Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Your Favorite Jeans VS. Your Sunday Best, Who Cut the Cheese?, and the Cadillac of Scone Recipes

Sometimes we create our own anxiety. Once in a while, it becomes the force that drives us to do great things.

Note to self: Don't discuss a recipe until you've actually tried it, with successful results.

I had the I.O.U. of one Almond Scone experiment hanging over my head. I could hear the stomach rumblings from co-workers, friends and a few loyal bloggers. By the time I had a few hours to myself, I was already riddled with the fear that my plan would fail.
The plan was simple really. Take one simplified scone recipe, add the almond trifecta and create a scone worthy of donning your favorite little black dress.
If cookies are like good friends, with whom we let our hair down and share our secrets, then scones might be compared to our relationship with our favorite boss or teacher; not quite a friendship, but a complicated relationship that demands both boundaries and respect.

The task ahead of me required more than just the familiar mix, scoop and bake. Scones are, in my opinion, one of the complicated creatures of the baking world. Preparation of the dough is a tricky dance which requires the perfect balance of cold ingredients, a light hand and timely execution of the recipe. This commitment required my mixing bowls and my brain. Was I up for the challenge?

My initial plan was to use the recipe with which I already had success--that recipe for Apricot Cream Cheese Scones (which appears in a previous post). I would omit the apricots, replace the vanilla extract with almond extract, add ground almonds, and for the crowning glory, I would fold in bits of almond paste. Simple, right? Read on.

I had a few errands to run before I could set my plan into action. I checked the fridge to make sure I had enough eggs and cream cheese. I saw the last, silver brick of Philly on the shelf behind the flax seed (which, these days, is merely interior- fridge- decor) and I was well stocked with all things dairy (heavy cream, milk, half and half) should the need arise. So, off I went.

Upon my return, I closed the kitchen to outsiders (never an easy task with husband and son lurking). I completed my thorough, ritual counter cleaning, a long standing tradition, born as a result of a holiday cookie-dough rolling disaster which involved the likes of (but not limited to) metal staples and Kosher salt.
I set to work, measuring and whisking dry ingredients. I lined my pans with parchment. I preheated the oven. I toasted almonds. I chopped almonds. I cracked eggs. I headed to the fridge for the ingredients which needed to remain cold. I knew I had to work quickly.
I opened that timeless, familiar, rectangular, silver-box, to observe that my eight ounces of cream cheese had been reduced to four! Someone had in fact, literally, cut the cheese--right in half! After a moment of hysteria and the difficult admission that it was likely yours truly who reduced this brick of creamy goodness to a mere four ounces (likely for the sake of another recipe), I realized that my cream cheese scones would not be cream cheese scones after all.

So, I headed to the bookshelf.
It was there that I found my good friend Dorie Greenspan. I lugged my almost new copy of Baking From My Home to Yours to the other (not so clean) counter. I found her original recipe for Toasted Almond Scones, made a few simple adjustments and the rest, as they say, is history.
Before I get to the recipe, let me say this: Think of the recipe for Apricot Cream Cheese Scones as you would your favorite worn jeans--a comfortable, easy recipe in its own right, and great for casual weekends or even a weekday breakfast when you have some extra time. That being said, my recipe for Cadillac Scones--the Almond Trifecta would serve as appropriate fare for company or special occasions, as it is a bit more labor intensive. This is your little black dress of recipes. One worth squeezing into with a little more attention to detail.
As is true with any scone recipe, these are best served the day they are made. They freeze well if wrapped individually and then placed in freezer-safe ziploc bags.
As for Dorie Greenspan's book, it is one worth checking out. She is a baking guru who, for a time, worked alongside that legend Julia Child. Surprisingly though, her cookbook is not at all intimidating. It reads like a letter from a good friend. She offers great tips for preparation and storing of each recipe and the entire book is dotted with lighthearted, personal anecdotes. My recipe below is an adaption of her Toasted Almond Scones recipe. Hers does not include almond paste and you may recall, it was the almond paste, haunting me from my cupboard, that was the very inspiration for this entire experiment. On this eve of Halloween when hauntings abound, I am fortunate to have a basket full of delicious scones. The trick will be hiding this treat from greedy little hands.

Happy Halloween!
And until next time,

Make Life Delicious
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Cadillac Scones--The Almond Trifecta
2 Cups Blanched Almonds (whole, slivered or sliced, toasted)
4+ TBS sugar
2 Large Eggs
2/3 Cup Cold Heavy Cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup Half & Half
1/4 tsp. Pure Almond Extract
3 1/2 Cups All Purpose Unbleached Flour
2 TBS Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
2 Sticks Cold, Unsalted Butter cut into pieces
5 oz. Almond Paste **I used half of a 10 oz. can of my preferred brand Love 'n Bake
Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling
1/4 Cup sliced almonds for topping (optional)
Center a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide the toasted almonds in half. Finely grind one cup in a food processor or blender with the sugar, taking care not to overgrind the nuts--you do not want paste.
Finely chop the remaining cup of almonds.
Stir the egg, cream, half and half, mild and extract together.
Whisk the flour, ground almonds with sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Drop in the butter pieces and using a pastry blender (or clean hands), cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly--the size of small peas.
Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and stir with a fork, just until mixture is incorporated. Stir in the chopped almonds.
Still in the bowl, gently knead mixture by hand until combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape dough into a long rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Break up almond paste into nickel-sized pieces and scatter half of almond paste across dough. Imagine that the dough is a business letter, as you would fold a letter, fold dough into thirds. Gently roll into a rectangle again and repeat this step using the remainder of the almond paste. **IT IS IMPORTANT TO BE GENTLE WHEN WORKING THE ALMOND PASTE INTO THE DOUGH. YOU ARE NOT MIXING THE DOUGH, BUT RATHER INCORPORATING THE ALMOND PASTE SO IT BECOMES PART OF THE DOUGH. An overworked dough will result in tough, dense scones.
Flatten dough to 3/4 inch thickness. Using a round pastry cutter, cut scones into rounds. Place scones on parchment about 2 inches apart. You will bake one sheet at a time, so place second sheet in fridge until first sheet is done baking.
Dorie says: "At this point, the scones can be frozen on a baking sheet, the wrapped airtight. Don't defrost before baking--just add about two minutes to the baking time."
Before placing scones in oven, gently brush tops of scones with a bit of half & half, and sprinkle generously with Turbinado sugar. If you are using the sliced almonds as garnish, gently secure a few almonds to the tops of scones by depressing with your fingers.
Bake for about 15- 20 minutes until scones are golden and puffed. Remove to rack and cool on pan for 10 minutes. Place scones on wire cooling rack and serve when just warm.
This recipe makes approximately 18 scones.
***My Notes: please read before baking
It may be my oven, but I could smell that the scones were in danger of burning. With no science behind my decision, I dropped the oven temp to 375 degrees for the last five minutes of baking. In the spirit of the Apricot Cream Cheese Scones recipe, you could turn the oven off for the remaining 8 minutes but I caution you--this scone dough is a bit more dense and might not bake completely using this method. I urge you to stay close by while the scones are baking. Once they are puffed, golden and the tops feel firm, they are done. Follow your nose and your gut on this one. The results will be well worth it.
The next time around (and there will be a next time--even if I can't fit into my little black dress), I might add a bit more sugar. Admittedly, we like a sweet scone. The almond paste definitely lends more sweetness to this recipe but I would likely add a tablespoon more sugar.

1 comment:

Ari said...

Hey Auntie!
I just began to read your blog today! Great recipes. Mom won't let me try them (shame on her) but with a bit of thought I can just taste them without their presence.

~The Scrapbooking Niece