Monday, April 13, 2009

Special treatment

When I think of luxury, I don't typically think of mansions, Bentleys, or formal balls. No sir, luxury in my mind is more like fluffy pillows, cozy slippers, and food. Good food. Warm food. Comfy food. I think of things like fresh-from-the-oven scones slathered with clotted cream and jam, eaten in one's pajamas on a chilly morning. The warmth, that delicate texture that crumbles lightly in your mouth. The way the whole house smells delicious for hours afterward. This is the stuff perfect, lazy mornings are made of. And what better a way to welcome my sister-in-law and her family than with a warm batch of cranberry-orange scones? Anyone willing to fly over 13 hours overnight with two layovers to visit us certainly deserves a little luxury, don't you think? Did I mention they're traveling with a toddler? Yep, luxury.

After hours of scouring various cook books, magazines, and websites trying to decipher exactly what constituted a scone (pronounced "skawn" by most of Great Britain) and what made it different from a biscuit served with gravy, I finally came up with my own recipe. It makes a very tender scone that isn't too sweet at all - perfect for all that jam I'm sure you'll be slathering on. Oh, and my favorite part? It's perfect for the freezer, both before and after baking! It's great for early morning breakfasts - just place the scones (unbaked) on the prepared pan the night before, pop them in the freezer, covered, and transfer to the oven straight from the freezer the following morning. Or later that week. Or month. Of the times I've made scones, the results are always best when I bake them from a frozen state.

Cranberry-Orange Scones
This recipe is incredibly versatile. I hear tangerine is also a lovely partner for cranberries. If you're not feeling citrusy, simply omit the orange components and increase the amount of buttermilk to compensate. Don't like cranberries? Use dried currants or cherries, or go entirely without. Love chocolate chips? Go for it! Get the point? Now get baking!
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • zest of one large orange (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 4 oz (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup chilled freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl, then mix in orange zest and whisk until evenly distributed. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. This is not the time to be OCD about uniformity - it's okay to have some larger chunks of butter (aim for pea-sized, more or less). Mix in dried cranberries.

Mix egg and buttermilk together, reserving about 2 tablespoons for the glaze. Stir in the orange juice. Gradually add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, tossing gently with a fork until moist clumps form.

Turn dough out onto lightly a floured work surface. Knead briefly to bind dough, about 4 turns. Dough will likely be a little wet and sticky - just flour your hands and not the dough. Form dough into 1-inch-thick square. Cut into 9 equal squares (like a hash mark), then cut each square diagonally to form 2 smaller triangles (total of 18 scones). Or, if you can't be fussed, just pat the whole thing into a circular disk (1 inch thick) and slice it into 8-12 wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. (Can be prepared up to this point and frozen, covered, on pan)

Brush tops with reserved egg wash. Bake until tops of scones are golden brown, about 10-20 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet 5 minutes. Serve scones warm or at room temperature. I recommend jam and clotted cream - lots of it!

Speaking of clotted cream, unless you live in Great Britain, it's probably a little hard to come by. Or, if you live in New Zealand, it's impossible to come by. Not to worry - clotted cream is easy to make! Just get some unpasteurized cream, let it sit out for 12 hours, heat it gently over low heat until it isn't quite boiling, then let it sit out again overnight. Piece of cake! If you don't happen to live on a farm where you have access to unpasteurized anything, you could do Alton Brown's method with a coffee filter. Or, if you're like me and you don't drink coffee (nor do you feel like buying a coffee filter for this express purpose), you can do this:

In a small saucepan, put 2 cups pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream on the lowest heat setting possible until a skin forms and the surface just begins to ripple on the edges (do not let it boil). Remove from heat and let it sit uncovered in a cool place (fridge works fine) overnight. In the morning, carefully skim the top part (the clotted cream) off the surface. Mix it up and add some liquid cream from the pot, mixing until everything is smooth and combined and has the consistency of very thick whipped cream. It may not taste too phenomenal on its own, but it will transform your scones into something magical when served with a bit of strawberry jam. Enjoy!

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