Kunafah bil Kishtah (shredded phyllo with pastry cream)

kunafa bil kishta

Kunafah is a sweet Middle Eastern pastry, made of shredded pastry dough which is drenched in a simple syrup, and filled with a variety of delicious fillings ranging from crunchy cinnamon and sugar coated nuts, a sweet cheese, or a smooth filling of cream (kishta). Lately, there is a trend of filling kunafa with all kinds of delicious concoctions such as Nutella, a mangoes, coconut cream, cheesecake or whatever else you may fancy. I personally plan to try Nutella out next, following this same recipe but without the vanilla cream. The flexibility of this easy dessert makes it something worth trying out! This variation is my recipe for a vanilla infused kishta. Kishta is the Arabic word for heavy cream, usually a creamy and decadently smooth filling for pastries. My vanilla bean kishta is an adaption of a classic pastry cream filled kunafah as is made in Egypt.

kunafa with almonds kunafa bundt

Kunafa is a childhood favorite! Every Ramadan I crave it madly. The unique texture of the shredded phyllo is so delicious and crunchy, and I love the way it absorbs the sweet flavors like a sponge. I always thought this seemingly complicated dessert is only achieved from my mother’s kitchen, or Middle Eastern bakeries. 

zoom in kunafah

Lucky for us, this dessert is extremely easy to prepare and make, despite its uniquely complex appearance and textures. My mom always made it with a delicious mixture of nuts, raisins, cinnamon, and sugar and twisted it into a beautiful design. This is a far less complicated version made simply by layering in a pan, filled with cream. I like using a bundt to give it a special shape. You can sprinkle pistachios or almonds on top.  I infuse the cream filling with real vanilla bean, and the creamy texture is reminiscent of my all time favorite dessert: creme brûlée. 


You will need to purchase kunafah dough at a Middle Eastern market or online. I have no idea how it is made, or who makes it, but I will find out one day. Kataifi dough is almost always purchased in the store, as phyllo dough would be. It is called “kataifi shredded dough” in most cases.  In Chicago, I go to Sanabel Bakery on Kedzie, which is a wonderful haven to get all kinds of Middle Eastern aromatic spices, herbs, and groceries. The dough is almost always sold frozen. You need to plan to thaw this in the fridge 12-24 hours before you use it. So be sure to get the dough ahead of time. In a pinch, you may leave it on the counter to thaw more quickly and use it the same day, but it must be completely thawed out so that you may work the dough properly. Thawing in a microwave will not work. Do not try it. 

kataifi kunafa dough

The first thing to do is to make the simple syrup, known as sharbat in Arabic, so that it has plenty of time to cool. The sharbat is very easy to make; it is sugar mixed with water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Many people add rose water or orange blossom essence to sharbat, but I strongly dislike that overpowering flavor and suggest avoiding it so that you may enjoy the main flavor of the vanilla cream in the pastry. Once the water-sugar mixture begins to boil, add a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and reduce the heat until it thickens. The syrup needs to cool so that when you pour it onto the hot, freshly baked kunafa, it absorbs quickly, or “drinks” the syrup. Thus the name sharbat which comes from the Arabic root word sharb, meaning drink. I always like to know the origin of commonly used culinary terms. 

Next, you will prepare the delicious cream filling. This is my FAVORITE part. Your kitchen will smell amazing. I often spend too much money on vanilla scented candles to achieve this effect. So I just LOVE this step. When using a vanilla bean, place it against a cutting board and carefully slice open the top along the length of the bean, without puncturing through the bottom. The scent is divine, and once you begin to simmer it, the aroma will waft through your home.  Simmer 2 cups of heavy cream over medium heat and add the vanilla bean. Scrape out all the glorious vanilla bean caviar from the pod until the cream is speckled with hundreds of beautiful aromatic vanilla bits. I also throw in the whole wooden pod to infuse more flavor, and the scent is just incredible! Alternatively, you could place the emptied wooden pod in a sugar container to have vanilla infused sugar for baking, or for tea and coffee. After simmering for about 5 minutes, you will need to remove the wooden pod and reduce the heat to prevent any scorching of the cream. In a separate bowl, stir 2 tbsp of corn starch with cold milk until dissolved, and then pour the corn starch mixture into the cream. Stir slowly until the cream thickens. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. 

