Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spiced Cream Scones with Lemon Honey

A few weeks ago, on a muggy Saturday morning, my daughter went with my mom to pay a visit to the farmers' market in our town. She returned a few hours later, a slightly drooping flower crown pressed over her damp hair, pure delight on her face. She couldn't wait to tell me about the huge, juicy peaches, mountains of sweet corn, bushels of sugar snap peas. There was chunky granola and maple sugar candy. And then there were the homemade blueberry pies and croissants and the trays of freshly made cider doughnuts.

Just as I was starting to deeply regret having stayed home to do laundry ~ as much as our family enjoys wearing clean socks and underwear ~ she dipped into her backpack and withdrew something wrapped carefully in paper. An unexpected consolation prize, for me. "I know how you like bees and stuff, Mom," she said. "And it's made from local wildflowers."

The label on the pretty hexagonal jar read, Heather Ridge Farm Irish Style Lemon Honey. "Try it, Mom. You have to try it!" she urged. As soon as I twisted off the lid, the fragrance of lemons perfumed the kitchen. No further prompting necessary, I sunk my spoon. Thick, sweet, and sunny with lemon essence, it's a bit like eating sunshine.

Now, though sorely tempted, we couldn't just pass the jar and take turns dipping our spoons. We could have made peanut butter and honey sandwiches, but that just seemed so pedestrian. This honey was crying out for something special to showcase its amazing flavor.

So, I concocted this recipe for Spiced Cream Scones ~ tender, moist scones with a flaky sugar-and-spice crust, flavored with just enough spice to complement the lemon without overwhelming the subtle richness of the honey. We ate them warm the next morning before church, freshly drawn from the oven and drizzled with sunshine.

Spiced Cream Scones

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/4 cups cold heavy cream plus additional for brushing
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine flours, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream.

Using a wooden spoon, mix until the dough clings together and the dry ingredients are moistened. Lightly flour hands and knead dough a couple of turns - do not knead more than two or three turns or your scones will be sinkers! Lift dough out of bowl and place on a surface that has been dusted with flour. Shape it into a disk approximately 8 inches in diameter. Cut into wedges and place on prepared baking sheet with at least an inch between them.

Brush scones with heavy cream. Combine remaining two tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ginger and sprinkle this mixture over the tops of the scones. Bake scones at 425 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until tops and bottoms are golden brown and the sides of the scones appear dry.

Serve warm with honey and butter, if desired.
Makes 8 large scones

Looking for more on farmers' markets? Check out the To Market, To Market blog event over at A Scientist in the Kitchen.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

We didn’t exactly set out to make pumpkin whoopie pies. It's July, a day pushing 95 degrees, and pumpkin was the furthest thing from our minds. In fact, my daughter had a recipe for cream-filled lemon sandwich cookies picked out and, lemon lover that I am, I was definitely on board.

But there was that long-lost container of cream cheese frosting I’d found while rearranging my cupboards. Bought ages ago for a reason I could no longer recall, it was within a week of its expiration date and not getting any fresher. So I talked my daughter out of her original baking plans and asked if she would come up with something that would work with cream cheese frosting. Game for the challenge, she pored over a few cookbooks and eventually chose pumpkin. Whoopie pies sounded like a fun summer dessert, more manageable, and less meltable, than cake.

So, while she made up the pumpkin batter, I opened the frosting. And discovered that, ironically, the frosting was a goner. It smelled, and tasted (yes, I did go there), a few significant degrees past stale. Not exactly rancid, but well on its way. Long past usability, at any rate. Out it went.

Happily, cream cheese frosting is one of the easiest frostings to make from scratch, and we had all the ingredients on hand. In just a few minutes, our cream cheese frosting was ready to go.

These whoopie pies are really good. The cake is moist and dense and lightly spiced with ginger and cinnamon. They’re so good, in fact, you can eat these little cakes on their own, without the frosting in the middle - but where’s the fun in that?

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Filling

1 cup shortening
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease baking sheets.

2. Cream shortening and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Add flour mixture to shortening mixture alternating with pumpkin puree.

3. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls or a medium cookie scoop about 2 inches apart onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes. Let cool on wire rack before filling.

For Cream Cheese Filling:
1 8-ounce package Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese, at room temp
1 stick butter, at room temp
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. Beat Neufchatel or cream cheese and butter together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Continue beating and gradually add sugar. Add vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. If filling is very loose after beating, chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes before using.

Makes about 16 good-sized whoopie pies.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pie recipe from

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Smashed Potatoes

This is one dish you won't need a recipe for, and it's scalable to feed as many or as few as you find seated at your table. This is one of my favorite potato side dishes. To me, this is benchmark real food - easy to prepare, elegant in its simplicity. You can vary the herbs to complement your main dish. Also, try sprinkling in some grated or crumbled cheese or chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes.

