Smashing expectations with simple scones

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I have never met a scone I liked. Every scone I’ve ever had has been dry, plain and crumbly. They were all like eating a stale biscuit. So, for the majority of my life, I’ve avoided them. Last week I decided I make them at home to see whether I would like them better. I did.scones2

The recipe I used was the Simple Cream Scones recipe from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. I figure it’s always best to start with something simple. I added a vanilla bean to the recipe and the flavor of the scones was great. They didn’t crumble all over the place when I bit into them like ones I’d purchased from coffee shops did. They were soft and a bit moist inside instead of dry through and through. They were enjoyable, instead of being overly sweet. They were perfect for breakfast.

As with most recipes, I made a mistake on the first try. I left the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and didn’t rotate the scones halfway through the cooking process as instructed. I left them in a little longer than I should have, but they were still good. In fact, the next weekend I made them and added about a half cup of chopped strawberries to the mix and I liked them even more than the vanilla bean scones.

I’m glad I decided to make them at home because now I know that not all scones are dry and crumbly. Not all scones are bad biscuits. Not all scones are worth writing off.

scones4Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder (use 3/4 tablespoon if at high altitude)
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
1 vanilla bean
1 cup heavy cream

Adjust oven rock to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on, stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until combined. Add butter and stir until mixture resembles coarse meal with some slightly larger pieces of butter.

Cut both ends off the vanilla bean and cut the bean in half lengthwise. Using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds from inside and add them to the mixture. Stir until just combined. Stir in cream until dough begins to form.

Turn dough and any floury bits onto a floured counter and knead until a slightly sticky ball forms. Pat dough into a 9-inch round and use a knife or pizza cutter to cut into eight wedges.

Place wedges on prepared baking sheet and bake until tops of scones are lightly golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes (10 to 12 minutes if at high altitude), rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Vanilla ice cream ready for scooping

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I have finally made scoopable ice cream. Those of you who read my blog regularly know this is something I’ve been struggling with for a couple months now, so I was thrilled when the latest edition of Bon Appétit showed up with ice cream on the cover.

One of my best friends from college randomly decided to visit this weekend. I hadn’t seen her in about five years, so I was really looking forward to the visit. Which also meant I was thinking about what I could have for her when she arrived. I decided to give a new ice cream recipe a chance.

When tackling a new kind of dessert, I like to find a great base recipe before I really start experimenting with flavors. It turns out that can be a tricky task when it comes to ice cream. But, after trying about five different recipes, Bon Appétit’s True Vanilla Ice Cream was the winner.

I have to admit that when I finished the custard mixture, I was a little nervous about how it would turn out. The custard was thinner than the custard other recipes produced. But I think that’s why this recipes works. Instead of getting a dense frozen custard after putting it through the ice cream maker, you get a nice, flavorful — and, most importantly, scoopable — ice cream.

I’m really happy with the way this ice cream turned out. Now I feel confident that I can start trying more flavors.

2Vanillaicecream072813Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks

Combine heavy cream, whole milk, 1/4 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds; add pod (or use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract). Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover; let sit 30 minutes.

Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup warm cream mixture. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.

Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water; let cool, stirring occasionally. At this point, you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover it by putting plastic wrap directly on the top of the custard. It can cool overnight in the fridge and be processed in the morning.

Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container; cover. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.

Single-serving tarts pack a punch of flavor

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I like to bake with fresh fruit when I have some on hand. After making the strawberry shortcake and pineapple upside-down cake, I froze the leftover fruit to use later. When I recently came across this recipe, I knew I had found a good use for the leftovers.

The original recipe only used pineapple, but I didn’t have enough so I substituted strawberries for the rest. I was glad I did. These would have been too sweet with only pineapple. The strawberries helped to mellow the tartness, which brought nice balance to the overall flavor of the finished tarts.

The syrupy mixture that resulted from simmering the fruit and sugars was delicious. It had a lot of layers of flavor, and the mini tarts had a great balance of crust and flavor-packed filling.

The crust isn’t the stiff tart crust I expected. Instead of the usual version that can sometimes take a bit of might with a knife to cut through, this crostata dough is sweet and has a bit of give to it. It perfectly complements the filling.

Instead of taking one large tart to work, I opted to make mini tarts. They were adorable. My staff really seemed to get a kick out of having mini tarts to themselves.

I highly recommend this recipe. The single-serving format I chose eliminates the need for serving utensils. They can be eaten like cupcakes and easily taken to a Memorial Day barbecue.

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup ice water

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and combine until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water and mix until mixture just begins to hold together.

Shape dough into one disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to three days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).

Ingredients
1/2 pineapple, peeled, quartered and cored
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup dark rum

Divide crostata dough into 12 parts. Pat each part into a muffin cup in a muffin tin. Trim excess dough. Combine excess dough into a single mass and flatten into a rectangle between two sheets of plastic wrap. Freeze tin and excess dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut each pineapple quarter crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Combine sugars, vanilla seeds and pod, and lemon juice in a large saute pan. Add pineapple and strawberries and cook over medium heat, stirring until sugars dissolve and mixture becomes saucy, about 3 minutes. Add rum and simmer until pineapple has softened and almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool in pan. Discard vanilla pod.

Remove muffin tin from refrigerator. Divide pineapple-and-strawberry mixture evenly into each cup. Take remaining rectangle of dough and cut into thin strips place four strips crosswise over each cup.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes, or until tarts are golden brown around the edge. Let cool in pan for 30 minutes before removing. Unmold and serve immediately.