Cold Days, Warm Scones


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We’re in a bit of a cold snap here.  We don’t get a lot of snow and below freezing temperatures, but we’re in for more than a week of it.  It started yesterday morning, when we got a nice dusting of 5 inches of snow.  Since we don’t see it very often, it’s fun to see the beautiful blanket of white all around us.  So, what types of things go well with snow?  Staying inside, getting a fire going, brewing up some hot coffee or tea, and whipping something warm from the oven.  Yes, this kind of weather gets me in the mood to bake.  In fact, this is perfect scone weather.

Scone. The word has been around since about 1513, when it appears to have been first used by a Scottish poet.  Depending on where you’re from, you may pronounce them ‘Skoons’, ‘Skons’, or ‘Skones’, (or if you’re Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, you may call them ‘Sconeses, my precious!’)  You may also debate whether it was the Scots or the British who developed them.  Rest assured, depending on who you talk to, the subject of these simple little delights can invoke a tremendously powerful emotional response.  ‘Scones should only be served with Devonshire cream at High Tea’. ‘Scones shouldn’t be too sweet’.  ‘Scones shouldn’t be too bland’.  ‘Scones need to be made with Currants’. ‘Those things they sell at Starbuck’s aren’t really scones’.  ‘Those scones they sell at Starbucks are my favorite!’  Regardless of your personal feelings, on the issue, one thing is certain, this seemingly simple recipe is one that you must have in your baked goods arsenal.

I have a friend who is a bit of a scone connoisseur.  When I have a question about scones, she’s my go-to person.  She knows what she likes and makes no apologies for her opinions on the matter.  We’ve discussed the finer points of scones, from the ingredients, to the techniques, pros and cons of the various shapes, and the add-ins or toppings.  I know if I can make a scone that meets her standards, I’ve done a fair job of it. 

It’s interesting to me that for a recipe that is the rough equivalent of a drop biscuit, you can certainly exercise your creative muscle when tackling these babies.

Scones can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Some have the appearance of a drop biscuit, while others take the shape of triangles or squares.  Some folks like their scones sweet, while others prefer them fairly bland, requiring clotted cream or jam to be added later for the real flavor.  In the US, we seem to prefer our scones in a variety of flavors, occasionally with a light, sweet glaze, almost like a pastry.  Some may prefer them a bit on the dry side, while others may tend toward a moister version.  I’ve sampled light and flaky scones and scones that were heavy and dense.  I personally like them all.  So far, I’ve never really had a scone that I would call ‘bad’.  But, truth be told, I do like those slightly sweeter scones, especially with a light glaze on top.  I also like a scone that is light, but moist and a bit flaky. 

I made my first scones last year.  I chose a basic recipe and combined it with ground hazelnuts to make a nice, nutty scone that I served with a homemade blackberry curd (I’m including a link to the recipe for this version at the end of this post).  I did some study on the techniques and was pleasantly pleased with my first ever attempt at scones.  Not long ago, I had a craving to try them again, this time with a different recipe, and two different flavors.  I was not disappointed.

And so, I share with you today my most recent foray into Scottish/British quick bread: Cinnamon Scones and Blueberry Scones.  I chose cinnamon because I simply love the cinnamon scones at Starbuck’s – I also have to say, quite honestly, that mine are better.  As for the second flavor, blueberry, it is simply one of my most favorite fruits for baking.  I did the cinnamon scones in triangle shapes and the blueberry as a more free-form drop scone.

While both scones were awesome, I definitely loved the blueberry over the cinnamon.  I don’t know what it was, they were both tender and flaky, both sweet, but not too sweet, and both had just the lightest crust containing the soft insides.  The blueberry just really got my attention.  I could have kept eating them until they were gone.  Thank goodness I do have some will power, but these suckers really put it to the test

If you’ve never tried making scones before, why not give it a shot and impress your friends and family?  If I’ve convinced you to take a shot and give these a try, let me share a few techniques I find to be very helpful for scone making:

