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Blackberry Scones and Country Life

24, September, 2011

Such is my dedication to the art of scone-making that, even in the midst of an international house and job move, while all our possessions are packed up in boxes waiting for us to find somewhere to live, you can find me in the kitchen baking them.

The Official Taster and I made our Official Move from Ireland to England last weekend, since which time we’ve been staying with the Official Parents. I’ve been lucky enough to have a week off before I start my new job, which I’ve filled with shopping, sorting out final bills and deposits, shopping, voluntary translation work for Kiva, oh, and choosing my wedding dress (which I suppose counts as more shopping).

In between all that, I did manage to get out for a walk in the beautiful English countryside, armed with tupperware, for some blackberry picking, which brought back all sorts of childhood memories. I fought off (ran from) spiders, jumped over ditches and endured a stinging nettle up the nose for this bumper crop.

Blackberry Pickingblackberries

Once I’d collected them, the obvious thing to do with them was to put them in scones. I’ve made fruit scones before with varying degrees of success, so this time I decided to go wild and use a recipe, taking advantage of the Official Mother’s large collection of ancient and seldom-used recipe books. This particular one was the Good Housekeeping Complete Book of Home Baking, dating back to 1989 and unrecognised by the OM as her own.

Good Housekeeping Complete Book of Home BakingI used the recipe for Rich Afternoon Tea Scones, although it was a little ambiguous, calling for 25-50g butter or magarine (so about 37.5 then?) and 15-30ml of caster sugar (who measures sugar in ml??).

The blackberries made the dough a bit slimey and hard to work with, but the result was delicious – soft and light with a gentle flavour. The OM and I ate them straight out of the oven with some homemade plum jam which was the favour from a friend’s recent wedding.

Blackberry SconesPlum Jam

I enjoyed baking with something I had foraged for myself – it brought me one step closer to being Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall…

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Did anyone order a million scones?

14, August, 2011

In all my 27 years as an Englishwoman/girl, including my year and a bit writing this scone blog, I had never made a traditional English scone. This was remedied last weekend, however, when I baked a mega-batch of about 30 mini scones for my friend’s hen do, to be served with mojitos and St. Germain Gin & Tonic sipped from elegant floral tea cups.

I would like to point out right now that this was NOT the wildest part of the weekend…

Now, some people may say that the traditional scone is not complete without some kind of raisin or sultana in. Some other people (me) would say that raisins and sultanas are yucky. So there.

As this was for such an important event and there would be 11 eager ladies waiting to judge me, I decided to use a recipe and stick to it. I found this recipe online – it was from the BBC so I felt confident I could trust it to be properly British. The only change I made was to bake mini-scones instead of normal-sized ones, as I thought it would be more fun for the occasion (I know, I’m wild).

When my mother watches the Grand Prix, she not-so-secretly hopes for some kind of dramatic crash to bring a bit of excitement to what is otherwise an exceptionally boring sport. I don’t know if you feel the same way when reading this blog, but, if so, I’m sorry to say that everything went swimmingly, even transporting the scones from Dublin to London.

I piled them up on a cake stand and we ate them, as is only right, with clotted cream and jam whilst drinking cocktails and playing naughty pass the parcel.

English scones

Fig Scones and the Official Taster’s First Words

16, July, 2011

I believe in my last post I may have made vague mutterings about creating some kind of fromage-ful scone after my trip to France. Well, for those of you who have been holding your breath in anticipation for the last two months, here it is.

Except that it’s not exactly a cheese scone. Instead it’s a scone designed to perfectly showcase my newest cheesy discovery (thanks to my parents), Pié d’Angloys – a delicious,  creamy, ‘better-than-Brie’ (direct quote from said parents) cow’s-milk cheese.

Pie d'Angloys

Please excuse the remnants of coffee, also brought back in the aforementioned backpack

The Official Taster carried two boxes of the stuff back from France in his backpack, and we’ve been putting up with a rather stinky fridge in order to eke it out as long as possible. While waxing lyrical about its gooey goodness (and possible curative properties) to all and sundry, I was sent this recipe for Fig and Pié d’Angloys Gratin by the OT’s mother. Well that sounded delicious and all, but unfortunately it didn’t have a scone in sight.

The figs did catch my eye, however. Cheese and fruit is a heavenly combination that hits all the taste buds and makes them sigh – a cracker topped with slices of apple and cheddar, a roughly torn baguette spread with Brie and strawberry jam, pineapple on a cheesy pizza… not banana though, I know my limits.

I’d never cooked with fig before, or really even eaten it apart from in Fig Rolls, so you might think that I would opt for the safety of using a recipe. Ha! How little you know me…

Now this may come as a surprise to you, but Ireland is not blessed with a fig-growing climate, so the best I could find were these dried figs from Marks & Spencer. Even on a floral plate, it’s pretty hard to make them look, well, pretty.