scrape vanilla bean vanilla bean in cream

Now, for the kunafa dough. The thawed dough will most likely be rolled in a thick log of finely shredded pieces; you will need to separate all these pieces with you fingers and massage the shreds with butter in a large bowl or dish.

For this pastry, you need to use samnah, which is clarified butter otherwise known as ghee. Samnah is unsalted butter with all the salt and milk solids removed. It is easy to make. Simply melt unsalted butter and once it is melted, and begins to bubble, remove from the heat and skim off the top when cooled. The salt and solid matter left behind is a delicious treat to lick up with some bread by the way! Samnah could be stored in a container in the fridge and used in many, many other recipes. You could also just use ghee sold in jars in grocery stores, but the homemade clarified butter smells and tastes much better.

break apart the shredded dough pull apart the dough butter on kunafah

It is necessary to rub and separate the shredded dough with the butter as if you are massaging it and oiling every strand. This is a fun sensory activities for kids who want to help you bake! Once all of the shredded dough is separated, fluffed out, and massaged with butter, press half of the dough onto the bottom of a circular pan. Pour the cream in the middle and then cover the cream with the remaining buttered kunafa dough. Pour 1/4 c melted butter all over the kunafa and bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Making this in a bundt pan can be trickier to keep the cream in, but it looks so pretty!

cream filling layered Kunafa

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As soon as the kunafa is removed from the oven, you need to pour the sharbat all over it to sweeten. After waiting a few minutes (2-3) for the syrup to drip to the bottom of the pan, flip it onto a serving dish, so that the now permanent bottom of the cake gets sweetened as well. Garnish with crushed pistachios or a mixture of nuts as is done traditionally and enjoy! This is often served with a cup of mint or clover tea. 

kunafa with ishta cream filling kunafa


Kunafa bil Kishta (Shredded pastry dough with vanilla cream)
This is a sweet and crunchy Middle Eastern pastry filled with a creamy vanilla filling and soaked in a sweet simple syrup.
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For the samnah/ghee/clarified butter
  1. 2 cups or 6 sticks of unsalted butter
For the syrup
  1. 2 c sugar
  2. 3 c water
  3. 1/4 fresh squeezed lemon juice
For the cream filling
  1. 2 tbsp corn starch
  2. 1/4 c cold milk
  3. 2 c heavy whipping cream
  4. 1 tbsp sugar
  5. 1 vanilla bean pod
For the pastry dough crust
  1. One box of kunafa shredded dough
  2. 3/4 cup clarified butter (soft, not melted)
  3. 3/4 cup melted ghee
  1. Prepare by removing the frozen dough from the freezer and thawing in the refrigerator 24 hours before cooking.
For the samnah, ghee, clarified butter
  1. This is best if you make it in advance.
  2. Melt the butter in a pot.
  3. Once it boils, turn down the heat. Allow to cool. Scrape off the particles that come to the top and allow to cool until softened.
For the syrup
  1. In a large pot, stir the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, and the sugar has dissolved, add the lemon juice and reduce to medium-low heat. Allow to simmer until sightly thickened. This step could be done well in advance or even a day prior.
For the cream filling
  1. Pour the heavy cream into a small pot and simmer on medium-low heat.
  2. Slice open the vanilla bean, scrape all the beans out, and drop into the heavy cream. Add the empty pod into the cream. Allow to simmer for about 3-5 minutes. Remove the wooden pod.
  3. Meanwhile, dissolve the corn starch in the cold milk.
  4. Turn the heat down to low, and slowly stir in the cornstarch mixture into the cream. Be careful not to let the cream stick to the pot or scorch. Stir until thickened and remove from heat.
For the kunafa crust
  1. Loosen and fluff the kunafa dough in a large bowl. Massage the pastry dough with 1 cup of softened ghee or clarified butter. Rub all the dough until it is all well coated with butter and all loose.
Assembling the dessert
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F), and move the baking rack to the center.
  2. Using half the dough, press it into the bottom of a circular pan. Press firmly so that the dough goes up the sides slightly, and there are not any openings or cracks. This will eventually be the top of the kunafa when you flip it, so make sure it is evenly spread.
  3. Pour the vanilla cream all over the bottom layer.
  4. Carefully place the remainder of the buttered kunafa dough over the cream, making sure all the cream is covered all the way to the edges, without pressing the cream to ooze out. Make sure you gently pat down any of the shreds down so they are not sticking up, or they will scorch in the oven.
  5. Pour the melted butter evenly over the entire pan to soak it in butter.
  6. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden.
  7. As soon as the kunafa is removed from the oven, pour the cooled syrup all over, evenly. You might not need all of it. After about 20 minutes, flip the kunafa onto a serving platter. This is important to ensure the syrup goes to the bottom of pastry after flipping, so that is is not dry.
  8. Garnish with crushed pistachios.
Adapted from My Mother
Adapted from My Mother
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Orange Cranberry Muffins or cake