  • Use only chilled, preferably frozen butter when preparing the scone dough.  I will take a stick of butter, cut it into small chunks, place them in a ziplock bag and keep the bag in the freezer.  I don’t take the butter out until I am ready to add it to the flour.
  • While there are several methods for cutting butter into flour for baked goods like scones and pie crusts, my preferred method, hands down, is to use a food processor.  This method is fast and consistent, easily providing the ‘pea sized’ pieces of butter you are typically looking for when incorporating the fat into the flour.   As a bonus, this method is relatively clean, keeping your countertops just a bit more tidy.
  • If you do choose to cut the butter in by hand with a pastry blade, knives or even by pressing it into the flour with your fingers, keep your hands as cold as possible.  My grandmother would keep a bowl of ice-water nearby and use it occasionally cool her hands in order to keep from prematurely melting the butter.
  • When adding liquids, such as water or milk, use only very cold liquids.  Again, the idea is to keep the fats (butter) solid until it gets into the oven.
  • Before baking your scones, cool them in the freezer for 10 – 15 minutes after you have shaped them, then put them right into the oven.  Keeping the butter cold as long as possible will help give you the best possible texture.  If I have space in my freezer, I’ll put the scones onto the baking sheets and place the sheets directly into the freezer – then it’s very easy to transfer the sheets to the oven when I’m ready to bake.
  • Since we’re talking about the freezer, formed scones can be wrapped and frozen, unbaked, and saved for a later date.  When you want a couple of scones, just toss them into a preheated oven and bake like normal.  This is a great option if you want to make a larger batch, but only bake a few at a time.
  • Don’t handle the dough any more than necessary. When mixing ingredients, only mix long enough to get the ingredients incorporated.  Over-mixing can lead to tough scones.

There you have it.  Follow those methods, use fresh ingredients, add a little patience, and I guarantee you’ll be able to turn out scones like a pro.  Finally, I’m sharing with you two different scone recipes I particularly like.  There are literally hundreds, if not thousands floating around out there.  Feel free to go out and experiment, or tweak mine to your personal tastes.  Believe me, once you try making your own, you’ll never want to buy another scone again.  And, by the way, you don’t have to wait for the snow to whip up a batch of warm scones for yourself.

For a copy of the Cinnamon Scone and Blueberry Scone recipe, click here.  For a copy of my Hazelnut Scone and Blackberry Curd Recipe, click here.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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As you read this, you will undoubtedly note it was posted several days late.  I actually completed the cake a few weeks ago, but the preparations for and cleanup after the holiday kept me from the computer for the better part of 5 days straight.  So, I hope you’ll grant me a little leeway this month (and probably next month too!)  I am one of those people who hates to be late to anything, so in order to address this issue, I can assure you I have properly punished myself with a steel whisk.

I have to say that there weren’t many challenges that could have been presented this month that would make me set aside the time from holiday (Thanksgiving) preparations in order to make them.  Which is why when I found out what this month’s challenge was, I was torn – do I spend time getting the house in order after our remodel, or do I bake?  Of course, baking won out, how couldn’t it?  Caramel Cake with Caramel Icing and Vanilla Bean Caramels?  Are you serious? The only thing that may have gotten my attention more than this would have been some sort of triple chocolate cake with triple chocolate icing and triple chocolate pots de crème shooters on the side.

So, I set about to make this cake for a November family birthday party.  Not having spent much time making caramel, I was a bit concerned about my ability to gently coax a lovely golden amber caramel out of my pot of sugar water.  Past experiments with this mixture have not always gone very well, but as a Daring Baker, I was determined to complete this challenge.

It wasn’t as time consuming as some previous challenges have been, but it did present a few persnickety steps, particularly, the caramelization process, that did involve some time and intense focus on the stove top.  Everything went well, though, and other than ending up with a pan that needed a little extra scrubbing, all of my caramel turned out just fine.  I wanted a slightly larger cake, so I doubled the cake recipe and used (2) 9″ round cake pans – the final size was just right for the birthday cake.  I did run into one issue in that I could not find any Golden Syrup available locally (I’ve seen it before, I just couldn’t find it when I needed it) so I ended up making a golden syrup copycat recipe I found online.

I shared this cake with about 10 other people and had mixed reviews.  The frosting was the issue.  I found it almost too sweet (if there is such a thing) and for my taste, the browned butter was out of place (as it was for several other tasters too).  I’ll stick with browned butter and mizithra cheese served over hot pasta. The caramels, however were a big hit and disappeared quickly.  Will I make this again?  The cake, absolutely yes, the frosting, perhaps a second go without the browned butter would be more to my liking as well as a thinner layer – this stuff is wicked potent!  The cake itself is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, and perhaps, if I’d toned it down a bit on the frosting, it would have been perfect.  As you can see by my choice of caramels for the opening photo, that I was impressed by them.  I only wished I’d topped them with some flake salt. The caramels are a definite make again recipe.