Dried figs

I stirred 150g wholewheat flour, 120g self-raising flour, 1tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and about 2tbsp low-fat sweetener together in a bowl, before rubbing in about 75g butter. ‘Wholewheat and figs?’ I hear you gasp, ‘That’s an awful lot of fibre’.

I then wussed out a bit and divided the mixture in two. To the first half I mixed in enough milk to make a dough then put in a handful or two of chopped fig. To the second half I added a bit of both powdered and crystallised ginger as well as the fig – ginger makes everything taste good. I cut out rounds from both mixtures and baked them for about 15 minutes at 200°c.

Ginger and Fig Scones

Ginger and Fig Scones

I have to say I was a little nervous when it came to trying them with the cheese. Could I, should I, dare I combine the best of France (du fromage) with the best of England (scones, obviously)? Would they form a blissful partnership which would unite our two countries for evermore? Or would the ancient enemies reject each other, resulting in a deeper rift than ever before and another bin full of freshly baked scones? Only time and tasting would tell.

Fig scones

Scones in the City - maybe that should have been the title of this blog...

To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the scones, with or without the cheese (although the ginger ones with a bit of butter were much nicer), but the Official Taster seemed to like them, so I’ll let him tell you how they turned out…

– Well hello everyone. This being the first time I’ve had to do more than just eat, comment, and wait for the next batch, I am going to try and be as to the point as possible but still give a good idea of what my mouth was telling my brain… this isn’t starting well. I like figs, but wouldn’t say they cross my palate very often. Mixing them with ginger made me wonder for logic… two strong tastes in one bite rarely succeed, in my ‘official tasting’ opinion. So I was relieved when Southern Elle told me she was making two batches, one with both ingredients and another with just the figs.

The batches were ready, time to ready myself. Glass of ice cold water poured for palate cleansing, soft butter, the Pie d’Angloys cheese (silver medal winner in the 2010 Paris Councours General), and two scones set before me. I wanted to try it in different combinations, not just to taste the scones but also how well each one worked with the other – scones first on their own, then with butter only, then with cheese only, and finally with butter and cheese.

The judging: in keeping with what I assumed would be best for last I went for the fig and ginger scone first. Obviously sweet, the ginger overpowers the taste of the fig, however the texture of the fig actually surprised me. I really enjoyed the slight popping sensation of fig seeds with the sharp aftertaste of the ginger. In adding butter it just made for a creamier chew, and in adding the cheese produced an assault of flavours which maybe was not my favourite contrast.

On to the fig-only scone, starting again with scone alone. Again I enjoyed the texture the fig gave to the scone, but unless actually biting into a bit of fig the flavour was not very noticeable. Moving onto the butter actually did work well this time, the soft salty tasty worked well in contrast with the sweetness of the scone, and again the fig texture really made it great. Finally with the cheese and then cheese with butter; I have to say this was the best bit! I noticed that the cheese with scone alone wasn’t that great, the flavours were good but without the soft butter it made for a sticky paste in my mouth – hard to swallow and appreciate. Now the combination of the scone, butter and cheese was a revelation. The sweetness and texture of the scone, the salty contrast of the butter and the creamy lift of the cheese made for a soft, popping, creamy dance; especially when the fig comes through the cheese.

The verdict: fig and ginger scones nice, adding butter to taste, but cheese overwhelming. Fig scones on their own nice, but with the butter and cheese it was a whole new recipe for me to dream about between dinner and breakfast! – 

Wow! I think the Official Taster could well do me out of a job here. I would like to add a note here that I never actually intended the ginger scones to be teaten with the cheese, but thank you, OT, for being brave enough to try it anyway. As for my reaction, I think I may just not like figs all that much…

Cheesy Chilli Bombs

15, June, 2011

I’ve failed with my last two posts to theme my sconery around my life, which currently revolves almost exclusively around work and wedding planning, neither of which make me want to rush home, throw on a pinny and start measuring flour. I am, however, off to France next week, so hopefully I’ll find some inspiration there (I’m not even going to pretend it won’t involve copious amounts of stinky French cheese).

Nevertheless, I did find some time this weekend for a spot of baking. I didn’t set out to make Cheesy Chilli Bombs (what are they, anyway?); I was actually hoping to half-inch Mainly Music Meanderings‘ idea of Taco Scones as a treat for my Mexican food-loving Official Taster.

I couldn’t quite see myself getting rice, ground beef and lettuce into the scones (although I briefly toyed with the idea of broken up tortilla chips), but I used all the other ingredients that seemed appropriate, namely chilli, onion, cheese and a whole load of spices.