orange cranberryThis is a delicious citrus cake that is divinely moist, and bursting with tangy cranberries throughout! The recipe is so simple and quick, anybody can whip it up in no time. Orange cake is one of those nostalgic recipes that takes me back to my childhood visits to Egypt. My grandmother and my Tunte Zaineb often made this delicious cake, and we would simply eat it on the go, cut into simple little squares and stored in a plastic tupperware container. I used my grandmother’s and aunt’s recipes to recreate an orange cranberry muffin, which continues to be a favorite treat of mine at local cafes and bakeries. 

orange zest

Zest the skin of the oranges with a sharp zester or grater, such as Microplane.

fresh orange juice

The recipe uses fresh orange zest, which is so important for the orange flavor and scent. Along with some fresh squeezed orange juice, milk, and olive oil, this cake gets very citrusy and moist! Yes, olive oil.  In almost all my cakes I use olive oil. You would not know if you tasted it, the cake is still moist and fluffy, and there is no flavor from the oil. You could certainly use butter instead, if you like. Butter always lends a nice buttery taste, but for health reasons and simply because the cake comes out just as moist, I prefer to bake with olive oil.  

oranges and cranberries cranberries in batter

I also use fresh whole cranberries which are perfect because they are in season in the fall and winter, along with the deliciously juicy oranges. The festive pop of color, along with their tart and juicy flavor, goes so perfectly with this sweet orange cake! I try to buy the cranberries and keep them for a few days to make sure that they ripen and are not so tart in the cake. I found that if I use cranberries right away after I purchase them, they tend to be less sweet, which could definitely make this recipe go sour!

orange cranberry muffins orange cranberry muffin

Orange Cranberry Muffins
This is a supremely moist and citrusy orange cake bursting with juicy cranberries throughout! Make as muffins or in a bundt cake!
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Prep Time
25 min
Cook Time
25 min
Prep Time
25 min
Cook Time
25 min
  1. 3 eggs
  2. 3/4 c olive oil or butter
  3. 2 tbsp orange zest
  4. 1 3/4 c sugar
  5. 1 c fresh squeezed orange juice
  6. 2 tbsp of milk
  7. 2.5 c flour
  8. 1.5 Tbsp of baking powder
  9. 3/4 c fresh cranberries, washed
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degree fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the orange zest.
  3. Stir in the sugar, oil, and orange juice with the eggs.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder.
  5. Slowly stir in the flour mixture with the wet mixture. Add the milk. Do not over mix!
  6. Stir in the cranberries.
  7. Grease 2 muffin pans or place a liner in each cup, or grease a bundt pan. Fill the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden on top and a toothpick comes out clean.
  1. If baking a cake, bake on the top rack so that the bottom does not get too browned, as you will need to flip it. Shake some powdered sugar on top of the cake with a sifter.
Adapted from My Grandmother Saadiya and Tunt Zaineb
Adapted from My Grandmother Saadiya and Tunt Zaineb
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Tea bag cookie

