ABC: Cinnamon Chip Pecan Scones with Brown-Butter Vanilla Bean Glaze

Arguably one of the best perks of blogging is the ability to connect with others who share a similar passion, and form genuine friendships in the process. I am so thankful that I met highly talented, especially thoughtful and caring blogger, Hanaâ of “Hanaâ’s Kitchen,” who has not only taught me a great deal about baking, but has also been a strong support along the way. I am so excited to be joining a fantastic group she began called the Avid Baker’s Challenge. Currently baking out of The Weekend Baker by Abigail Dodge, the avid bakers make a selected recipe together each month and then share their results. For May, our project was scones, with the flavor profile baker’s choice. Oh, the possibilities! Seriously, I played around with different combinations for the majority of the month of April. Does your mind ever wander to ponder the potential taste of a soon-to-be-made baked good, or is it just me?

Originating in Scotland, the first scones were made with oats, shaped into a large round, scored into four or six wedges (triangles) and griddle-baked over an open fire (later, a stovetop) like a thick pancake. With the advent of baking soda in Victorian times, scones were baked and transformed into customizable teatime accompaniments. With strong historical ties to England as well, scones are steeped in British tradition, and are a distant relative of the crumpet and English muffin. Unfortunately, they are often known to be dry as a bone, tasteless, and only made palatable by the addition of plenty butter, clotted cream, jam, or lemon curd. Their modern American counterpart, a quick bread closely related to biscuits, reflects our taste for rich, sweet breakfast pastries. Through the years, scones became coffee shop regulars, usually over-sized, misshapen muffin or cake-like objects, far removed from their British ancestors.

Since the last time I made a batch, I read about a variety of techniques aimed at creating the ultimate light and flakey scone, avoiding heavy, leaden variations at all costs. One method focuses on incorporating the butter, as lofty pastry depends on distinct pieces of butter distributed throughout the dough that melt during baking, allowing steam to escape and leaving pockets of air behind. To achieve this, the butter must be as cold and solid as possible until baking. The problem with traditional methods of cutting butter into flour, either with your fingers or a food processor, is that the butter becomes too warm during the process. A number of sources. including Cooks Illustrated and one of my favorite cookbooks, A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman, point to a fresh idea- freezing the butter and grating it on the large holes of a box grater before quickly and evenly cutting it into the flour. This succeeds at keeping the butter cold, and the the interior of the resulting scone tender and moist without being overly dense. I couldn’t wait to try such a novel concept, and this baking assignment seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I also called upon numerous other tips I found through research in my quest to achieve my best ever scones:

  • Just as the lightest bread is produced from the wettest dough, scone dough should be quite soft- resist the temptation to work more than 1-2 tablespoons of additional flour into the dough, just enough to facilitate handling.
  • Don’t overmix! In fact, work it as lightly and minimally as possible. Never knead the dough (beyond bringing it together) to avoid activating the gluten in the flour any more than necessary.
  • When shaping, either form a round and cut into wedges, or use a biscuit cutter, however, don’t twist it when you push down. It will seal the edges of the dough and prevent the scone from rising as high as possible.
  • If you use an egg wash or dairy glaze on top of your unbaked, cut scones, try not to let it drip down the sides. This also inhibits the rise.
  • Before a trip through the oven, chill scones for about 15 minutes in the freezer or an hour in the fridge- ensure the pieces of butter throughout are as cold and solid as possible.
  • Add ½ cup of water to a pan and place on the lower rack of the oven 10 minutes before you bake the scones- this will create a steamy environment that will assist with the rise. Also, bake scones in the upper third of the oven.
  • Don’t overbake or the resulting scones will be dry and crumbly. Look for bottoms that are golden brown and tops that are set but only lightly golden.
  • You can freeze scones before baking and pull them out as needed- simply shape, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid, about an hour. Bag airtight and return to the freezer. When you’re ready to bake, there’s no need to thaw them; just place frozen scones on a pan, and bake as directed, giving them about 5 additional minutes.
  • Although scones are best eaten straight from the oven, and certainly the day they’re made, leftover baked scones can be frozen too. When you want to serve, the author recommends that you thaw and reheat them in a skillet or griddle, covered with foil or a lid, heating on low to medium-low until warmed through.