I mixed 125g of self-raising flour with 100g of wholemeal flour, a teaspoon of baking powder and a homemade taco seasoning consisting of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ground coriander and paprika (along with a bit of salt and black pepper), then rubbed in 55g of butter. I finely chopped and sweated half an onion, as well as chopping a whole chilli and a handful of fresh coriander and stirred it all into the mix with 50g grated mature cheddar. I slowly added milk until I got a soft, not-sticky dough, then rolled it out on a floured surface, cut out as many little rounds as I could and topped them with more grated cheese before baking for about 15 minutes at 200°C.

When they came out, I passed them straight to the Official Taster for the Official Tasting, before tucking into one myself. At first I thought they were a little bland, but the chilli kick came in a bit later. I have to say they didn’t much resemble tacos (probably could have predicted that), but the Official Taster did say that they were pretty good chilli cheese scones, prompting him to rename them Cheesy Chilli Bombs. Whatever. I’m not proud. They disappeared off the plate faster than any scones I’ve made before, which to me is a good result.

I would like to end this post by saying ‘Happy Birthday’ to my Granny, who turned 99 today!

Scone But Not forgotten: Chai Scones

30, May, 2011
Drink Me Chai

Drink Me Chai

So…six months since my last post, that was longer than I intended. And to be honest, it could have been even longer if I hadn’t found myself housebound this morning with nothing to eat for breakfast. I was up at 8.36 and by 8.54 I had a batch of freshly baked scones and still enough time to throw on some clothes before sitting down at 9.00 to a full day’s work (who needs to shower when you’re working from home?).

I’d been meaning to make chai scones for a while, pretty much since my obsession with chai lattes started sometime back in November. I added Drink Me Chai to about 60ml hot water, which I used to bring together a mixture of 225g self-raising flour, 55g of butter, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of low fat sweetener (don’t tell the official taster it wasn’t real sugar!). I rolled it out, cut out 2 large rounds, added some crystallised ginger to the rest of the dough and made 4 mini-scones. I baked them all at 200°c for about 10 minutes.

Chai Latte Scones

Not circles Giotto would be proud of...

Out of practise as I was, I didn’t quite manage to recreate the perfect rounds of my previous scone-ings (ahem). Now you’d have to make pretty bad scones for them not to taste pretty good when you pull them out of the oven and slather them in butter, but I have to say I was disappointed that the flavour of the chai wasn’t stronger. I added about 4 teaspoons and was worried it would be far too much, but in fact another couple would have done the job nicely. This opinion was seconded by the official taster, whose taste buds are a bit more trustworthy as he doesn’t spend all day every day throwing back mugs of the stuff. The ginger helped perk them up a bit.

I’d say the chai scones were an adequate success after my 6 month break from the world of scones. Now, what have I been doing since last we met? Well, there was Christmas, New Year, my birthday and my Dad’s 60th. Then there was a weekend in Berlin, an engagement in Venice and a family holiday and wedding in Canada, with a few friends’ visits thrown in for good measure. There were also some pretty good missed opportunities for themed scones, like the Queen and Obama’s visits to Ireland.

Anyway, I have rediscovered the joy of sconery and hope to get back into regular baking (I may have to combine this with a gym membership).

Cheese, chives, lavender, apple, raspberry and ginger. But not all together.

28, November, 2010

It’s been a little while since I last posted – I hope you haven’t been going elsewhere for your scones… Mum? Dad?

I’ve been really busy lately – work, French lessons, Christmas shopping and endless packing, unpacking and repacking – this has been my first weekend at home since Hallowe’en. But enough moaning, I’m sure no one is feeling sorry for me anyway, and now I have a bumper edition of scones and a free afternoon to write to make up for it.

This weekend, not only did the official mother fly over for a visit, but the official taster’s whole family minus one drove down to see us. This was a definitely an occasion that required some baking, as well as a large amount of cleaning.

Sometime ago I had read a blog post about some spiced chai scones, made simply by adding some tea to the recipe. The official taster and I have an almost obscene amount of different flavoured teas, one of my favourites being a mix of lavender, apple and raspberry from a random Polish brand. It was a bit of an experiment, but then so were most of my other scone recipes so far.

I rubbed 55g of butter into 225g of self-raising flour, 2 tbsps of sugar and a pinch of salt, then stirred in some strongly brewed tea to bring the mixture to a dough. I added chopped crystallised ginger to half of the dough, then rolled out the mixtures and cut into rounds which I baked at 180ºc for about 20 minutes.

Lavender, Apple and Raspberry Tea Scones

The official mother enjoying Lavender, Apple and Raspberry Tea Scones

While they were baking, the official taster asked sweetly, ‘Are you making me some cheese scones?’ How could I resist that? So, to keep the OT happy, and to make sure I had a back up in case the other scones went awry, I started on a batch of cheese scones. I used this recipe for cheese and chilli scones, but left out the chilli and threw in a handful of homegrown chives instead, with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper for good measure.

