Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cranberry Orange Scone

I can remember when the no-carb craze swept across the Texas town in which Kendra and I lived.  It seemed like every single person I knew was on the no-carb protein diet.  I worked with a guy who ate a package of the already cooked bacon as a snack-THE PACKAGE!  It really blew me away for so many reasons, the most of which was, why in the world would you give up bread?  I love bread, it's one of my hands down favorite foods.   I think yeast breads would be my favorite, but bread is one of my favorite foods.  The smell of baking bread makes my mouth water.  During the holidays I will skip the protein to eat an extra roll, or two, or who's counting?

Biscuits out of the can were a staple in my childhood.  Cinnamon rolls out of a can, yep that was a staple too.  My Mom wasn't a baker, unless you count the occasional box cake she would make say twice a year. I don't really have a memory of eating scratch biscuits as a child, with the exception of our lake trips to Shell Knob.  We grew up going to the lake and would stop in Casseville, MO at this restaurant called the Lighthouse for breakfast.  I always had a hard time deciding what to order there because they had two of my very favorite things on a breakfast menu: pancakes and biscuits and gravy.  Their pancakes were incredible, crispy and yet light and fluffy.  The butter was always real and soft enough to spread without turning your pancake into bread crumbs.  Oh, and the syrup was warm.  Dad's breakfast usually came with a side of biscuits and gravy, which meant I could get both.  It was always a good day when we stopped at the Lighthouse.  The biscuits were light and flaky, super high.  I was just in awe of these ginourmous things called a biscuit because the ones I ate out of a can were croutons compared to these babies.

I've made home made biscuits, but find that the frozen biscuits we get are just as good.  I still try to make some every so often just so my kiddos have a memory of eating homemade things.  Scones are basically jacked up biscuits if you get right down to it.  The principles of  scone baking are the same as biscuit making, at least the recipe I'm going to share with you today is.  Cutting in cold butter to your dry ingredients, then adding the wet, quick kneading, rolling and wham-o you are done.  I dont' really think there is anything in the world that goes better with coffee than a good scone.  My wife loves scones and gets very happy when I whip up a batch of these, her favorite combination.

Owning a stand mixer will really make your life easier, but it's not impossible just harder.  What I love about this recipe is that they are light, not too dry and not too heavy.  I've had some scones where I felt like I just ate a brick because they were too dense and too dry to the point that I couldn't whistle for a week.  Cutting in the butter is what takes the longest, but once you get that done the rest is quick.  Before I forget.  When you are cutting the butter, don't give up.  There is a point in the process where it looks like you've made sand, that's when you need to remember me telling you not to give up.  Patiently waiting a minute or two longer yields the "pea size" pebbles you want.

I read probably 10 different recipes for scones from trusted cookbooks and came up with my own version I'm sharing today.  This recipe will be a snap to make if you own: a stand mixer, micro plane grater, bench scraper, pastry brush, and parchment paper.  A bench scraper is one of my most favorite tools to use in the kitchen.  They are super cheap and you can use them for a multitude of things.  I think a micro plane zester is also a must have item.  I use mine to zest citrus for many different recipes as well as for grating hard cheese.  Buying Parmesan or Romano cheese by the hunk is so much cheaper than already grated.  In looking for a photo to upload I ran a across this genius suggestion at Amazon.  For less than $40 you can get a zester, scraper, AND silpat mat!  What I wouldn't give for a siplat mat!  That's the next investment for me.


4 cups All purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt (sea or kosher please)
1 tablespoon of grated orange zest (usually one baseball size orange)
1 1/2 cups cold butter, diced (that bench scraper works like a charm for this project)
4 eggs 
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 heaping cup dried cranberries

Egg Wash:
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water

Juice of one orange
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare sheet pans by lining with parchment or silpat mat (sigh).  Zest your orange and set aside.  Dice the butter and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and zest.  Turn on low and mix just to incorporate.  Add the diced butter and turn the mixer on low.  Mix on low to medium speed until the butter and flour come together and resemble small pebbles (pea size) approximately five minutes.  While the butter and flour are incorporating put the eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla in a medium size bowl and whisk together.  Get your egg wash ready, too.  All you need is a coffee cup or small bowl for this: whisk the egg and water together then set aside.  When the flour is ready, turn the mixer to low and slowly add the cream mixture, mixing until it is just combined.  Add the dried cranberries and mix until they are incorporated.

On a well floured surface, turn out the dough which will be very sticky.  Dust the top of the dough with flour and lightly knead until the dough is not sticky.  Cut dough in half, set one aside.  Lightly press the dough into a flat circle about 3/4" thick.  Think deck of cards thick.  I used my hands for this, but you could use a rolling pin if you wanted to.  Using a pizza cutter cut the circle in half then each half into fourths.  If you want to make smaller scones, you would just cut the dough into get the picture.  Place the scones on the prepared sheet pan, brush with the egg wash and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Mix the orange juice, sugar and extract together in a small bowl and whisk until the sugar is incorporated and there are no lumps.  Add more sugar to yield desired consistency, thicker or thinner based on your preference.  Glaze the top of each scone when they are cooled.

