Apple, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Ricotta Muffins

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We Italians are very opinionated, bordering on fastidious, when it comes to cakes and all things sweet. We proudly cook family recipes that have been passed on for generations without so much of a written note and each family strongly believes to be the sole keeper of a perfectly moist cake recipe. And then, one day, only a few decades ago, we heard about this miracle cake batter, an Anglo-Saxon recipe sure to produce the lightest, fluffiest afternoon tea treat: the muffin recipe! It was love at first bite. We all make muffins now, just as proudly as we whip amaretti cookie dough. We may have swapped the melted butter for extra-virgin olive oil and, in this case, added a few tablespoons of ricotta, but the miraculous principle has remained the same: lumpy batter=moist cake.

That’s Amore!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12

2 1/4 cups of self-raising flour, sifted

1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting on top

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs

2/3 cup caster sugar

70 ml Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

4 tablespoons of full cream ricotta

2/3 cup of milk

2 handfuls of semi-dried apples, chopped up (or 2 fresh apples, chopped up)

Demerara sugar and almond flakes for sprinkling

HOW TO

  1. Preheat  your oven to 170°C (390 F)
  2. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 muffin cases or baking paper.
  3. Put flour, lemon zest and cinnamon into a large bowl. In separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until apple and creamy. Add the ricotta, oil and the milk, mix well, then pour the liquids into the flour, lemon zest and cinnamon mix. Stir until just combined. The batter should be a little lumpy and slightly sticky and thick. Add a n extra splash of milk if too thick or another 1-2 tablespoons of flour if too runny. All flours then to vary, according to how they are milled and to how they react to humidity, so feel free to adjust quantities to suit your needs. I always do it.
  4. Add the chopped apples and spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and almond flakes * and bake for 2-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool at room temperature, dust with cinnamon and consume with unrepentant pleasure!

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* If you’d like to top the muffins with a piece of semidried apple, like in the pictures, make sure to cover the muffins tray with oven paper for the first 15 minutes, otherwise the apples may color too much. Remove the paper after 15 minute to allow the top of the muffins to rise evenly and develop a healthy sun-kissed look.

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Home-made Agave and Cinnamon Granola with EVOO

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Breakfast is where the Italian Diet fails to impress nutritionists…It is true, in Italy we have a sweet tooth and most people favour a quick, sugar-loaded cookie or pastry dunked into their morning cappuccino to some healthier, more nourishing options. Although I don’t like to think I particularly subscribe to a health-fanatic movement, I have ditched the morning cornetto and I have learned to like savory combinations such as poached eggs with wilted spinach, smoked salmon and baby capers or avocados and roasted tomatoes on toast. Sometimes though, when only something sweet will do to wake you and get the day started, a light sprinkle of home-made, agave and juice-sweetened crunchy granola, over a soft dollop of Greek Yogurt and a scattering of ripe and succulent berries will do the job, without impacting of my waistline!

INGREDIENTS

400 gr (6 cups) of rolled oats

1 cup of mixed seeds and nuts, such as pepitas, linseed, almonds, pine nuts and sunflower seeds (or any you prefer)

1/3 cup of shredded coconut

180 ml (2/3 cup) of apple juice

4 tablespoons of  agave syrup (or honey)

6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (you can use a lighter scented oil such as olive or vegetable oil, if you prefer)

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

generous dusting of  ground cinnamon

3/4 cup of chopped dried fruit such as figs, apricots or whatever suits you best

1/2 cup of goji berries

HOW TO

1. In a large bowl mix together oats, nuts, coconut and seeds.

2. Coat the oat and nut mix with apple juice, EVOO, ginger  and a generous dusting of ground cinnamon. You can really afford to be heavy-handed with this most delightful spice as some of its warm aroma will dissipate in your oven.

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3. Line an oven tray with baking paper, spread the mix onto it and flatten it with the back of a spoon of with a spatula.

4. Bake in a moderate oven (180 Celsius, 350 Farenheit) for around 40-45 minutes, mixing two o three times during baking to encourage even toasting and crunching up. When they granola looks golden brown and crisp, tun the oven off, leave the over door ajar and cool in the oven for 10 minutes to get rid of any moisture. Take the tray out of the oven, add the dried fruit and a little more cinnamon. Cool down in the tray at room temperature then store in an air-tight container and enjoy for breakfast with thick Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit or sprinkled over ice-cream, or simply as it is. It’s a protein-packed, low-carb snack that will satisfy your craving for sweet treats in a heathy and nutritious way.

Win-Win!

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Note

To liven up an old batch of granola that has lost its crispness after  a few weeks in the cupboard, simply lay it onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and toast in a medium oven for 15 minutes. dust liberally with cinnamon and allow to cool before storing it again.

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Easter Scrolls and Hot-Cross Buns!

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As the Holy Week marches on, I feel the urge to get my hands in more festive doughs! What could be better than home-made hot cross buns and scrolls? With the warm tang of cinnamon, the liveliness of orange peel and the opulence of chocolate, they are definitely going to be on offer at my Easter table this year.

Ingredients

For the ferment:

1 tablespoon of dry yeast

150 ml (2/3 cup) ml lukewarm milk

1 tablespoon honey

100 gr (3/4 cup+1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Dissolve the yeast in milk. Stand for 5 minutes then add the other ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.

Cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size

Dough:

Risen ferment

250 gr (2 cups) of all-purpose flour

50 gr (1/4 cup) of soft butter, cubed

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

100 (1/2 cup) gr of sugar

1 egg

3 tablespoons of floured, mixed peel

3 tablespoons chocolate chips

Criss-Cross dough

4 tablespoon of flour

2 tablespoon of water

Mix together of form a soft, pliable dough

Egg wash

1 egg+2 tablespoon of milk

Beat egg with milk and brush on the buns just before baking

Glaze

1/3 of a cup ml of milk, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Simmer of milk with 2 sugar and  cinnamon.

Stir until sugar is dissolved and the glaze is slightly reduced.

How to

1. In a large bowl, or using a stand mixer, add flour to the ferment, then the butter, a little at a time, the spices and the sugar. The dough will be a little dry at this stage.

2. Add 1 egg and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and silky and is see-through if stretched with your fingers. Shape the dough into a ball and rest, covered with a tea towel for 20 minutes.

3. Stretch the dough with floured hands to shape a rectangle.

4. Sprinkle the surface with mixed peel and chocolate and roll the dough tightly, as if rolling up a cigar. Shape back into a ball and leave to prove in a floured bowl for 2-3 hours.

5. Stretch the dough one more time, fold it into three then shape into a log. Cut the log into 6. Shape 3 pieces into long ropes, roll them up to resemble snails and leave them to rest onto an oven try lined with baking paper. Shape the remaining 3 pieces into balls and place them next to one another on the oven tray.

6. Make the paste for the crosses. Roll it up and place on top of the balls in a criss-cross patters.

7. Leave to prove for 45 minutes.

8. Heat your oven to 180 C (340 F)

9. Glaze the buns and the scrolls with egg wash and bake for 20/25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

10. While the oven does its job, make the milk glaze.

Take the buns and scrolls out of the oven, brush the milk glaze over them and allow to cool on a rack, at room temperature.

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Happy Easter!

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