finely ground. Reserve 2 tbsp. for decoration.

4. To clarify the butter: Line a sieve with paper towel and place over a bowl. Melt the cubed butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to foam. Using a spoon, skim the foam from the top and discard. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the melted butter into the lined sieve. Leave at room temperature.

5. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and line the bottom of a 9″x13″ (23cm x 33cm) baking dish with baking paper – I used a glass pyrex.

6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut the stack of dough (20 sheets) in half to fit the size of your baking dish (40 sheets total). Place a clean, damp cloth on top to keep them from drying out.

7. Generously butter the bottom and sides of the lined pan with clarified butter. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the pan and brush clarified butter onto it. Add a second sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Continue stacking and brushing sheets until you have 20 sheets on the bottom of the pan.

8. Pour the ground pistachio mixture on top of the phyllo stack, and spread out evenly throughout the pan.

9. Repeat the buttering and layering process with 20 more sheets on top of the nut mixture. Once done, refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the butter to firm up and hold its shape.

10. Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the raw baklava into 1.5″ vertical strips, making sure to slice all the way to the bottom of the baking dish. Then, slice diagonally in a crossways pattern, to create diamond shapes (or, just cut crosswise to make rectangles).

11. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the tops of the baklava have puffed and are golden brown.

12. Pour the cold syrup between the cracks of the baklava diamonds – it will sizzle. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top. Set aside to cool and serve at room temperature. Store covered in a container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Blueberry Lemon Scones

Blueberry-Scones

Dreamy blueberry lemon scones with a perfect balance of crisp exterior and light soft center.

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They’re buttery, flaky, tart yet sweet, delicious, and so easy to make. In fact, these scones are ready in less than an hour– baking time included. I love how fast they come together although they might seem like a lot of work (which is a good thing if you’re trying to impress your friends).

I’ve had my share of failed scone recipes: too chewy, cakey, dry, or crumbly.  And I learned that the method of making scones is important because it affects their texture. So here are a couple of things to keep in mind when making these:

  • All your ingredients should remain cold. No exception! Butter cubes have to be freezing!
  • Whatever you do, do not overwork the butter. Kneading softens the butter and converts the protein in the flour to gluten, which results in chewy scones. So work fast and handle the dough as little as possible.
  • Place the tray of scones in the refrigerator before baking to ensure that they remain cold. Cold dough in high oven temperature result in flaky tender scones!


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Blueberry-Scones3Pair them with fruit jam, clotted cream, or whipped ricotta honey spread… my weakness.

Lemon Blueberry Scones (adapted from Pastry Affair)

Ingredients:
2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
Zest of 2 small lemons
Pinch of salt
8 tbsp. (113g, 1 stick) butter, cold and cubed
60 ml (½ cup) heavy whipping cream
1 large egg, cold
1 cup frozen blueberries (or freeze fresh blueberries to hold their shape while baking)

3 tbsp. melted butter
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Using a pastry cutter (or two knifes), cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse sand.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the heavy whipping cream and egg then pour into flour mixture.
4. Mix until it just comes together as a dough.
5. Transfer dough to a work surface covered in parchment paper and form into a shallow rectangle (about 1”/2.5 cm thick) using your hands.
6. Press ½ cup of blueberries into the dough.
7. Using the parchment paper, fold the dough in half along the long side. Shape again into a rectangle and press remaining blueberries into the top of the dough.
8. Using the pastry knife, cut dough into four equal rectangles. Then cut each rectangle diagonally, making 8 scones.
9. Place scones on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush tops with melted butter. Lightly sprinkle with cinnamon turbinado mixture.
10. Place tray in the fridge for 15 minutes.
11. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Flourless Almond Ricotta Lemon Cake

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When I wrote this post yesterday afternoon I was listening to some classical Arabic songs by Fairuz and Abdel Halim Hafez (my best friend Wihane can back me up on this because she called me and noticed the background music). I remember my childhood days when I used to beg my mom to turn off “that boring music” but I take that back. As a Lebanese expat, I sometimes feel out of place in NYC and the American culture in general so I guess that’s what drove me listen to music that is familiar and that is grounded in middle eastern culture. I decided to forget all preconceptions I had about classic Arabic music and just focus on the rhythms and meaningful lyrics. Abdel Halim Hafez’s songs in particular are incredibly rich and they go on for up to an hour! Can you believe that? It’s also quite interesting how different melodies are repeated throughout the same song, rendering distinctive characters each time yet tying the whole song together. Is that an expat thing, reminiscing on old Arabic music and the good old days?

