Dried Fruit and Ginger Scones

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This month’s archive makes it look like I’m harboring a bit of a sweet tooth.  Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but I should tell you this week’s entry is actually at N.’s (indirect) request.  A month or two ago, my beloved aunt sent me some specialty King Arthur flour, and along with the packages of semolina and European style AP blend came a catalog.  Naturally, this has become my bedtime reading (what, you don’t read cookbooks and kitchen magazines in bed?), and on Monday night as I dawdled longingly over a blurb about Double Devon Cream, N. surfaced from internet-land and glanced at the facing page.  “That,” he said, and pointed at a photograph of some cranberry orange scones.  “You want scones?”  A silly question, apparently.  “That.”  So here they are.

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I did some research (i.e. food blogs and recipe comparisons from the other cookbooks stacked on my nightstand) and found, as usual, that Deb has all the answers.  Seriously, is there anything the woman hasn’t made?  I adore you, Deb, but really – a person can only repress the green-eyed monster for so long…   This adapts her recipe for “Creamy, Dreamy Scones,” which she got from the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.  I’ve used a combination of cake flour and all purpose flour for a lighter texture, allowed turbinado sugar to stand in for the regular sugar, and replaced some (okay, most) of the cream with whole milk, because I lost my mind this week and, forgetting the intended use of that little container, dumped most of it into an unholy-but-oh-so-heavenly conglomeration of chard, bacon, and bourbon.

These scones take advantage of the bags and bags of dried fruit that inevitably collect in my pantry.  You could probably add other flavors as well, but I thought apples and cranberries, and the candied ginger I’ve been obsessed with for at least a year now, would play well together.  Apricots would probably be beautiful too (unless you are, like one of my family members who shall remain nameless to protect familial harmony, freaked out by dried apricots because they apparently bear an uncomfortable resemblance to mouse ears).

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Scones come together much like biscuits: whisk the dry ingredients, cut in the butter, stir the milk/cream/buttermilk and flavor additions in with a fork.  But then, and this is where things can go awry, you have to pat it into a circle and either punch out rounds with a biscuit cutter, or slice the whole thing into triangles.  I chose the latter.

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This dough is, if we’re honest with each other, an almost unmanageably sticky mess.  Resist the temptation to mix more flour into the dough, because the more flour you add, the less tender the finished scones will be.  But do be prepared to sprinkle flour over everything it will come in contact with.  I used a floured pizza cutter to slice it into eight pieces, which tore up edges and corners even while the dough clung fiercely to the board below.

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A bench scraper tool is really helpful for transferring your scones to their cooking vessel – a parchment lined baking sheet would be fine, but I used my brand new enameled pizza stone because I’m so jazzed about it.  This, because I preheated it along with the oven, made the scones sizzle as I levered each one onto its surface, and rather than sticking (which I was dreading, since I realized only after they’d been in the oven for five minutes that I hadn’t greased or floured the cooking surface AT ALL), produced a crisp bottom crust.

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I left my offering on the pizza stone to cool while I took the dog for a walk, and returned to find it had been accepted.

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An hour or so later, it had been accepted again.

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These are best on the first day, but will keep acceptably for two or three days if they are well wrapped in aluminum foil and stored at room temperature.  Chances are – if your family is anything like mine – this short storage period won’t be an issue.  Still warm, these make perfect hand-held afternoon pick-me-ups (the ginger really zings you out of the 3 o’clock slump), but if you want to go the extra mile, I recommend slicing them in half so you have two triangles, stuffing them with Greek yogurt and a decadent ooze of local honey, and attacking with a fork for breakfast.

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Apple Cranberry Ginger Scones

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who used America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cake flour

1 TB baking powder

4 TB coarse sugar, divided (I used turbinado because that’s what was in my baking cupboard)

½ tsp salt

5 TB butter, cut into cubes

¼ each chopped dried apples, chopped dried cranberries, and chopped candied ginger