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A baby is brewing! These personalized tea bag cookies were the perfect treats and favors for our afternoon tea themed baby shower. These cookies were so delicious and really added to the theme. I set them inside each tea cup or on the saucer, beside the tea cup. The tea bag label said the last name of the parent’s to be and the date, with the expected baby’s initials on the other side. These are so easy and fast to make and perfect to have with tea. The details and personalizing are what take some time and attention. The most time consuming part was cutting out the tea bag labels which I designed on the computer in MS Word, and threading the labels onto string and into the cookie.

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I used this great recipe for shortbread by Ina Garten. The key to getting a perfect dough is to use softened room temperature butter and to beat it until it is fluffy. If you do so and then slowly stir in the flour mixture, you will not have any issues with the mixture being too crumbly or dry. Another problem reviewers may have had is not measuring the flour properly. Flour should not be packed into the measuring cup, but scooped loosely by a spoon and into a cup for accurate measurement. If you have too much flour, the cookie will  be dry. I refrigerated the dough for about 30 minutes so that it is easier to work with and cut into the shape. 

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Be sure to cover with plastic wrap before refrigerating…


You could cut the cookie into the tea bag shape by using a rectangular cookie cutter and cutting off the top 2 corners. 


Sprinkle with some sugar…


I used a large straw to poke out a hole at the top of each cookie, which you need to do BEFORE baking if you plan on getting a tea bag label through your cookie 😉 



The cookies were still fairly soft after baking so I was able to cut the edges smaller and straighter if necessary to achieve the shape I wanted and to poke the straws through the hole again to define the opening (the dough puffs out and expands while baking). But this must be done while the cookie is still hot and malleable. Once the cookie cools, you cannot cut it without cracking the whole cookie. My husband and I had no problems dealing with all those scrap edges! Yum!

Once the cookie cooled, I melted some delicious dark chocolate in a double boiler ( a pyrex bowl sitting over a pot of simmering water does the trick) and dipped each cookie in and laid it on parchment paper to cool and harden overnight. The next day I threaded each cookie with its label.

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Vanilla Bean Frosting


This is fluffy, delicious, melts in your mouth, and perfectly vanilla! This makes enough frosting for about 3 dozen cupcakes (with generous and lofty peaks of frosting!) or a double layer 9 inch cake.

This easy recipe involves slicing open a real vanilla bean pod, scraping up all the lovely vanilla specks and simmering them in some cream. Your kitchen will smell AMAZING.



Meanwhile,  whip the butter until it is pale and fluffy!


When you whip the heavenly vanilla infused cream into the butter and sugar, you will have one amazing vanilla frosting to top your cakes with! 

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Vanilla Bean Frosting
So creamy, so vanilly, this frosting melts in your mouth and is the perfect go to recipe for frosting!
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Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
  1. 5 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  2. 3/4 c unsalted butter ( 1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
  3. 3/4 c heavy cream
  4. 3 tbsp vanilla extract
  5. 1 vanilla bean
  1. Pour the cream into a small pot over medium- low heat. Slice open the vanilla bean vertically down the length of the bean, and use a knife to scrape out all the beans and add to the cream. Add the remainder of the bean pod to the cream. Simmer for only 5 minutes until fragrant and do not allow to boil or evaporate. Remove the bean pod and strain the cream with a fine sieve if necessary to remove any woody strands from the cream. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. Whip the butter at medium speed until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the vanilla extract. Whip at medium then high speed for 1 minute.
  4. Sift the powdered sugar once or twice to remove any clumps and to aerate.
  5. Add the sifted powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing well.
  6. Add the vanilla bean infused cream and stir well.
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Date Smoothie


It’s no secret in the Muslim world that dates are a superfood with numerous health benefits. It is no wonder that Muslims ritually start their fast and break their fasts with a date, as was the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) many centuries ago.  