A big thanks again to Dolores at Culinary Curiosity, Alex of the Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food for the great challenge and for hosting this month.  Natalie at Gluten A-Go-Go provided information for the Alternative Daring Bakers. This month’s Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting is courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (Eggbeater), as published on Bay Area Bites.  The Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels are from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111

You can find a copy of the recipe here.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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It’s coming, I promise.  I just got back to my computer after a 5-day absence.  I actually got my cake done more than 2 weeks ago, but the craziness of the past 5 days made it absolutely impossible to get to the computer and complete my post.  So, it will be coming, hopefully later today.  Stay tuned and check back in.  I’m looking forward to all of your wonderful posts as well.

I hope everyone out there had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday (at least those of you in the US!)

Erik – Baking in Oregon

Something a Little Different


I mentioned a possibility of writing about pumpkin in my last post, and seeing as we are about to hit Thanksgiving, I thought it was time that I oblige the Foodie overlords and conjure up my obligatory pumpkin post.  To that end though, I wanted to try and do something a little different from the pumpkin pies, pumpkin cookies and pumpkin rolls.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all of them all, actually, pretty much anything made with pumpkin.  But since I don’t post often here, I wanted something that might catch your attention, especially if you are looking for something just a little different for this week’s festivities (for those of you visiting from outside the US, it’s just a great little recipe to try any time you’re in the mood for pumpkin).

Enter Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Bars.  This recipe is a creation of Julia over at Dozen Flours and is based on another recipe creation of hers: Snickerdoodle Blondies.  My wife and I love Snickerdoodles, so any recipe with Snickerdoodle in the name is going to get my attention (I have yet to try the Snickerdoodle Blondies, but they are on the short list of items to bake). I had the task of baking up several items for a bake sale 2 weeks ago and selected this recipe as one of those items.

If you’re pressed for time, this is one of those recipes that doesn’t take a lot of time to put together.  As far as pumpkin desserts go, this is pretty different from all the rest.  I’ve tried a lot of different pumpkin combinations, and this one stands out on its own.  The topping is a simple drizzle of melted white chocolate mixed with pumpkin pie spice.  The bars look great, and once they were all plated up for the sale, they all headed out the door.  We did have to sacrifice a few as samples, mostly because people didn’t know what they were.  Everyone who tried them gave them high marks for flavor and texture.

I really liked the fact that this was something different.  I did my usual Candy Cane Brownies and an Apple Cranberry Holiday Cake, but these were more out of the ordinary, which got them noticed.  So, if you want to do something a little different for the holidays this year, consider giving Julia’s recipe a go.  You, and your guests, will be pleased.

Click here for a copy of the recipe on my site.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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Spice is Nice


If I haven’t already said it, I love Fall.  I love the weather, especially the cool days when the sun still shines and the leaves are just starting to fall.  I love the smell of fireplaces being started for the first time in months.  I love how much bluer the sky seems to me.  I love that it’s not 90 degrees anymore.  But most of all, I love the fall food.  Comfort food.  Soups, stews, casseroles, and, of course, sweets.

Fall is that time of year when we depart from the fresh and light of Summer and jump face first into heavy, spicy, creamy and hot.  It’s finally cool enough in the kitchen to actually spend some time in there without an air conditioner blowing full boar.  Yes, it’s finally time for spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and molasses.  It’s time for people to once again celebrate my favorite food fruit – apples.  And it’s finally time again to pop some cans of pumpkin.

I believe it’s required somewhere in the list of Foodie rules out there in the blogosphere that if you are a food blogger, then, come Autumn, you must post about pumpkin at least once.  Really.  I’m pretty sure the food police will come and find you and shove a real pumpkin up your nose if you don’t post at least one pumpkin recipe.

And so it is, for that reason, that I choose at this moment to blog about cookies – Big, Soft, Ginger Cookies.  What?  No pumpkin?  After all that talk about pumpkin?  Yeah, that’s right.  I did talk a lot about pumpkin, and, if you are desperate for something pumpkin, I may actually blog about something in the weeks to come.  Don’t forget, I wrote about spices too.  And spices are what I want to focus on right now.  I’ve seen a ton of blogs on pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin rolls and pumpkin pie, you don’t need another one here.

Let’s keep this simple.  If you like soft, spicy cookies, make this recipe.  If you don’t like them, well, at least read my blog and leave a comment.  I’m sure if I could share one of these with you, I may be able to make you into a convert.  For now, you’ll just have to trust me.