¼ cup heavy cream

¾ cup whole milk

  • Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 425F.  If you will be baking on a pizza stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well.  If you will be using a cookie sheet, line it with parchment paper and set it aside.
  • Whisk together the flours, baking powder, 3 TB of the sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.
  • Cut in the butter using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers, until the largest chunks of butter are the size of small peas (sidenote: “peas” seems the universal size for butter chunks – why is that?  Is there no other pea-sized object so regular and recognizable in size that we could call upon?  Ball-bearings?  Corn kernels?  Canine teeth?).
  • Pour in the cream and milk (or just use all cream, if you have it) and mix it around with a fork until an evenly hydrated, extremely sticky dough forms.
  • Add the fruits and mix again until evenly distributed (you may have to work a bit to break up the ginger pieces).
  • Dump the sticky mass out onto a well-floured board.  Sprinkle a little flour on top as well, then pat the dough out into a circle about 1-inch thick.  Try not to add too much flour, lest they become dense and tough.
  • Dip a pizza cutter or other thin, sharp knife into flour, then cut the circle into 8 equal sized pieces.  You may need to scrape off and re-flour your slicing instrument between slices.
  • Using a bench scraper, a thin spatula, or (if you are brave) your hands, relocate your 8 scones to your prepared baking vessel, spacing them a half inch or so apart (they will puff and rise a little bit, but not tremendously).  Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 1 TB of sugar.
  • Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until lightly golden on top and cooked through.
  • Cool at least 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.  Eat warm or cool.

Lemon Ginger Shortbread with Hazelnut “Crust”

Inspired by numerous sources, but mostly the deep golden orbs on my backyard lemon tree and a winter-blues-banishing post from Hannah at Inherit the Spoon, this post had to be about shortbread.  This is a cookie of the most basic sort, crisp and sandy, with only the three essentials: flour, butter, and sugar.  No leavening to worry about, no eggs to tussle with (incidentally, do you know how hard it is to crack eggs without making a mess when you’ve sliced the tip of your thumb and  it’s therefore awkwardly bandaged?), just the base, the sweetener, and the fat.
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These are, as Ruhlman points out in Ratio, an “adult” sort of cookie.  Dry, unadorned, plain, but equally ideal for a dunk in tea or chocolate ganache, and amenable to all sorts of attempts to “play dress-up,” which makes them  not just easy and tasty, but suitable for kids-at-heart.
Recently I’ve become obsessed with the combination of lemon and ginger.  Hannah’s citrus shortbread and my tree with its laboring, weighty boughs all but begged me to try this combination.  When a quick web search turned up only recipes featuring one or the other, I knew I had to insist on their marriage in my version.

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Then insanity struck.  I got the ridiculous notion that I wanted to create a hazelnut “crust” for these cookies.  Yes, that’s right, I decided to add a crust to a cookie that is commonly used itself as a crust.  I’m not sure where this idea came from, although if I must place blame it’s going to be on my sister, who commented at Thanksgiving that I should pursue the lemon-ginger-hazelnut flavor combo because it sounded so outstanding.  So really, R., these are for you.
Food Blog February 2013-0484I scoured multiple recipes to put this dough together, checking the likes of Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Paula Deen (who I was surprised doesn’t have more sweet versions), and of course Deb Perelman.  But with the exception of a few technique ideas, I came back to Ruhlman’s basic 1-2-3 cookie dough as my backbone (1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour).
The butter, I decided, needed to be browned (another recent obsession).  This would add depth and nuttiness in case the crazy hazelnut idea didn’t work out.  The ginger would be candied and minced into a sticky pile, and the lemon would be zested into mild spritzy confetti.  This made for a dough that, while delicious, was perhaps not the easiest to work with – I refrigerated it too long and was then impatient to roll it out, so there were cracks.  I rolled it quite thin, which made the cracking worse, and created a painfully delicate cookie.  The chunks of ginger, too sticky to mince very finely, stood up like carbuncles through the buttery dough and made slicing difficult.

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The hazelnuts I pulverized in the food processor with some ground ginger (in case the candied chunks didn’t come through) and a healthy sprinkling of turbinado sugar.  Faced with a bread board of delicate cookies on one side and a pie plate full of hazelnut crumbs on the other, I almost opted to forget the whole “crust” idea altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t.  You can transfer crumbs to cookie in a number of ways, including pressing the cookie into the crumbs, which I don’t recommend  (they adhere only reluctantly and the raw dough tends to break), or mounding crumbs on top of the cookies and pressing them in with a rolling pin, which I do recommend.  Then you can gently lift the cookie and flip it quickly and firmly onto a parchment lined baking sheet so the hazelnut layer is on the bottom.  The crumbs will try to scatter.  Don’t let them!  Press the cookie down lightly but firmly back into the crumbs, and they will adhere as they bake.
When they came out of the oven, they were too soft to move.  They needed a good five minutes alone on their baking sheet, undisturbed, to cool and crisp.  But once crisp, they were perfectly sandy and satisfying, tasting of – I can’t think of a better description – powdered butter.  At first I couldn’t detect the ginger or lemon, aside from the now chewy bits of candy distributed through the dough, but a day later, and then two days later, the more delicate flavors started to shine past the overwhelming richness of the brown butter.  The hazelnuts, with their earthy crunch, were perfect the whole time.  You could probably mix the nut crumbs in with the rest of the ingredients and save yourself a bit of time and frustration, but I loved the way they looked as a crisp layer on the bottom.  Cookies with their own crust.  Glorious.  My sister got to taste them during an unexpected visit, and pronounced them delicious.  The lemon-ginger-hazelnut trifecta is a triumph.  And the leftover ginger-spiked hazelnut crumbs make an excellent topping for oatmeal.
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Lemon Ginger Shortbread with Hazelnut “Crust”
8 oz. butter (1 cup, or 2 sticks)
4 oz. sugar (1/2 cup + 1 TB)
12 oz. flour (2 – 2½ cups)
½ cup chopped candied ginger
Rind from 1 lemon, finely chopped (some pith is okay)  (about ¼ cup)
1 cup hazelnuts
1 TB ground ginger
2 TB raw sugar, like turbinado or demerrara
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, swirling gently on occasion, over medium to medium-low heat.  Once melted, the butter will foam up, then clear slightly, and then the magic: the solids will sink to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown slightly.  At this point, turn off the heat.  You want this beautiful browning, but you don’t want those solids to burn.  There is only a small window between browning and burning, so watch carefully as the butter reaches this stage.
Pour the melted butter and browned bits (which you may have to scrape off the bottom of the pan) into the bowl you will use to make the cookies.  I used my stand mixer bowl.  Stow it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes, or until the butter gets sludgy.