So did my batch benefit from all the tips and tricks I found? Well, their crisp outer crust gave way to a light, fluffy, moist interior packed with layer upon layer of flakey goodness. A slight tang from the buttermilk paired beautifully with the warmth of the spicy cinnamon and toasty pecans, and was foiled by the sweet nuttiness of the brown-butter vanilla bean glaze. Tender and buttery, these scones made my inspiration (a scone often ordered by my Mom along with her latte) a distant memory. Let’s just say they were my first ABC success, and I can’t wait to explore all the recipes to come. Don’t forget to check out what all the other bakers’ made this month, and grab a copy of The Weekend Baker. Thanks again Hanaâ for including me and making me feel so welcome 🙂

Note: To recreate my flavor profile- add 1/4 tsp cinnamon to the dry ingredients, and stir in 2 oz cinnamon chips and 1 1/2 oz chopped toasted pecans (about 3/4 c add-ins total). While the scones are baking, make a half-batch of this glaze, using an equal amount of vanilla bean paste (one of my FAVORITE ingredients… I love those magical little black dots!) instead of vanilla extract. Drizzle over the cooling scones and Viola!

Advertisements

Coming Back and Bloggers Bake For Hope 2012

Hi there.

Remember me?

Bubbly baking blogger from Boston passionate about serving scrumptious sweets to her family and friends? Sound familiar?

Well, I have most certainly not forgotten you. On the contrary, you’ve been on my mind and in my heart all this time- it’s been deeply distressing to be separated from all the phenomenal people who used to visit my site, as well as my fellow blogging buddies and baking groups. While it’s been more difficult than you can imagine for me to jump back in the mix, my very special role as a contributing member to the baking blogosphere is simply too important to abandon forever. It is an honor and a privilege to share my kitchen conquests with you, and I treasure the unique opportunity to connect with other talented and enthusiastic cooks and bakers from literally all over the world. Thankfully, I’ve come to know you lot as an extremely understanding and supportive group of folks, who welcome my participation with open arms whenever possible. Looking forward, I plan to partake in some new and exciting endeavors, including joining the Avid Bakers Challenge, an amazing assemblage of bakers led by my dear friend Hanaâ of “Hanaâ’s Kitchen,” who tackle the same recipe together each month. In the immediate future, I have the privilege of utilizing my baking to contribute to a great cause, Bloggers Bake For Hope 2012. When I discovered this exceptional effort to raise funds for the Avon Foundation, I just knew it was time to return to “Hot Oven, Warm Heart,” and in some small way, draw upon my baking for good.

Organized by two highly generous bloggers, Jen of “Beantown Baker” and Fiona of “A Boston Food Diary,” Bloggers Bake for Hope is an online virtual bake-sale event, with all proceeds benefiting the Avon Foundation. Participating bloggers will provide information about their baked goods, and each item will get its own blog post, which can be found here, when the bake sale opens on Monday, April 30th. If you would like to place a bid, leave a comment on the appropriate page with the dollar amount (All bidding will start at $15). Bidding will close on Wednesday, May 2nd, with the highest bidder being awarded the item. They will be notified via email during the weekend of May 5th, at which point they can return to the homepage, and pay via Paypal by clicking on the button reading “donate.” Once the donation has been made, the winner’s address will be sent to the baker, who will ship the baked goods sometime during the month of May. It’s really much simpler than it sounds, I promise!

When selecting my submission, I drew upon my greatest inspiration, both in life and the kitchen, my beloved Grammy. She cooked her way into countless hearts over the years, serving up mouth-watering meals and special memories that will stay with those she touched forever. My best friend, and my hero, Grammy and I shared a sincere passion for preparing food and serving others that goes beyond words. Along with innumerable other life lessons that have shaped me into the woman I am today, she taught me what it means to translate love to the plate. As my passion for baking grew, her support was inimitable and I could see the pride she felt shining deeply in her eyes. Of the many treats I had the pleasure of making for her, these simple corn muffins, always served alongside my homemade jam, made her light up in a way I can’t describe. It was as if she couldn’t believe her granddaughter had possibly baked something so delicious. I never understood what was so special about these muffins, but I certainly understood how special she made me feel when she ate one.

