Friday, January 7, 2011

Recipe #1 [Cranberry Orange Scones]

It's the first week of January, so that means my grand idea of making a cookbook commences! (Oh, it's on, people!) One recipe a week for all of 2011. Hopefully, if all goes accordingly and swimmingly, I'll have a solid 52 more recipes under my belt to put in a cookbook as 2012 commences. Oh my, that is if we don't all go hurdling out of orbit and disintegrate, or whatevers supposed to happen in 2012.... anyway, in the meantime....

This week I chose to bake some scones. Honestly and oddly, I've never baked a scone in my life! Over the years I've watched my sister joyfully inhale all sorts of different varieties of the scrumptious looking numbers; they're one of her favorites whenever we go to a café for breakfast. Blueberry, lemon-poppyseed, currant, strawberry, the list goes on.... I, of course, being vegan, haven't had a scone in about 11 years! I've not ever seen a vegan scone for sale, but I can imagine if I did, it might taste pretty horrid. The first place I waited tables at was a gourmet cafe and deli in Wisconsin and they sold a scrumptious whole wheat cinnamon scone that I loved with my morning coffee. I went vegan the following year, and I've just never entertained the idea of converting the delightful pastry into a vegan version. Until now.....

From what I've gathered over the years from either watching my sister enjoy scones, or eyeballing them for sale in pastry cases, scones can be quite delicious: if executed perfectly, they are airy and light with the perfect crumb. They can also fail miserably from being overworked and be dense and dessicated, or with the wrong ingredients be spongy and despicable and should downright not even be called a scone anymore! They're pretty darn close to the biscuit family, and depending on which recipe you're making, they're meant to be enjoyed simply on their own with no fancy toppings required. Unless of course you like a little clotted cream, or butter and raspberry jam as some British do, and they seem to be quite militant about their scones (or skons, or scoons). Such details to be considered are: to add sugar or not? dare you make them sweet or even add berries? simple bicarbonate or cream of tartar? self rising flour or all purpose? perhaps even the addition of lard! (gasp!)

Never mind the ingredients, what about the process? When handling the dough you almost treat it like you're making a pie crust- and we all know how tricky that can be. I think this is what makes a true scone win or fail. Keeping the ingredients good and cold and not overworking the dough AT ALL are the two most important factors I think. That's what I gleaned in my scone research and development anyway, and I would agree. I chose to indeed add sugar, with the idea of a slightly sweet breakfast scone. I wanted to use citrus and cranberries, since it's the season for such fruits and no local berries are to be had in the dead of January, not even here in San Diego. Here's my result....

Cranberry Orange Scones (yields about 12)

3 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup cane sugar
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fresh orange zest
3/4 cup Earth Balance buttery sticks or spread
1 cup soymilk
1 T. lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup frozen cranberries
Additional sugar to sprinkle on tops before baking (optional)

Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, orange zest, and salt and put it in the freezer to get chilly. Then measure out the fat (Earth Balance) and put it too in the freezer. Meanwhile add the orange juice and lemon juice to soymilk (instant sour buttermilk!) and allow that to sit. Then, almost like you're in a hurry, remove ingredients from freezer and cut the fat into the flour mix with a pastry cutter. Some people say to rub the fat and flour in between your hands, but I think that would make it too warm- defeating the chilling process. When there are no longer large clumps of fat, pour in the soymilk-"buttermilk" and vanilla extract, then (important!) just lightly stir until combined. (The dough will look kinda shaggy and undermixed, but resist the urge to stir and knead the hell out of it- it's not bread and you do not want developed gluten.)
Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and spread it out (using floured hands) to about an inch high into a large round or rectangular shape. At this point I pushed the cranberries into the dough. I didn't want them to be on the outside so they'd get all tough or burn and be awful in the mouth. Also, you can monitor their distribution this way. Using a round biscuit type cutter, pastry cutter or knife (whatever you use, flour it well between cuttings), begin cutting your shapes. I just shaped the dough into a rectangle and cut a dozen triangles. You could also shape it into a circle and cut triangles like a pie. There's many different ways of obtaining your desired shape, but triangles and rounds seems to be the most traditional. Swiftly place them onto a parchment lined baking tray, and if you like, sprinkle the tops with additional sugar. Bake in a 425º oven for 15-20 minutes. My unpredictable oven tends to playfully fluctuate when I'm trying to bake, so I have to keep a close eye on whats happening in the oven. After about 15 minutes I lifted a scone and peeked at the underbelly to check for browning, but they needed a little longer. At about 19 minutes, the ridges were kissed with a beautiful golden hue and the tops had a delightful crust from the sugar sprinkled on top. Success!

As I stated above, it's been 11 years since I consumed a "regular" scone, but I must say this vegan version came out prettyyyyy pretty delish and I'm very excited about it! What they say is true also, they are BEST right out of the oven. My sweetie, Ian, who is also an established baker but of the butter and egg variety, admitted these scones were impressively like the real thing and he greatly approved! YAY! Recipe #1 is a success! I'm looking forward to doing another flavor... any ideas? Perhaps in the spring I'll try a blueberry meyer lemon scone, mmmmmm. Or even a savory onion & herb scone to accompany soup! The possibilities are endless.

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