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Anyway! Back to this lovely Almond Ricotta Lemon cake: it is undoubtedly my favorite recipe this winter season. In fact, I love it so much that I lost count of how many times I baked it within the last two months! It’s THAT good. You guys, my grandma even wrote it down in her recipe book and bought a kitchen scale just to make this cake, which is A FIRST for sure. That makes me feel proud of myself.

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It’s a mixture of whipped butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla bean, almond meal, ricotta cheese, and of course lots and lots of lemon zest. The first time I did this I thought the cake will turn out very dense because it is flourless – but to my surprise it is the lightest, moistest cake I ever tasted. It also has a beautiful, irresistible ground almond texture that melts in your mouth bite after bite.

Ingredients:
120g unsalted butter, room temperature
225g granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3 tablespoons lemon zest (Around 2 medium to large lemons)
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
225g almond meal
320g high quality fresh ricotta cheese

Optional:
Flaked almonds for decoration
Icing sugar for dusting

Direction:
1. Pre-heat oven to 160°C  (325°F). Line the base of a 9″ (23 cm) round cake tin with baking paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest in an electric mixer and beat for 10 minutes until pale and creamy.
3. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the egg yolks one at a time continuing to beat until fully combined.
4. Add the almond meal and beat to combine, then do the same with the ricotta cheese.
5. Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of the egg whites into the cake mixture. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top, decorate the cake with almond flakes (optional).
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked and firm to touch. Allow to cool completely in the cake tin.
8. Dust with icing sugar before serving. Store in the fridge.

Blueberry Oat Muffins

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While Autumn’s here and the weather is getting colder, I couldn’t help but reach for the last bag of organic blueberries from the freezer to bake an end of summer treat. I wasn’t planning on posting a blueberry muffin recipe on the blog because I never found one that’s good enough to share with you. Whenever I bake with blueberries I end up with muffins that are either too moist or too dry. However these babies… these are exceptional. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed them.

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I purchased the One Girl Cookies book on a whim last week while visiting one my favorite bookstores in Soho. The charming photography and collection of recipes caught my attention although I was concerned that no weight measurements are given in any of the recipes. Ever since I started using a scale to measure ingredients I noticed better results in the kitchen and never looked back to using cups. Eventually, I got over my skepticism and bought the book anyway. Let’s just say that these muffins did not disappoint!

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Nearly every blog claims that their blueberry muffins are the best or the tastiest but when it comes down to it, the idea of a perfect muffin is relative to each person’s taste and this recipe comes exceptionally close to mine. They’re crispy around the edges, yet fluffy and soft in the center dotted with juicy blueberries. I did a few minor changes to the ingredients list, like adding more blueberries and lemon zest, using low-fat sour cream, and omitting the crumb topping to make them slightly healthier. They’re great for breakfast with a spoonful of jam or simply left plain!

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Recipe adapted from One Girl Cookies – Makes 16 regular sized muffins

Ingredients:
2/3 rolled oats
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
6 tablespoons (¾ stick, 85 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup low-fat sour cream
¼ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
2 ¼ cups frozen blueberries

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). Line muffin pan with 16 paper liners.
2. Process the oats in a food processor until they are powdery. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), beat together the softened butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix for 1 minute.
5. Add the low-fat sour cream, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest then mix for 30 seconds.
6. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix for 10 seconds.
7. Take the bowl off the mixer and fold in the blueberries with a rubber spatula.
8. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling them to the rim. Sprinkle with rolled oats.
9. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, for 35 minutes or until the top of a muffin is golden and springs back when lightly pressed.
10. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.