But you do not need to be Muslim to know about the countless benefits of eating dates. Any nutritionist could attest to the nutritional value of this superfood. Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, which grows in warm, dry regions such as the Middle East and parts of California. Dates are high in fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol, improves digestion, satiates the appetite, and fight heart disease and obesity. They are also high in Vitamin B, A, and K. B vitamins are the most prominent vitamin store in dates which include B6 and B9 (folic acid), which helps improve metabolism and produce new red blood cells. Dates are also very high in minerals including potassium, copper, calcium, iron, phosphate, magnesium, and manganese. Although dates are such a sweet treat and thought to be high in sugars, they actually have a high nutritional ratio to the calories as well as a low glycemic index so they absorb into the body much more slowly giving steady releases of energy and several other sustained benefits. Thus, in moderation dates are an excellent sweetener to use in place of cane sugar or other sweet desires. 


This brings me to this deliciously satisfying and filling energy smoothie! This drink is a concoction of my father’s, which he whipped up one Ramadan long ago. During Ramadan, Muslims are fasting from sunrise to sundown, and dates are in high demand! The benefits of a smoothie are obvious as you can puree a lot more nutrition and whole foods into a fine consistency which makes it easy to consume a lot more in the easy and convenient gulp of a milkshake. I use organic milk, usually whole because I believe in all the benefits of drinking wholesome vitamin D milk in its natural state. However you could use coconut milk, almond milk, or some ice and water if you have other dietary preferences. 4-6 pitted dates, a whole ripe banana, and a couple of frozen strawberries or ice cubes make this a nice refreshing shake that will keep your appetite satisfied and body well nourished for hours! If you have a powerful blender like the Vitamix or Blendtec you will have no issues throwing the dates in whole. No need to soften or puree them first. I enjoy this after a workout or before I run out of the house for the day running errands. You other moms out there know what a hassle it is to find time to sit down and eat when running around with kids and carseats/strollers all day! 




Date Smoothie
Serves 2
A refreshing and energy boosting milkshake that will keep you full and energized thorough your day!
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  1. 3 cups cold milk
  2. 4-6 medjool dates, pits removed
  3. 1 ripe banana
  4. 4 frozen strawberries (optional) OR 1/2 cup ice cubes
  1. Remove the pit from the dates by slicing down the center, vertically along the length of the date.
  2. Combine all the ingredients into a blender and pulse to chop and distribute, then increase to the highest speed for 1 minute until smooth and frothy.
  3. Enjoy!
Adapted from My father 🙂
Adapted from My father 🙂
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Harissa aka Basboosa (Semolina Cake)

sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-46This is a typical Middle Eastern dessert very popular in Egypt. I love my mom’s recipe because it is so light and not overly sweet like many Middle Eastern desserts may be. The homemade syrup that soaks into most Middle Eastern desserts is usually quite heavy and has rose water or orange blossom water added to it. This syrup is simple and light and instead uses a dash of lemon juice. If you actually like the rose water ( I don’t!) you can add it in lieu of the lemon. 

sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-40Harissa is made with semolina flour, which you can find in any Middle Eastern market, Italian specialty shops, or other specialty grocery stories. If you cannot find it, a good substitute you may use is the Cream of Wheat cereal mix. Just make sure it is not the instant variation as that grain is too fine. 

For the syrup you simply dissolve sugar in water and boil it until it becomes thick, then add some butter. You want to be sure not to overheat as we are not making caramel here!

