Since Brandon had to work around Christmastime, we were not able to make our annual trip to Connecticut to visit his mother. Instead, he planned for her to visit Philadelphia this weekend since it is a 3-day weekend for Martin Luther King Day. In addition to maniacally cleaning this week, I have been planning things to do and see while she is here and, of course, things to eat.
Those who know me well are aware that I have two culinary heroes: Julia Child and Ina Garten. When an idea pops into my head for something I would like to cook or bake, I first consult Julia’s two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking or one of Ina’s 8 books (each of which has been used more than all the other cookbooks on the shelf combined). I came across Ina’s recipe for maple-oatmeal scones in her original book The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. The story goes that, while running her specialty food store in East Hampton (called Barefoot Contessa), a New York Times reporter called Ina to ask about the types of scones she made. On the fly, she spouted off flavor combinations that she thought would taste good as a scone (including Cheddar Dill scones which are to die for). Enticing as they were, the reporter planned a trip to Long Island to try the scones. The problem was that none of the recipes actually existed, and Ina spent the week testing recipes – and the Maple-Oatmeal scones were born. [To see Ina preparing these scones with Martha Stewart, another of my culinary idols, click HERE.]
The only problem with this recipe, as I have found in many recipes when cooking for just Brandon and me, is that the yield is too high. I do love scones, but I know that 14 large scones hanging around the house would get eaten in spite of their lot of butter and flour. So I have become used to scaling recipes down, and I cut the scone recipe in half. When cooking, I typically just eyeball ingredients when halving or quartering a recipe. When baking, however, I return to my roots in the organic chemistry lab as all measurements must be precise (which I think is why I end up doing more of the baking than Brandon does). But I have run into problems where I need an 1/8 cup of an ingredient and don’t trust myself to really know where the halfway point is on the 1/4 cup measure. After Googling measurement conversions one too many times, I finally found an artistic conversion chart, printed it out, framed it and hung it in the kitchen. Now I know with just a quick glance that 1/8 cup is really the same as 2 tablespoons, and that 1/8 teaspoon is the veritable “pinch.”
The actual making of these scones couldn’t be easier — the mixer does all the work. Starting off with both AP and whole wheat flour, the dry ingredients are combined. I have written about room temperature butter in baking before, but scones (like shortbread, puff pastry or other pastry dough) actually require COLD butter. Ina reminds her viewers and readers about this constantly since it is the cold butter that, when hitting the heat of the oven, releases steam and causes the resulting pastry to be flaky. (No one wants flaky cupcakes.)
Dice the butter fairly small and use only a low speed when combining (stir or 2 on a Kitchen Aid) so the mixer doesn’t hit large pieces and cause the dry ingredients to explode out of the bowl. Your goal is butter “the size of peas;” this takes a few minutes if your butter is actually cold, so be patient.
Next is the addition of the wet ingredients which, admittedly, causes this dough to be very sticky! (I’ve also already written about my buttermilk shortcut.) I like to mix all wet ingredients in one container when baking and just dribble them into the mixer in one slow stream. This prevents sloshing and over-mixing – just turn the mixer off AS SOON as the wet ingredients are all combined to prevent tough scones.
When shaping, this dough requires quite a bit of flour. Work fast as you want the butter to remain as cold as possible. Ina recommends using a round, fluted cutter for these scones, but I prefer the classic triangular scone shape. So, after running a pizza cutter through a bit of flour, I cut the square dough into rectangles and then into triangles. After an egg wash, they are ready for the oven. A sil-pat (baking mat) is really one of the best kitchen tools (and I am a minimalist when it comes to gadgets!), but parchment paper does the trick as well.
Scone dough has very little sugar in it and resembles a biscuit more than it does a cookie, so either a sprinkling of coarse sugar or a glaze gives the sweetness that we have come to expect from breakfast pastry. These particular scones are glazed. It is incredibly important that you use REAL ingredients here – please don’t think about buying artificial maple syrup or imitation vanilla extract! I also skipped the raw oat topping that Ina suggests as I prefer to see the shiny glaze on the oven-browned scones
Another lesson I have learned while cooking is that doing recipes ahead of time does not mean sacrificing that fresh-baked, fresh-cooked aroma and warmth. Specifically, the scone dough can be made the day (or a few days) before you are going to bake them, and remain refrigerated until you’re ready for it. I have reserved three scones, wrapped them and refrigerated them along with the leftover egg wash and glaze. This way, tomorrow morning I will be able to throw them in the oven and glaze them, allowing Brandon’s mother to have a wonderful, warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven breakfast without all the hassle.
Scones for breakfast two days in a row? Why not?!
MAPLE-OATMEAL SCONES (from Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
Yield: 14 large scones
For the Scones:
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup quick-cooking oats, plus additional for sprinkling
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
- 1/2 cup cold buttermilk
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk or water, for egg wash
For the Glaze:
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Blend the cold butter in at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is in pea-size pieces.
- Combine the buttermilk, maple syrup and eggs and add quickly to the flour-and-butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough may be sticky.
- Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and be sure it is combined. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4 to 1 inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough.
- Cut into 3-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are crisp and the insides are done.
- To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. When the scones are done, cool for 5 minutes and drizzle each scone with 1 tablespoon of the glaze. The warmer the scones are when you glaze them, the thinner the glaze will be. Sprinkle some uncooked oats on the top for garnish.