I've served these smashed potatoes twice in the past two weeks. The first time, we ate them with a grilled top-round London Broil, in lieu of the more traditional baked potato. I used snipped chives in the potatoes and passed a bowl of sour cream at the table. Last night, we at them alongside a saute of sliced turkey kielbasa and yellow and green zucchini. I chose parsley for the herb this time.

Smashed Potatoes

Small new potatoes (preferably B size)
Olive oil
Chopped fresh herb of your choice
Kosher or other coarse salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Using tongs, carefully add new potatoes to the water. Boil potatoes, uncovered, until tender when pierced with a fork. Do not allow water to evaporate; add more to the pot if necessary.

When potatoes are tender, drain them and return them to the pot. Mash roughly with a potato masher or the back of a sturdy ladle. You really just want to rupture the skins and smash the potatoes; don't be overzealous with the masher.

Drizzle with some good-quality olive oil, drop in a few small knobs of butter, and sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs and any other add-ins your heart desires.

Season with kosher salt and black pepper, fold potatoes over a few turns with a spatula or wooden spoon to distribute herbs and seasonings, and serve.

Recipe Notes:I haven't included recipe amounts here because you have the flexibility to adjust amounts according to how many people you're serving. Water amount, pot size, and cooking time will all vary according to how many potatoes you'll be cooking. Figure 2 medium new potatoes, or 3 small, per adult. Add chopped herbs according to taste, using as much or as little as you prefer. I vastly prefer kosher or sea salt to table salt.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Just Peachy

Ah, peaches. Despite their all-American image, peaches are not a fruit that is native to American soil. Having travelled a long way to get here, hitching rides as diverse as Columbus's latter voyages and the Colonists' Jamestown forays, they've done pretty well for themselves, becoming one of the three top commercially grown fruit crops in the U.S. (right up there with apples and oranges).

So where did peaches come from? The oldest cultivated fruit, peaches are thought to be native to China. From there, peaches migrated along the Silk Road to Persia, then onward to Greece sometime around 300 B.C. By the first century A.D., Romans were cultivating and exporting the fruit, which they referred to as the Persian apple.

Today, China is the largest producer of peaches globally; Italy comes in second. In the United States, California, Georgia, and South Carolina are major producers, with California producing more than half of U.S. peaches.

Peaches are a good source of vitamins A, B, and C; they contain no fat, cholesterol, or sodium; and a medium peach has only about 40 calories.

These charms notwithstanding, the thing that appeals most to me about fresh peaches is their scent. To me, a fresh, ripe peach is one of the definitive scents of summer (along with sea air, sunblock, the leaves of tomato plants, freshly cut grass, and fried dough).

When peaches appear at my farmstand market, the entire aisle they sit in is perfumed with the evocative smell of my favorite season. One whiff of that seductive summery fragrance and I just can’t pass them by.

As far as eating peaches out of hand, I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of their fuzzy hide - for this reason, I’m more of a nectarine girl. Genetically speaking, there's not a lot of difference between a peach and a nectarine. Contrary to popular belief, a nectarine is not a cross between a peach and a plum. Rather, it's a peach variant with smooth skin. (Bald is beautiful!)

For pies, cobblers, and sorbets, though, nothing beats fresh peaches. Peaches just seem to develop a certain depth of flavor and richness that makes them shine in dessert preparations.

This Fresh Peach Sorbet is a snap to make because you don’t have to peel the peaches first. Leaving the peel on imparts a lovely rosy-orange tint and a nice texture to the sorbet. Go ahead and remove the skins if you wish (if you're up for blanching peaches in the middle of July). The result will be a smoother, pale yellow sorbet.

Fresh Peach Sorbet

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 3/4 cup water

  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup

  • 6 fresh ripe peaches (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), washed, pitted, and sliced

  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and corn syrup. Stir over medium heat until boiling; let boil for 1 minute. Place pan in an ice-water bath or refrigerate to cool. Place sliced peaches in the bowl of a food processor and sprinkle with lemon juice. Pour cooled syrup over peach slices and puree until smooth. Pour pureed peach mixture into ice-cream machine and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Place sorbet in freezer to ripen for at least 3 hours before serving.

Makes about 1 quart.

Recipe Note: If you like, you can sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt over the peaches before pureeing. Some cooks feel this brings up the flavor a bit; others feel it's just not necessary. Don't substitute table salt or sea salt though - kosher salt is actually less salty than these, so it won't be as likely to assert a salty flavor in the end product.

And what, exactly, is a "pinch"? Technically, it's "the amount of something that can be picked up and held in the space between the thumb and the forefinger" (no great revelation there, sorry). But for those of you who like hard-and-fast measures, assuming we have average-size pinchers, it's approximately 1/8 teaspoon.



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