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sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-39The batter is so incredibly easy you will want to get up and make this as soon as you read it! All you need is semolina flour, baking powder, yogurt, butter, coconut, sugar and sour cream. No eggs! You mix all of these together into a nice thick and creamy batter and spread into a 9 inch rectangular pan. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. In no time, you will have gorgeous little semolina squares to enjoy for dessert!

sugarandgarlicsugarandgarlic2013-41Harissa is baked with an almond on top of each slice and cut into squares or diamonds. This sweet semolina cake  pairs perfectly with coffee or tea.

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Harissa aka Basboosa
A perfectly sweet and delicious Middle Eastern dessert perfect for tea time!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
For the cake
  1. 2 c semolina
  2. 1 c sugar
  3. 1 stick or 1/2 c butter
  4. 1 c finely shredded coconut
  5. 1 tsp baking powder
  6. 1 c yogurt
  7. 2 tbsp sour cream
For the syrup
  1. 1 1/2 c sugar
  2. 2 c water
  3. 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  4. 1/2 stick or 1/4 c butter
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
  2. First make the syrup as it needs to cool and thicken before pouring onto the baked cake. Pour the sugar and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Allow to boil until the mixture thickens. Do not carmelize. Squeeze a couple of drops of lemon into the boiling mixture.
  3. When the liquid has reduced a bit, add the butter and vanilla and stir well. Remove from heat once the butter has melted and allow to cool.
  4. For the cake, mix all the ingredients together in bowl until well combined. Cover with a towel and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Spread into a 9" baking pan and place a halved or slivered almond on top where you will slice each square. Bake for 30 minutes until the top is golden.
  6. Once you remove the pan from the oven, pour the syrup over the entire cake, evenly, while the cake is still warm. Allow it to absorb; you might not need to use all of the syrup. Slice into squares or diamonds and enjoy!
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Blueberry Orange Oatmeal Muffins


These muffins are full of fiber and bursting with orange and blueberry juiciness. I love to bake with seasonal produce. I have a bowl of zesty juicy oranges sitting on my counter and they were perfect for these muffins . This recipe originates from my aunt’s yummy orange cake. I adapted it to add the blueberries and oats and swapped out some of the flour and oil for healthier alternatives. I used whole grain flour and olive oil in lieu of the all purpose white flour and GMO corn oil.

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The recipe is incredibly easy. Just mix the wet ingredients together, add the flour and baking powder, combine with the oats and berries, and bake. You don’t even need a mixer. Along with the olive oil I used to moisten the cake, I added some  juice by throwing the orange I zested into my blender to make some pure whole fiber orange juice. My family drank the extra  juice and loved it; it’s pulpy and has all the fiber as opposed to  juice you get from an extractor. That is the beauty of using produce in season. You get the best flavors with no additives or artificial flavoring. The blueberries are just starting to phase out for the fall, but you may still be able to snag some sweet juicy ones! This recipe works well with lemon if that is your preference; just swap the juice and zest for lemon! 

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Blueberry Orange Oatmeal Muffins
Yields 16
refreshing orange, juicy blueberries, and whole grain fiber make this a delicious treat you don't have to feel guilty about!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
35 min
  1. 1 c all purpose flour
  2. 1 c whole grain flour
  3. 4 eggs
  4. 1 c sugar
  5. 1/2 c honey
  6. 1 tbsp orange zest
  7. 1/2 c olive oil
  8. 3/4 c orange juice
  9. 1 tbsp baking powder
  10. 1/2 c rolled oats
  11. 1 c fresh blueberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degree and grease a muffin tin.
  2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl.
  3. In a larger bowl combine the eggs, zest, sugar, honey, oil and orange juice. Mix well.
  4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture.
  5. Add the oats and blueberries and stir with a large spoon until incorporated.
  6. Pour into a muffin tin, filling 2/3 of the cavity, and bake for about 20 minutes.
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