Monday, November 9, 2009

Rapturous Gingerbread Scones

When I call these scones 'rapturous', I mean that they will actually rapture you away to a delicious-gingerbread-molasses-spice heaven. They are that good.
I was especially delighted that these scones came out heavenly because scones are my new baking project. I feel pretty comfortable with biscuits: it is a family tradition. So, scones seemed like the obvious next baked good to try and master. And the Joy of Cooking promises, "So little effort, so good a result". How could I go wrong? Armed with my pastry blender, I was ready to embark on Mission Scone-Mastery.

For this round, I wanted to get a handle on 'cutting in butter', so stay tuned for that experience...
But, first things first, you want to line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and then put that baking sheet inside another baking sheet. This prevents the scones from browning too much on the bottom.
Next, it is time for the dry ingredients. This recipe is 'traditional' because it calls for rolled oats. The oats end up give the scones a hearty texture that I really enjoyed.
Before we get on with the dry ingredients, it is time you met my new Cuisipro measuring spoons:
Want to know why these are the best measuring spoons ever?

Yes, that's right, they are narrow and fit inside spice jars. So long, cinnamon-spilled-all-over-me-and-my-counter-because-the-measuring-spoon-doesn't-fit-inside-the-jar.

Back to the flour and oats, add in your spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg), brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Whisk that up.
In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, molasses, and vanilla. While traditional English tea scones are made with cream, these 'coffeehouse scones' are made with buttermilk instead. The buttermilk gives the scones more of a bread/biscuit-like feel that I really like. (see all that can teach you?)
The next step is the key to making a good scone: you are going to cut in your cold butter. The ultimate goal is to get the flour to the stage where it looks and feels like 'coarse crumbs'. While you can use a pastry blender, two knives, or your finger tips, I decided to go with the pastry blender method. You want to do this as quickly as you can because you want the butter to be as cold as possible when you pop the scones in the oven. This is because the colder the butter, the flakier the scones. Often, a pastry blender or two knives are called for because your finger tips can warm the butter up a little bit. However, if you want to use your fingers, running your hands under cold water will help keep the temperature down.

Enough of the facts, here is how I cut in the butter. After I turned the oven on, the first thing I did was take the butter out, cut it into pieces, and put it back into the frig.
Once I got the dry ingredients mixed and the wet ingredients mixed, I took the butter back out. And got brave: 'Coarse crumbs' here I come.
First, add the butter to the flour.
Next, you are going to use the pastry blender to cut the butter into smaller and smaller pieces. Don't be afraid to be a little aggressive while you do this. Being quick is important. So, come on, put your back into it!
As you keep cutting in the butter, the pieces of butter get coated with flour. And you end up having butter-coated pieces distributed throughout the flour.
And don't worry if the butter sticks to your pastry blender. As you keep cutting, the butter stuck to the pastry blender will eventually distribute throughout the flour.

Do this until the flour gets to the 'coarse crumb' stage. After you make this kind of dough a few times, you know what this stage is like. It really will look and feel like coarse crumbs:
Once you get it to this point, you are done cutting in the butter! Bravo!

After the butter is cut in, you add in the wet ingredients.
And you stir that until it is just combined: as ever, try not to overmix the dough. Mix it until it pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. I like to do this until all the flour is just mixed in. Then, plop the dough on a lightly floured baking surface (I like to put parchment down for this: it makes clean-up easy).
Knead the dough four or five times with the heel of your palm. Then pat it out until it is 7 inches (oh, I love my ruler).
Then cut it into 6 equal pieces. I didn't even get close to 'equal', but it still worked out.
Place those pieces on a baking sheet.
Prepare an egg wash, and brush the top of each scone with it. This helps the scones brown.
Sprinkle a few oats on for character.
And into the oven they go. I baked my scones for 20 minutes, pulled them out of the oven, and panicked. See all those cracks? I thought they were ruined.
It turns out... cracking is something scones are wont to do. In fact, some recipes have you bake scones just until they start to crack. So, lesson learned: if your scones crack, do not be alarmed (do not run to the internet, google cracked scones, and email the splendid table because you are worried). Cracked scones are still delicious.
And, let me tell you, any worries I had vanished as soon as I had a bite and was enraptured. The fragrance, tenderness, and spicy-molasses flavor of these scones will take you away.

Gingerbread Scones
Scone dough:
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger*
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg**
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)***
1/3 cup dried cranberries, cherries, or raisins
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Egg wash:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk or cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place rack in middle of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives.**** The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Stir in the lemon zest and dried cranberries, if using. In a separate bowl mix together the buttermilk, molasses and vanilla and then add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Mix just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix the dough.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough gently four or fives times. Pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches round and 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut the circl in half, then cut each halt into 3 pie-shaped wedges. Place the scones on the baking sheet. Make an egg wash of one well-beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture. Sprinkle the tops of the scones with some rolled oats.

Put the baking sheet inside another baking sheet to prevent the bottoms of the scones from over browning. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clear.***** Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

*While I normally heap my ginger and cinnamon, this recipe as it is calls for just the right amount of spices
**The recipe doesn't call for nutmeg, but I can't resist its seductive ways
***I didn't add lemon or cranberries, but I am sure they would delicious. As would raisins.
****I cut the butter up and put the pieces in the frig right after I preheated the oven
*****20 minutes made my scones just a touch too brown. They weren't dry, but next time I will try 19 minutes.

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