I hope the recipient of my package, complete with Grammy’s favorite corn muffins and jam, knows just how much I appreciate their support, and that tucked inside they just might find a little bit of love I was sure not to forget.

Me and Grammy in her kitchen, 1989

SMS: Fresh Peach Muffins

Fresh Peach Muffins 2

*Just wanted to apologize that this post is a little late- as some of you know, I’ve been under the weather for the past few weeks, and unfortunately, I really wasn’t feeling well yesterday. I hope you understand!*

You may have guessed from my SMS selection last week, that I have a fondness for quick breads. My only criticism is that while they may be “quick” to prepare, the long bake time of an hour or more often means waiting (rather impatiently, I must admit) to sit down with a slice of delicious loaf. But the option to make individual serving sizes in the form of muffins can save the day when you’re craving a sweet breakfast treat that can be on the table in less than half the time! Whether you’re a self proclaimed muffin top lover like myself, preferring to indulge in the soft textured, yet slightly crispy and caramelized exterior of the mushroomed muffin dome, or you favor the rougher, tight crumb of the bottom portion, often dubbed the “muffin stump,” most would agree that a muffin is the ideal breakfast pastry. With endless combinations of possible mix-ins and featured ingredients, the modern American muffin has a variation to please every palate, from blueberry to chocolate chip, pumpkin to date nut, lemon poppyseed to banana crumb, and bran to corn- there are plenty of styles to choose from and it can be difficult narrowing down a favorite. As summer comes to a close, I’m tempted to incorporate the bounty of readily-available ripe, juicy fruits in my baked goods as often as possible while they are still in season. Thanks to JoVonn of The Givens Chronicles, this week’s SMS recipe, Fresh Peach Muffins, offered the perfect opportunity to try a muffin flavor I’ve never made before, and highlight the bright luscious stone-fruit one last time before Fall sets in.

Fresh Peach Muffins 4

The word “muffin” was possibly derived from the Old French moufflet, which referred to “soft bread,” or the German muffen, meaning “small cake.” The earliest versions tended to be less sweet and much less varied in ingredients than their contemporary form. Pulled together quickly and easily, muffins were usually served as a breakfast food, but because they also grew stale rapidly, they were not a highly marketable baked good and remained mostly in home kitchens until the mid-20th century. Fannie Merritt Farmer included 15 recipes for muffins in her Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1896, however most were limited to a few different grains and some readily available additives like raisins, apples, berries, and nuts. So how did the modestly simple mini cake transform into the elaborate super-sized version we’re accustomed to today?

Fresh Peach Muffins 5

The 1950’s saw the introduction of muffin mixes to the market, but it was a combination of circumstances in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s that resulted in major changes to the breakfast baked good. The decline in home-baking, the health food movement, the rise of the specialty food shop, and the gourmet coffee trend all contributed to the evolution of the modern day muffin. “Healthful” muffin recipes using whole grains, yogurt and various vegetables became prolific, but in order for these muffins to maintain any shelf-life without artificial preservatives, both the sugar and fat content needed to be increased, making these treats more comparable to their cupcake counterparts. (The higher sugar and fat content act as tenderizers, and minimize gluten development, producing a richer cake-like muffin with a softer crumb.) With the emergence of gourmet coffee houses, there was a need for gourmet snacks to serve as accompaniments, and fancier recipes were created which departed from the humble originals. Thanks to the marketing trend toward larger portion sizes, muffins ballooned to the soft-ball size jumbos now abundantly available, and new pans were created for the home cook to replicate the extra large versions lining every coffee shop pastry case.