I didn’t capture many photos this time, I can’t say why, maybe I was just being lazy.  Be that as it may, click on any photo below to see a larger image.  If you are tempted and would like to try this recipe, I’ve posted a copy here.

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Ahh, pizza.  On my list of the top 5 favorite foods, I would say pizza is either number 1 or 2 on the list.  If you asked me any day of the week what I wanted to eat for dinner and I could have anything I wanted, chances are good it would be pizza.  Hot, melting mozzarella, perfectly seasoned sauce, light, crispy and slightly chewy crust, garlic, any manner of cured meats – how can you not just love something like that?

I was really excited when Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums announced this month’s challenge was Pizza Dough – hand tossed, no less.  My mind started dancing around ideas for pizzas.  The challenge left a lot of room for interpretation of your final pizza, as long as you hand tossed the dough and used some kind of sauce.

Unfortunately, this month has been so busy, I just couldn’t get to the challenge until the end of the month.  That’s just not the best way to do things – being rushed is a recipe for some kind of failure.  And, failure is what I experience (at least, in part).

It wasn’t a monumental failure, things just didn’t go how I had planned.  First, tossing the dough was an exercise in futility.  The first one started really well, but it wasn’t getting big enough.  I finally had to resort to kind of letting the dough fall over my hands as I rotated it to get the right size, shape and thickness.  Second, I thought I had liberally dusted the pan with semolina, and I was just going to slide the pizza right onto the hot stone in the oven.  It wasn’t to be.  The pizza would not move from the pan.  So, I ended up baking it on that pan, which took twice as long as the recipe called for, resulting in a new delicacy – blackened sun-dried tomatoes.  These tomatoes look like they were sun-dried on the surface of the sun itself.  Thankfully, even burned, they actually tasted good, hey, maybe I’ve discovered something I may try again.  Third, one piece of dough just wouldn’t work for me.  I had split my dough into 4 pieces and froze 1.  I pulled out 3 for the evening. 

I had planned 3 pizzas that night.  We were having guests and I decided, against my better judgment, to violate one of my rules about baking:  Never try a new recipe on guests, always test bake it at least once first.  Well, this was the only night I had available, and the guests were added after I made my plans.  Soooo, they get to by my guinea pigs.

For the savory pizzas, I made a simple pizza sauce I’ve used before.  Pizza #1 was topped with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted chicken breast.  Pizza #2 was topped with mozzarella, turkey pepperoni, sliced mushrooms and sliced olives.  So, back to problem #3 – one of the dough balls just wouldn’t work at all for me.  It tore, it formed a weird shape.  I let it rest and tried again, same problem as before.  I let it rest once more and it wouldn’t move, it was all seized up with gluten.  I tried to roll it out with a pin, but it wouldn’t budge.  I finally, out of desperation, trashed that piece of dough – I just didn’t have time to deal with it.

My dessert pizza was going to be a caramel apple crisp with a cinnamon cream cheese sauce.  I think it would have been great, and I’ll probably try it again sometime, but I just couldn’t get to it that night.  Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), I had already sliced up 5 apples and sautéed them with butter and brown sugar.  Now I had this pan of nicely cooked apples in a sweet buttery sauce and no dough upon which to which to mount my culinary creation.  But, this post is about the Daring Bakers, so if you want to see what I did with this, just scroll down to the next post or click here.

All in all, this challenge was only OK for me.  I really wanted to like this challenge, but I just didn’t have the time, the patience or the technique to do it quite right.  My guests were pleased and they ate up the 2 pizzas I did make, along with my dessert ‘punt’.  The dough wasn’t quite to my taste, though.  It just wasn’t quite the taste and texture I like.  While pan pizza isn’t my favorite (I prefer a thinner crust), I do really like this recipe I’ve used before.

You’ll notice that there is no photo of me tossing the dough.  Because of the last minute guests, I didn’t have another set of hands available to photograph me tossing the dough.  Sorry to bug out on that one.  I did try it, though I made larger pizzas and the dough kind of fell apart.  One other problem.  I’m 6′ 1″, and my ceiling is just a bit higher than 7′ – it doesn’t leave much room for tossing – the whole time I pictured a moment that might be like something out of an old I Love Lucy show – either pizza dough stuck to the ceiling, or draped all over my head.

Thanks again to Rosa and the Daring Bakers for the challenge.  It was a fun one.  I’m looking forward to checking out all the other DB creations out there, I can’t wait!!

I’ve posted a copy of the recipe for the dough and the sauce here.  Click on any of the photos below to view a larger version.