Tips and Tricks

Each week or two, we’d like to walk you through some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to baking in general—and making scones in particular.

October 1, 2009—Scones for the time-deprived among us

I don’t know about you, but I’m time-deprived. So any trick I can find to let me accomplish what I want to do with less time and effort—just tell me where to sign up!!

I love scones. Specifically I love fresh baked warm-from-the oven scones. Even if I have to grab them running out the door to work—I still want a fabulous warm scone to go with that morning cup of coffee. Is it possible?—you bet! The trick—make the dough up in advance, cut the scones, and freeze the dough.

Have I always done it this way?—of course not. I used to bake scones every night for a local coffee shop—and every night I took all the ingredients from the cupboard, measured everything, mixed it all, baked the scones, and then did it all over again the next night. Honestly NOT FUN.

In creating Victorian House Scones, I tried to take away all the aspects of scone baking that irritated ME, and leave in everything that I found fun and creative. All the dry ingredients are pre-measured and pre-packaged—none of us need to haul flour cans and sugar canisters in and out of the cupboard. You can make enough scones from one bag to feed a house full of guests—or you and your family for 3 or 4 meals.

You only need 10 minutes or so to make the dough. Make the dough the night before—or over the weekend—or one afternoon when the kids are napping. Start with a bag of our scone mix and follow the directions. If you have a mixer, use it! I have a Kitchen Aid -so I just put the mix in the bowl, slice in the butter, put the flat paddle blade on, turn it on low, and let it work the butter in until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the buttermilk, again turn the mixer on low, and let it stir until it JUST collects up on the beater. Turn the dough out on to the cutting board, and divide it in half. If you are making the Original Recipe or Original Oatmeal, this is the point at which you gently add fruits or chips or nuts or cream cheese or streusel or…whatever you want. (You can actually make 2 different flavors from the same (retail) bag; 4 if you are using a commercial bag.)

Pat each portion of dough into a circle, 6” across and 1” thick. Take a big knife and cut the circle into 8 equal wedges—much as you would cut a pie. Lay the cut scones onto a cookie sheet, lay the cookie sheet in the freezer (uncovered is fine, it will only be there a few hours)—put the bowl and beater in the dishwasher, and you’re done! Bag the scones up the next morning in a zip lock bag, label the bag with the date and flavor, and return the scones to the freezer.

When you are ready for fresh baked scones, start by pre-heating your oven.

Once it is hot, take the scones from the freezer, put them on a parchment lined cookie sheet, sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar if desired, and put them in the oven. I will rotate the pans halfway through baking—and if I’m only baking one or two scones, I will often put an empty cookie sheet in the oven on the second rack. Set the timer for 8 minutes, rotate the cookie sheets, reset the oven for 8-9 minutes—done.

September 5, 2009—Gingerbread Pancakes with Lemon Curd

This “tip” is actually a recipe—along with some serving suggestions. It is SO unexpectedly good, that I decided to share it first as a tip, and then later get it moved into our recipe cards.

It came about as the result of a discussion with a customer who had some of our Gingerbread scone mix—and confessed that gingerbread really wasn’t her favorite flavor. Since my husband feels the same way—I told her I understood, and started to do some thinking about what else she might be able to do with the mix.

Gingerbread pancakes came to mind…not that I’d ever eaten OR made them… but I thought that spreading all that flavor out into a batch of pancakes might really work. I then got to thinking that if you stacked the pancakes with lemon curd spread between each one—and then topped the stack with a dusting of powdered sugar or (mock) devonshire cream…well, at that point I’d be hard pressed to decide if it should be served for breakfast or for dessert.

Time to put theory to practice. This morning I grabbed a bag of Gingerbread scone mix, and placed it in the mixing bowl of my mixer. I put 2T of molasses into a measuring cup, and filled it to a (scant) 3 C measure with buttermilk. To the mix in the measuring bowl, I added 3 eggs, 1T baking powder, 9T canola oil, and the buttermilk-molasses mixture. I blended it all on low until it was thoroughly mixed.

