Scones: fresh from the oven!

A beautiful scone beats a biscuit hands down—in my humble opinion. For most Southerners, those could very well be fighting word.  But, since this is my blog, I will continue.  Scones make a handy quick bread for breakfast, a special brunch, or an afternoon snack with tea.  These have real character. Their rough-hewn shape shouts, ‘Hearty country, made with love! Fresh from the oven!’

Blueberries are outstanding in these scones, but they also worthy of Oregon’s Marionberries or even pitted cherries.  In this batch I’ve substituted ¾-cup whole wheat flour for ¾-cup all-purpose flour, and for fruit, dried cranberries and apricots.  Dried fennel, other herbs and spices are obvious additions, whether in lieu of fruit or as a complement.

Scones are a snap to make with a food processor, but I have made them using 2 knives to cut the butter into the flour—much like making a pie dough.  Beyond that, it’s a simple matter of stirring the liquid into dry and forming the dough into two loaves, with the least amount of possible fuss.

The secret to light scones is minimal handling and a moderately hot oven for fast rising.  To do this, quickly form into two rounds and score the tops—instead of shaping individually.  Cool briefly before slicing into portions and enjoy hot with butter, jam, or straight up.  Store whole loaves lightly wrapped, reheat, and cut to order. For more ideas, check out the variations that follow.

Basic Scones

Ingredients
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup chilled butter cut into small chunks, or shortening
2 large eggs, beaten with enough milk to equal 2/3 cup
Optional finishing for tops:  2-3 tbsp. milk, 2-3 tbsp. demerara or cinnamon-sugar

Directions

  1. Butter a baking sheet or line with silpat. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. In a mixing bowl sift the flour through salt.
  3. Using a food processor or 2 knives, cut the butter into flour mix until it becomes a grainy texture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the butter-flour and pour in the egg-milk liquid. Stir briefly to bring ingredients together and fold in fruit or other additions if using (details below).
  5. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead if shaggy and form a round. Divide mound in half and pat into 2-6″ rounds, about 3/4″ thick. Mark the tops into 5-6 wedges with a sharp knife.
  6. Place on a greased sheet. Brush the tops evenly with milk and dust with sugar. Bake at 375° approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Yield: 10-12 scones.

Berry Variation
1 cup blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc. (fresh or frozen, defrosted)
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
Dust the berries with flour and cinnamon. Gently add to the flour-fat mixture after the egg-milk liquid.  Proceed as directed.

Dried Fruit Variation:   to dough add 1 cup dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots, dates, cherries, or any combination

Jammer Variation
Score each round into 6-8 wedges.  Dust thumb with flour and press down into middle of each section, making 1/2″-3/4″ wide hole. Fill each impression with favorite jam (about 1/4 cup total).   Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar and bake.  Serve hot.

Pear-Gingerbread Dutch Baby

If you haven’t had your fill of gingerbread yet, here’s an easy breakfast or sweet treat that should do the trick with very little effort.

Pear-Gingerbread Dutch Baby

Pear-Gingerbread Dutch Baby

This oven pancake is similar to the old-fashioned Dutch Baby, made famous by Oregon’s own James Beard, a legendary cook who recognized and promoted the 20th century American food movement.  Both Jim and Julia Child were big believers in educating home cooks in the value and use of fresh local foods and neither would shy away from generous amounts of cream or butter. By today’s standards, many of Beard’s dishes may seem heavy-handed, but he innately knew how and what makes food really shine.

In many ways the Dutch Baby is a crepe on steroids. In this case we use the blender to quickly blend the basic egg, flour, and milk concoction along with a mild blend of traditional flavorings:  molasses, a bit of brown sugar, and a hint of warm spices.

In a waiting hot skillet, we begin by quickly softening pears or apples in a bit of the pan’s butter. The batter is poured over the fruit into the hot skillet—to give it a quick start—and then it’s popped into the oven to continue baking and rising.