Fresh Peach Muffins 9

What makes Melissa Murphy’s basic sweet muffin recipe special is its flexibility- it can be dressed up with the addition of different citrus zests, spices, and fruits to suit your taste or accommodate ingredients on hand. In this variation, peaches play a starring role with accents of orange zest and cinnamon. While the flavors are subtle and mellow, they coordinate and complement each other nicely. These muffins are nicely moist, with a large open crumb. While hefty and substantial, they are surprisingly fluffy, though they lack a certain softness and delicacy I prefer in my quick breads. My only modifications to the recipe were to add a teaspoon of vanilla and a heaping cup of peaches to the batter- I think they could use even more fruit, as the peach to muffin ratio needs improvement. I also added sanding sugar to the tops, giving the muffins a certain sparkle and sweet crunch to every bite. Though this will not replace my favorite muffin recipe, it is a solid addition to my baking repertoire because of its adaptability.

Fresh Peach Muffins 7

I have to send out a double thank you to JoVonn of The Givens Chronicles– first, for this week’s SMS pick- please visit her lovely site to find the recipe, and check out the multitudes of muffins whipped up by the other bakers on our blogroll! Second, I’m so excited to have JoVonn join me for this round of Operation Baking GALS as a member of Team Oven Loving for the Recovering. It is so kind of her to dedicate time and energy as a volunteer baker, and I know the soldiers will truly appreciate her contribution. If you’re interested in getting involved, there’s still time to sign up- please don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information! 🙂

Joy Heart 2

SMS: Mom’s Banana Apple Bread

Mom's Banana Apple Bread

In the dedication of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, Melissa Murphy candidly writes, “To my mom, who has been with me to hold my hand every step of the way.” With a phenomenal mom, who has dedicated her life to nurturing, loving, and supporting her daughters, I am blessed to say that I share Melissa’s sentiment wholeheartedly. As my best friend, guardian angel, constant companion, and number one fan, she is so much more than just my mom. An exceptional role model for leading a beautiful life, her generosity and deeply compassionate spirit shine through in everything she does, especially taking care of me. When I’ve faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, my mom has stood by my side and inspired me to keep pushing forward, even when I was ready to surrender. She can brighten my darkest days with her smile, and dedicates her boundless energy to always being there for me, no matter what. Her unconditional love and constant support give me strength, and because she believes in me, I know that I can achieve my dreams. My mom seizes every opportunity to show how much she cares, and in return, it is a true pleasure to present her with some of her favorite homemade treats from the kitchen. While she raves over just about everything I make, one of her all time favorites is this outstanding and unique banana bread. Delectably tender and exceedingly moist, this banana bread, studded with caramelized chunks of apple and delicately spiced with the perfect combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, is an elevated adaptation of a classic and a bona fide showstopper. It is definitely deserving of its recipe title: Mom’s Banana Apple Bread.

IMG_7072

Banana bread is a sweet cake-like quick bread, whose main ingredient is mashed bananas. Utilizing a chemical leavener such as baking soda and/or powder, quick breads are so named because they are “quick” acting and begin rising the moment the wet ingredients are added to the dry. Quick breads were developed at the end of the 18th century in America after pearlash, a preceding leavening agent that produced carbon dioxide gas in dough to produce rise, was discovered and popularized. Evidently, banana bread first originated from 18th century housewives experimenting in the kitchen with the new ingredient. When baking soda and baking powder grew to be widely used in the 1930’s, banana bread became a standard feature in American cookbooks, and was first included in the 1933 edition of the Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes cookbook. But it was the home baking revival of the 1960s, combined with the simplicity and ease of its recipe that resulted in the spread of banana bread’s fame. Multiple variations of the quick bread were developed at that time, featuring a variety of mix-ins including additional fruits and nuts.

IMG_7133

Banana bread recipes typically call for one of two possible mixing methods: the two-bowl or muffin method, and the creaming method. With the muffin method, all the dry and wet ingredients are stirred together separately, and then they are quickly and gingerly mixed together, leaving a slightly lumpy batter, sometimes with some streaks of flour remaining. This method results in a texture with larger and more irregular air holes throughout. Alternatively, the creaming method calls for creaming the fat with the sugar until light and fluffy, followed by the addition of the remaining ingredients, which gives a different, cake-like texture. Mom’s Apple Banana Bread utilizes the latter method, and certainly has a characteristically delicate, tight crumb.