Cheese and Chive Scones

Cheese and Chive Scones - one missing?

The Lavender, Apple and Raspberry Tea Scones tasted pretty good – subtly sweet – but nothing can compete with a cheese scone, let’s face it.

I also made some naan bread this weekend from a book of bread recipes I have. This was the third or fourth recipe I’ve attempted from this book and everything I’ve produced has been pretty mediocre. The naan bread was a test to see if the book was worth keeping, and unfortunately they were nothing special – fine,  but probably no better than any recipe I could find on the internet. They looked quite good though…

Naan Bread

My scone gave me an ouchy…

5, November, 2010

Can anyone else imagine Ralph Wiggum saying that?

Happy Bonfire Night everybody! (Everyone except Guy Fawkes, anyway…)

Every year of my childhood, as Bonfire Night approached, public safety announcements would start being shown on television warning us against the dangers of returning to lit fireworks and picking up burnt-out sparklers. But you know what they never warned me about? Toffee. It’s a hazard. Today I sustained my first scone-related injury. This is my story.

Baking injury

Growing up, Bonfire Night was always one of my favourite nights of the year, far more than Halloween. Now, as great as the fireworks and the bonfire were, I think what made standing around in a muddy field on a cold autumn night so appealing each year was having the opportunity to eat toffee apples.

(The funny thing about seasonal food is that as a child you look forward all year to the one day when you can eat it, then when you grow up you realise you can actually just make it for yourself any time you want. But you don’t. You still save it for that one day of the year to keep it special.)

For the last 2 years I’ve been living in Ireland, first in the North, then in the Republic. Bonfire Night doesn’t really exist in the Republic of Ireland, where they’re not too big on burning Catholic rebels. Bonfire Night in Northern Ireland… well, let’s not open that can of worms. Suffice to say, when the official taster and I turned up to the Bonfire Night celebrations at the Orange Hall of a neighbouring village, we left after less than 2 minutes.

So after 2 Bonfire Night-less Novembers, I am taking the official taster back to England for sparklers, toffee apples and the ignoring of the day’s somewhat inappropriate origins. In celebration, I decided to turn my favourite Bonfire Night food into a scone. Thus I bring you… Toffee Apple Scones! You probably saw that coming, didn’t you?

This recipe involved 2 processes I’d never tried before 1) stewing apples 2) making toffee. I stewed 2 chopped apples with a few tablespoons of caster sugar by covering with water, bringing to the boil then leaving to simmer for 5-10 minutes. I think I left mine too long, as they were very soft when I came to drain them, but I didn’t want the apple chunks to be too noticeable in the scones.

I rubbed 50g butter into about 150g of self-raising flour, along with about a teaspoon of baking powder, then I stirred in the apple mush, adding more flour until I got something resembling a dough. As with the pumpkin scones, it was a very soft dough, and much stickier than usual. I added cinnamon and allspice to half of the dough, and left the other half as it was, for the authentic toffee apple flavour. Then I baked for about 15 minutes at 180°c.

Toffee Apple Scones

The toffee I was quite scared about. I used this recipe, but unfortunately I didn’t have any golden syrup, so I used maple syrup (left over from the bacon and maple syrup scones of August). I think this made it a little bit softer and of course it wasn’t the artificial bright red colour traditionally associated with toffee apples, but it had a nice fudge-y flavour which was perhaps a little bit more grown up. Or so I like to think.

I debated dunking the scones into the toffee in true toffee apple style, but was worried about losing large chunks of scone in the mix. In the end I settled for heavy drizzling and then put them in the fridge to set.

Even before the toffee, the apple scones were pretty tasty. There wasn’t much of an apple flavour running through them, though, presumably either because I didn’t use enough or because I overcooked them, but they were still lovely and sweet. With the toffee they were sticky and ridiculously indulgent.

Toffee Apple Scones

I gave one of the scones to the official taster to take to work today. Apparently he ate it hot and dripping with melted butter – don’t you wish you had a boy’s metabolism?

“Get to the blood!”, I hear you cry. Oh dear, I fear I may have built the ‘injury’ thing up a little bit too much. Basically, toffee is sharp, my skin is soft. I’m just amused it was the toffee that did me damage, rather than the knife I was clumsily using to scrape it off the baking tray.

Given that this was another complete experiment turned out well, I’m beginning to think that with enough sugar or cheese, you can turn pretty much anything into a pretty good scone. Which of course probably means I just jinxed myself for the next batch.

FYI – for anyone who doesn’t know what Bonfire Night or Guy Fawke’s Night is, Wikipedia is here to help…