Friday January 18, 2013

So, week number three of my month of breakfast ideas. First was Eggnog Breakfast Crumble Crunch Cake, followed by Unk’s Homemade English Muffins. Now onto a recipe that has recently been a bit of a quest for me, scones.

I’m not sure when I first tasted a good scone, I mean, a really good scone. There are plenty of things out there that advertise themselves as scones, but they end up being too cakey, or too sweet or too something. Once you’ve eaten a good scone, you simply won’t bother with the rest. Rich with a biscuit-like crisp edge and dense yet light center, a good scone is delicious with a bit of butter or some homemade jam, but if you’re honest, it really doesn’t need any.

The problem with scones, as so many things, is that they are notoriously high in fat. Usually full of both butter and half-and-half or cream, scones aren’t really meant to be everyday fare. In Scotland, where these quick breads originated, scones were often served as part of "cream tea"; certainly not every day for breakfast. Originally, scones were baked in rounds about the size of a small plate and cut into triangles for serving. The rounds were commonly called "bannocks" and the cut triangles the "scones." I find homemade scones are easiest to make in this way, patting the dough into the round and then cutting the uncooked disc into wedges. Try and keep the mixing short and sweet and handle the dough as little as possible.

The scone that made this column a necessity for me to write is the oat scone that I have been lucky enough to find on occasion at Gotham Café on 2nd Avenue in the upper-sixties in New York City. We are lucky enough to be able to spend some vacation time in that neighborhood a couple times a year and I always look for them at breakfast, but they go fast and are often sold out. From Balthazar Bakery, these oat scones are disarmingly good. Barely sweet, with perfect scone texture and studded with just the right amount of raisins, these scones are baked round and caused me to spend lots of time looking through recipes trying to find one that might help me come close. I found this recipe when browsing through my cookbooks over the holidays and am very pleased to say that other than having to cut down on the amount of sweetener and adding the raisins, this recipe comes pretty close. OAT SCONES, ADAPTED FROM WILLIAMS-SONOMA’S
ESSENTIALS OF BAKING

1 cup all-purpose flour

Three-quarters cup old-fashioned rolled oats

One-third cup oat bran

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon baking powder

One-half teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold, butter, cut into half-inch pieces

One-third cup raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes and well-drained

Two-thirds cup half-and-half (you can use whole milk)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Combine dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender (or two knives) cut in the butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs, roughly the size of small peas. Sprinkle on raisins. Pour in the half-and-half and combine quickly with a fork until just moistened. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat together until dough barely comes together in a ball. Gently pat out into a disc about one-half inch thick and seven inches across. Cut into wedges and place on baking sheet.

If you like, brush wedges with milk and sprinkle with oats and cinnamon sugar. Bake until golden-brown, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly on a rack and serve warm.

A work day starts off right when someone comes to a meeting bearing homemade scones! Cathy created these scones using spelt flour, a grain that I have wanted to become more familiar with, as well as millet, which adds a delicious bit of crunch and texture. We asked her to go home and make them again so that she could work out the measurements accurately, so the recipe would be replicable, instead of us trying to use her "by eye" method. The other great thing about these is that they aren’t so picky about being "handled" and rather like a bit of kneading.

CATHY’S GINGER CRANBERRY RAISIN SCONES

2 cups whole spelt flour (you can also use whole wheat flour, but recipe may require a bit more liquid) Three-quarters cup quick cooking oats

One-third cup millet

One-half teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tarter

One-half teaspoon baking powder

Three-quarters cup raisins

Three-quarters cup dried lightly sweetened cranberries

4 teaspoons powdered ginger

One-half cup butter (1 stick)

One-quarter cup milk

Preheat oven to 375. Pour just enough boiling water (about three-quarter cup) over cranberries and raisins to cover them. Set aside to cool. (the cooling will take awhile, so plan ahead)

Mix dry ingredients together, cut in butter and work in with dry ingredients until finely mixed. Add raisin and cranberry mixture, lightly beaten egg and milk. Mix well.

Scoop half the mixture out onto floured board and lightly knead. As you knead, flour will be absorbed into the mix -- less than one-quarter cup per kneading. Pat into a circle about one-half inch thick. Using knife, cut into shapes. Repeat with rest of dough. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet and brush with milk for a glossy finish and sprinkle with some sugar, if you like. Bake for about 20 minutes -- should be firm to touch and beginning to brown.

Following my column on breakfast eggnog cake, a friend mentioned that her family has eggnog scones flavored with Clementine zest on Christmas morning, another recipe that I will have to try.

Once you have the basic recipe down, you can adapt your scones by adding dried other fruits, some, zest, a flavored glaze or changing up the flours to add some body, flavor and more nutrition (and less guilt). One thing is for sure, with a bit of practice, delicious homemade scones are well within reach of anyone’s breakfast table.

Next week: I’ll try to feature something that doesn’t fall under the category of carbohydrate!

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at jpottercooks@gmail.com.