I made 4” diameter pancakes on the griddle, and served them spread with lemon curd and stacked 2-3 high. I dusted the top with powdered sugar, and presented them for breakfast (after the omelets). They were pronounced “fabulous” by the man who really and truly does NOT like Gingerbread. (and yes, I’d told him if he really didn’t like them, he didn’t have to eat them!)

I deliberately used a mild molasses—again, because I know my “guinea pig” isn’t a gingerbread fan, and the mild molasses will tone down the strength of the gingerbread flavor as compared to the “full bodied or blackstrap” molasses.

Will I serve these again—you bet!! In fact, our trick is to freeze the pancakes in single serving portions (2-3 to a bag), and simply “nuke” them in the morning. ALMOST as good as fresh off the griddle!

August 23, 2009—Flavor Enhancement

In preparation for writing this, I came across a cookbook that is now on my must read/must purchase list. The book is called “Baking by Flavor” by Lisa Yockelson. In the few pages I was able to read on-line, it talked about the layering of flavors within a recipe to enhance and intensify the desired flavor. I’m off to the bookstore to see if I can find it—for whether I choose to bake some, all, or none of the included recipes, I’m totally intrigued by the concept of layered flavors!

Meanwhile, here are a few of the tips I’ve learned along the way—by reading, by trial and error (trial and inadvertent omission??), suggestions from others, etc. But one thing that is so easy to forget as we get busy—_if you want good flavor, you MUST use good ingredients. _

Extracts: Almond extract is a traditional way to intensify cherry flavors. Vanilla extract enhances chocolate. (make a batch of brownies without it, and see what you think!!)

Lemon Zest: So easy to do, and you can’t go wrong! Adding lemon zest (lemon peel) is a wonderful way to brighten fruit flavors. Add it to any of your berry dishes—from blueberry muffins (or scones!), to cranberries, to raspberries—it will enhance, intensify, but not dominate the other flavors.

Cinnamon: (one of my favorite spices) is probably the easiest spice to work with, and it also adds its own signature to many fruits. Apple pie is obviously nothing without the cinnamon (and the brown sugar, but that’s an entirely different topic!). But, add just a little bit to either blueberries or peaches or cranberries and watch a similar sort of magic. You can add this as straight cinnamon, or with a layer or ribbon of streusel in your scone, or your muffin, or your coffeecake. (One of our favorite weekend treats is a lemon streusel coffee cake—a lemon coffeecake with a streusel layer, topped with a lemon glaze. Totally not a pairing of flavors I would have put together, but absolutely fabulous!

Cloves: another “sweet” spice is incredibly intense, but added with cranberries to scones or muffins will intensify the flavor of the cranberries. Use VERY sparingly!!!!

Happy baking!

August 9, 2009—Why Use a Mix??

I am fairly certain that the majority of us began our baking careers with Duncan Hines or Pillsbury cake mixes. As we grew older, we began to enjoy the challenges of baking “from scratch”—following a recipe start to finish, learning how to modify that recipe so that it tasted better, or suited our tastes better. There really is something very, very satisfying about putting a fresh loaf of bread or plate of cookies on the table and being able to say “I baked this”.

All that said, why would you “regress” to using a scone mix? And to be very honest—scones are easy to bake—relatively few ingredients, one bowl, 15-20 minutes in the oven—they are almost as close to instant gratification as you can get. So what is the point in a mix?? (and to be brutally honest, my mother asked me this question when I started this business!)

Here’s the point in a mix. No matter how few ingredients a recipe has—you still have to take everything out of the cupboard, measure it all into the bowl, and then return it to the cupboard. And, if you are like me, the phone rings (or you are doing all this while you are on the phone to your best friend)—and suddenly you’re standing there wondering—did I? didn’t I add the salt/soda/sugar??? And you dump the bowl out and start over (or take your chances and bake it anyway.)