Much like a soufflé, once removed from the oven it also deflates fairly quickly, as well.  But that will not affect the flavor or the end result of this delicious baby.  It is even good with cranberry chutney and a slight drizzle of agave nectar.Ginger Baby cut up

Pear Gingerbread Dutch Baby

Inspired by a Smitten Kitchen recipe by Deb Perelman

1         ripe pear or large apple, cored and sliced, skin optional
2         tbsps butter, divided
2         lrg eggs
1         tbsp dark brown sugar
1         tsp unsulfured molasses
1/3      cup all purpose flour
1/4       tsp baking powder
1/4      tsp cinnamon
1/4      tsp ground ginger
1/4      tsp ground allspice
1/8      tsp salt
1/3      cup milk
To finish: confectioners’ sugar, maple syrup, or heavy cream

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a blender, beat the egg until pale and light.  Add all ingredients through milk, but not butter, and blend well.
  3. In a 9” skillet over medium heat, warm 1-2 tsp butter and swirl up sides to coat the pan; add the sliced pears to the hot skillet, cooking just to release juices, 1-2 minutes.  Arrange the pears spoke-style in the pan with narrowest ends toward the center.  Increase heat to medium-high, add remaining butter around edges and pour the batter into the hot skillet.  Bake in hot oven 15-20 minutes.   Serves 2.
  4. Slide onto a platter and dust with confectioner’s sugar.  Serve with syrup or heavy cream.

 

Sunday Brunch with Croque Madames

Sunday brunch was on my mind, something easy… and different.  Friends would be stopping by for a quick bite before it got too hot, then we would head up to the Hill Country for a hike.

First, I considered croque monsieur, a fancy grilled ham and cheese sandwich on steroids.  In France it is frequently grilled in butter, then finished off with béchamel sauce and more cheese.

Since we would still be within breakfast range, I settled on its counterpart, the croque madame, which is further embellished with a fried egg.  Certainly not your standard breakfast fare, but I rationalized we would be getting plenty of exercise and would surely walk this off.  So if not now, when?crroque mad cut

I had a delicious loaf of mild Swedish rye which would work beautifully with the ham and Gruyere cheese. I passed on the idea of buttering and grilling the sandwiches—far too rich—instead it would go directly into the oven.  I started by toasting the bread slices, since the béchamel sauce could soften the bread into a soggy mess. There was little left to do but assemble the sandwiches and place them on a baking sheet, ready to finish once guests arrived.croque sand

Before popping the croque madames in the oven, I liberally spread the tops with béchamel sauce and added a healthy dusting of grated cheese.  When they were thoroughly heated, about 5 minutes, I ran them under the broiler until they were bubbly and toasted.

Meanwhile, I quickly fried the eggs then momentarily covered them with a lid, ready and waiting to crown the croque madames when removed from the oven.  Of course, there was plenty of fresh fruit and more peach chutney (see previous post).

Croque Madamecroque mad

Ingredients

  • 8 slices sandwich bread, ½” slices, crusts trimmed if hard (I used a mild Swedish rye)
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ½ lb Black Forest ham, thinly sliced
  • 12 oz grated Gruyere cheese, (3 cups), divided
  •  4 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp butter, or more

Béchamel Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups milk, warmed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Prepare sauce: In small saucepan melt butter, add flour, and stir for about 1 minute to cook the flour;  slowly add the milk, whisking to form a smooth thick sauce.  Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and remove from heat.   Stir in ½ cup of the grated Gruyere until melted.
  3. Lay out the bread slices on baking sheet lined with foil and toast bread on both sides, about 5 minutes.
  4. Spread one side of the bread with a light coating of Dijon. On 4 of the slices layer on equal slices of the ham, sprinkle with cheese, and top with the second slice of bread faced with Dijon. Spoon the béchamel sauce over the top, allowing some to drizzle down the sides and then sprinkle with more cheese.
  5. Bake until heated through, 5-10 minutes, and switch to broil. Run under the broiler to toast until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile heat medium size skillet to medium heat and add butter. When it is bubbling, drop in the eggs and fry according to preference. Remove sandwiches from broiler, top each with an egg and serve.  Serves 4.

How to Fry an Egg 

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of butter per egg,  and allow it to sizzle. Crack the egg into the pan and allow the white to cook until it becomes white and set.

Basted:  Spoon some of the butter/oil over the yolk to set it and change its color to a lighter pink shade.

Sunny Side Up:  When the egg white begins to set add a teaspoon of water to the pan, cover it with a lid to create enough steam to set and change the yolk to a lighter pink color.

Over Easy/Over Hard:  For over easy, when white begins to hold its shape, turn the egg over with a spatula and cook a minute longer.  For over hard, break the yolk before turning and allow the yolk to cook until well-done.