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When the butter has solidified a bit, pull it back out and add the sugar, then cream (or goo) well until everything is incorporated and has become a beautiful flecked mixture the rough consistency of frosting.
Add the flour and mix until crumbly.

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Add the lemon zest and the ginger and mix again.  First the dough will become large crumbs, then come together into something more like wet sand.  This takes a minute or two.  If it isn’t coming together right away, don’t worry.  The wet sugar and butter mixture needs some time to moisten the flour.

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Once the dough is the consistency of wet, packable sand, dump it out of the bowl onto a sheet of plastic wrap.  Using the plastic wrap to help you, shape the dough into a rectangle of 5×8 inches or so, wrap up securely, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

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While the dough chills, pulverize the hazelnuts, ground ginger, and raw sugar crystals in a food processor (or chop finely with a sharp knife) until some of the hazelnuts are reduced to powder and some remain in very small bits.  Don’t overprocess – you don’t want this to turn into nut butter.  Stop before it becomes moist.
When your dough has had a chance to chill, unwrap it onto a floured board and roll or press out to about ¼ inch thick.  This takes a bit of patience, especially if you, like me, let it chill for too long and try to roll it out before it’s ready.  Cold rolling results in cracking.  Just relax, let the dough warm up a tiny bit, and roll gently with a floured rolling pin, patching cracks as you go.  This would also be a good time to preheat your oven to 350F.

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Once you’ve achieved even thickness (minus the odd tall chunk of ginger), use a pizza cutter to trim off uneven edges, and slice the remaining rectangle into smaller rectangles the size of your choosing.  Mine were probably about 1×3 inches, which seemed like a nice sized cookie.
Now it’s time to add the hazelnut crust.  As noted above, you can do this in a number of ways.  You can, if you wish, lift the cookies, place them into a dish of crumbs, and press down, hoping for adherence without breaking the cookie itself.  This method requires almost excruciating gentleness.  You can also press handfuls of the hazelnut crumbs down on top of the cookies on the board, applying firm but gentle pressure, and then lift the cookies one at a time and invert them onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  As you flip, some of the hazelnut crumbs will loosen.  That’s okay.  Just get your cookie settled on the baking sheet and then press down again gently but firmly to re-stick the crumbs.  They will adhere better as they bake.

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Once you have a full baking sheet (mine each fit 15-18 cookies in various arrangements), pierce the cookies gently with a fork to achieve that pricked look so popular in shortbread, and bake for 18 minutes.  The cookies will become lightly golden all over, and the hazelnut crumbs will darken and get a bit toasty.

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At 18 minutes, take them out of the oven, set the baking sheet on a cooking rack, and walk away.  The cookies need 4-5 minutes to set before you try to move them.  They are much too soft at their moment of emergence to transport intact.  As they cool, they will deflate and crisp up a bit, and you can move them to a cooling rack or a marble countertop or surface of your choice.

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You can certainly eat these warm, but I liked them better completely cooled.  In fact, I liked them better the next day, once the flavors had melded and developed.

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Stored in an airtight container, these keep deliciously for over a week.  They even, wrapped carefully, stay crisp and fresh through the mail.
This recipe probably made about 3 dozen cookies, and could have made more if I had eaten less of the dough scraps.  I, alas, didn’t make a count before I started sampling, which is always a tasty, tasty mistake.