  • Make sure your baking powder is good and fresh.  You should only keep it 3-6 months before replacing it.
  • Cubing butter is easy with the bench scraper because you can cut the stick in 1/4's then dice it up.
  • There is no rule about the shape of a scone needing to be this triangle shape.  Feel free to use a biscuit cutter and make rounds which would yield you more scones.  The triangel shape just screams scone and not funky biscuit.
  • Use lemon zest instead of orange (go with 2-3 lemons) and add dried blueberries instead of dried cranberries.
  • Stay with the orange zest, only had chopped bittersweet chocolate.
  • Use almond extract instead of vanilla, add chopped apricots.
  • Stick with the vanilla extract, no dried fruit, but scrape the pod of a vanilla bean or two.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

I almost forgot to get a picture.
Here it is in the oven, ready to bake.
   I think if every cook were to really come clean and own up to it they would admit to intimidation in the kitchen.  For some the intimidation might be boiling water, for others candy making or pastries, I think I could get a list quick!  For me the number one intimidation is in making pie crust.  I can't really put my finger on why, exactly I have a hard time with pie crust, but somewhere down the road of my cooking experience I had some pretty bad run ins with pie crust and ran away intimidated.  I'm not opposed to purchasing pre-shaped and in the pan pie crusts at all, or the rolled up pastry that you just unroll and plop in your own pie plate.  I'm ok with that.  Of of my biggest intimidators was in the final stage of pie crust construction---crimping.  I just could never get that crust to look pretty--ever!  That was surely the root of my problems, I just couldn't make a pretty crust.

I finally came to the conclusion that I could do it, and I was going to do it no matter what the cost.  I set out reading recipes for pie crusts and talking to friends who had great pie crusts.  I watched my sister make pie crust over thanksgiving and slowly built up my confidence.  There was one video I watched online where the cook demonstrated crimping in which I had that eureka moment and was once and for all on the other side of being intimidated and head set on motivated to make pie crust.

I knew, from my research that I needed to use butter, a food processor, and child the dough in the fridge.  These three factors were stumbling blocks for me in the past and I just decided that I was going to incorporate these steps in my crust making attempt.  I wanted to use real butter because I wanted to have that butter flavor and trademark flakiness that I just didn't see in shortening crusts (there is a HUGE debate about this topic on the Internet).  As for the food processor, I wanted to ensure that I mixed the butter, salt and flour together to get the right texture so I could add the ice water and have it all come magically together in one nice ball (just like on TV)  I didn't see that coming from a pastry blender and fork--at least from me.  Finally, chilling the dough.  That was a tough one let me tell you.  I just couldn't come to grips with the necessity of chilling the dough, but again my research showed that it was a critical step in making good pie crust.  See the flour has gluten, which is the binder, and that gluten needs to calm down after being worked over.  By resting the dough you give the gluten a chance to calm down, and the butter to chill out.  As the crust bakes the butter will evaporate and leave the flakiness that we want.  This post is really about Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie I promise.

I first started making Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie when Kendra and I were catering in Fort Worth.  We started Catering (Silver Spoons Catering) to raise money for the adoption of our two boys.  I really couldn't work a 2nd job being in ministry, so this gave me a great opportunity to do something I loved to do and make extra money as well.  As a caterer you always want to have something that is familiar to folks, yet different enough that your recipe stands out.  If you live in Texas for more than 24 hours you will run across people who talk about pecan pie.  I was going to be just another import hawking a pecan pie unless I twisted it.  Adding chocolate and bourbon seemed like not just a twist, but a tornado, and it worked.  At the height of our business Kendra and I made over 200 of this very pie in one year.  That's a lot of pie!

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie is not for the faint of heart, it's decadent to say the least.  I have to say that I really love this pie.  The bittersweet chocolate really comes to the rescue of this really sweet and rich pie, cutting the sweetness with the bitterness of the chocolate.  I think that is one of the keys, bittersweet chocolate chips.  The pecans float to the top of the pie as it bakes which gets them toasty and delicious, glazed with the sweet filling.  The filling is fairly run of the mill, corn syrup, eggs, salt, vanilla, sugar, butter, but then the bourbon is added and we are lifting off to another planet.

As a side note let me just say that if you cook with alcohol, don't buy it if you wouldn't drink it.  Buy the best quality you can get.  If you are unfamiliar with liquor stores, like me, just remember that the good stuff is on top--always!  The lower you go the lower you go in terms of quality.  I think the best quality you can get is important.  When it comes to bourbon you don't want to go with the super high quality, sippin' whiskey, because it's just a waste and the bourbon flavor can get really overpowering.  Maker's Mark and Elijah Craig are two my favorite brands.  One bottle will last me two or three years.

Pie Crust:

1 1/2 all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cubed
4-6 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor: add flour, salt and cubed butter.  Process on low until it is small pebbles (think grape nuts size) add ice water two tablespoons at a time until the dough comes together in a ball, usually for me it's 4 tablespoons.  Remove dough and shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use (20-30 minutes).  After elapsed time, remove dough to floured surface.  Dust pie dough with flour on both sides.  Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thick and place in a deep dish 9" pie plate.  Fold in dough and crimp edges with fingers.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan filling:

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 T. Bourbon
1 T. Vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 375.  In a medium size bow add sugar and melted butter.  Mix until creamy.  Add eggs, syrup, salt, bourbon and vanilla extract, mix on medium speed until thick and well combined.  Place chocolate chips and pecans evenly in prepared pie plate and slowly pour filling over.  Using a spatula, smooth the filling around until the pecans look evenly distributed.  Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes.  The pie will turn a dark amber brown an be slightly loose (like set pudding).

I love to serve this with a dusting of powdered sugar, fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Here it is!  Hot out of the oven.