IMG_7121

Baking a loaf and enjoying a slice of this bread is the perfect way to celebrate National Banana Lover’s Day, which just happens to be this week, on August 27th! The banana doesn’t get much attention or respect as a fruit, but as a baker, I appreciate many of its qualities. Available year round, reasonably priced, easy to peel, and generally of consistent quality, the banana is a highly underrated ingredient. Most importantly, the color of its skin and the firmness of the flesh reveal its inner sweetness- an attribute not shared by many other fruits. Did you know that bananas are picked green when they’re hard and relatively flavorless? As time passes, the peel transforms from bright yellow to spotted brown, to nearly completely brown, and the flesh continues to become softer and sweeter. So don’t throw away those overripe bananas- they are ideal and arguably essential for delicious banana bread!

IMG_7056

Not in the mood to whip up a loaf right now? No problem. Just slip them into a plastic bag and place them into the freezer for later use. You can also peel and mash them, (optionally stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice for each banana to prevent them from turning color), and freeze in an airtight container or bag. Your ripe-and-ready-to-go bananas will keep about six months in the freezer. Have the opposite problem- a craving for banana bread but green bananas on your counter? Check out this website recommended by my dear friend Hanaâ of the fabulous blog, Hanaâ’s Kitchen, which details a number of ways to hasten the ripening process.

IMG_7341

It is my pleasure, as host, to present this week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays’ recipe, and I hope it becomes a family favorite for you as well! Thank you to all the amazing “SMS bakettes” who baked along with me- please check out our blogroll to explore all of their incredible sites and find out what they did with the recipe. The kind words and support they offer each week means the world to me, especially as a newbie blogger, and I’m so lucky to be a part of such an outstanding group! But most importantly, thanks to my mom, for never letting go of my hand.

Mom’s Banana Apple Bread– makes one 1 1/2-quart loaf pan
from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy

For the apples:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the banana bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups very ripe mashed bananas (2 to 3)

Before you start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan.

To make the apples:
Preheat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and brown sugar and heat until bubbling. Add the apples and cinnamon and sauté until golden and tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To make the banana bread:
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and vanilla.
4. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the orange juice mixture, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each flour addition. Stir in the mashed bananas until combined. Then stir in the reserved apples.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool further.

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The banana bread keeps well wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. For longer storage, freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 3 weeks. Defrost (still wrapped) at room temperature.

Pro Tip: If your bananas are black before you are ready to bake, peel them, puree them, and store them in an airtight plastic container in your freezer. You can add more to the container whenever you like; the bananas keep a very long time. When you are ready to bake, just defrost them and get on with it.

Pretty Slick: If after a few days, the banana bread starts to get dry, toast a slice and spread some soft butter on top. It’s great this way with your morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Joy’s Tips:
*For the apples: Instead of chopping both, I chop one (in very small chunks) and shred the other on a box grater. The chopped apple still gives you the interesting texture and bites of tender caramelized appley goodness, while the shredded apple sort of melts into the bread and adds to its incredible moisture. I still saute both in the butter and brown sugar, and add any accumulated juices from the shredded apple. Beware of stirring in apple chunks that are too large- their weight causes them to sink to the bottom of the batter, and you end up with an apple layer of sorts at the base of the loaf. Still delicious, but not ideal- to have it well distributed, make sure your apple chunks stay pretty dainty!

*For the bananas: I recommend using the measured amount rather than just 2 or 3. I always seem to need more bananas to make the required measurement than are recommended (and I don’t think my bananas are particularly small). You definitely don’t want to skimp on this central ingredient for the overall flavor of your finished loaf!

*My loaf usually requires an additional 3-5 minutes for a toothpick to come out clean. I test at the 1 hour mark, and if it’s not done, I cover with foil to prevent over-browning and return it to the oven. Just be aware that your time may vary depending on your oven.

I hope you enjoy!

IMG_7371

Joy Heart 2