I recently saw a posting on Facebook that said “Never measure what you can weigh out”. OH, how true. How many times have we made a favorite recipe—and sometimes it turns out spectacularly, and other times—its fine, but not quite as good. The difference? It comes down to how accurately you reproduce that recipe from day to day. Flour compacts—some days a cup of flour weighs more than others. The only way to be absolutely accurate and consistent is to weigh out all your ingredients.

We do. We weigh each and every ingredient that goes into our scone mixes—thus ensuring that each bag of mix will be absolutely consistent—and ensuring that you will always serve spectacular, award-winning scones.

So, why should you use a mix—or more specifically, why use OUR scone mixes?? Because in truth, you are getting a from scratch recipe for scones that has been carefully weighed out ingredient by ingredient, bagged, and sent/sold to you. Leaving you to add the fresh ingredients (butter, buttermilk, fruit)—and whatever else your creative mind chooses!

Have fun!!

July 28, 2009—Parchment Paper

Having grown up using a can of Crisco and a piece of paper towel to grease the cookie sheet or the cake pan—I consider parchment paper nothing short of a miracle.

When I first started making scones, I tried several different things—I baked them on a greased cookie sheet (once!)—I baked them on an ungreased cookie sheet; on a foil lined cookie sheet, and on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. My preference—parchment paper, hands down. I like what it does for the crust—it allows it to be a crust—without being too crispy or crunchy. Both the foil and the ungreased cookie sheet yielded a crisper and browner crust than I like—I suspect due to the heat reflecting off the foil or the shiny cookie sheet.

Parchment paper is a great indicator of oven temperature. Scones are essentially biscuits—and bake quickly in a hot oven. Suddenly seeing my scones come out of the oven with a scorched bottom crust—and realizing that the parchment paper was also “tanned” was the first indication that my beloved oven was starting to run too hot in the upper temperature ranges. After seeing this for a second time (and tossing out a second batch of scorched scones), I turned down the oven temperature 15-20 degrees and voila—no more sun-tanned parchment paper, and more importantly, no more scorched scones.

Can you bake scones or cookies without it—of course you can. But I guarantee you will be spending more time scrubbing the cookie sheet than I will. When you line your cookie sheets with parchment paper, you can sprinkle cinnamon sugar your cookies or scones on to your heart’s content—and it won’t burn. It also allows you to slide your scones or cookies off the sheet—throw away the used parchment paper, wipe down the cookie sheet, and be done!

Where to find it? I’ve seen it in boxed rolls at the grocery store—in the same area where you find foil or wax paper. If you have access to a kitchen store or a culinary supply store, you can often find full size “baking sheets”—I just tear them in half and find that they fit my cookie sheets perfectly.

Happy baking!

July 22, 2009—Let’s talk Buttermilk and Buttermilk Substitutions:

What do you do when you want to bake scones—and you are out of buttermilk? You have several options—not including the option of dropping everything and running to the grocery store.

You can make your own by adding either 1T white vinegar OR 1T lemon juice to 1C whole or 2% milk. Let it stand and curdle for 5-10 minutes, and then use as directed.

Powdered buttermilk powder can be used—follow the directions for reconstituting it to liquid form (by adding the appropriate amount to water) before using. 1C reconstituted buttermilk equals 1C cultured buttermilk.

You can substitute plain or vanilla yogurt for buttermilk. To thin it to the correct consistency, use 3 parts yogurt to 1 part milk—that is, 3/4C yogurt combined with 1/4C milk. Stir together, and use as directed.

But…what if you are vegan? or lactose intolerant? Then what???

In this case, substitute soy milk for the buttermilk, but add 1T lemon juice to 1C of soy milk. These scone mixes are formulated to account for the acidic buttermilk—so you don’t want to change the chemistry of the dough too much.