It’s going to be a tough Winter in Vermont, and although there is real hope for the end of this pandemic, it will not come until well after the spring.
The kitchen is still going to be an important place to spend time. It is always a good idea to have some items in the freezer to use with whatever you are cooking. I am giving you a simple old favorite of mine to add to you winter repertoire – my scone and biscuit recipes. Make a whole batch and freeze them. They freeze wonderfully and are ready to use in 10 to 15 minutes of oven time. They are definitely an old-fashioned treat and can be used in many ways. But, watch out what you have created – your family will want them all the time. After all what could make life better than breaking open a steaming scone on a wintry morning and slathering it with chunky preserves at the breakfast table or making a lunch or dinner of chicken and biscuits. Serve them with soup or stew. These biscuits and scones add a real homemade touch to any meal – and they are great to use for dessert as well with fruit - strawberry shortcake etc…
The following scone and biscuit recipes, while seemingly simple, require a few tries before reaching perfection. It’s technique, technique, technique! Learn the technique and it will be second nature.
1. Cut in the butter as you would a piecrust. The butter and dry ingredient mix should resemble an extremely coarse cornmeal. A food processor works well – just make sure you don’t pulverize the mix. A quick on/off with the processor several times does the trick.
2. ‘Toss’ don’t ‘Knead’ – When making scones or biscuits I always tell people not to touch them. Of course, this is not possible, but you must limit how much you work this dough. Only gather the dough together. Most scone recipes call for the cook to ‘knead’ the dough. Kneading implies mixing ingredients to a homogeneous mass and then some. The worst thing you can do is ‘knead’ this dough. I always use the word ‘toss’. Keep your fingers straight and ‘toss’ the dough until it comes together. Then turn it out and flatten it on a floured surface with a quick pounding action with the flat of your hand. Handle it as little as possible.
3. Know your Dough – This dough will tend to be a little different each time you make the recipe. The flour you use, the barometric pressure or a different measuring cup all add to the idiosyncrasies of a recipe. Once you know basically how the dough should feel you can deal with it. If the dough is too wet, just flour the surface where you turn it out and flour your hands when you pound it flat. If it is really dry add a little more milk, small amounts at a time and ‘toss’ the mix to absorb the liquid.
4. Cook till Done – Timers are a big help when cooking, but the chef’s eye is the most important element in judging the doneness of a product. Cook scones or biscuits at high heat for the prescribed time and check for doneness every five minutes after you turn the oven down. They are done when the top doesn’t ‘squish’ down and has a solid feel. Your oven is too hot if you find that the scones are getting too black on top. Try setting the initial high temperature a slight bit lower. They should be golden to dark brown.
5. Ingredients – Flour: I use unbleached flour but all-purpose will do. Baking powder: I use double acting/non aluminum – It doesn’t give that acidic flavor to the finished product (if you cannot find it just use regular). Butter: Use real butter – If you want you can almost cut the amount you use for scones in half, but I wouldn’t go further than that. Biscuits need this butter and I wouldn’t omit any of it. Milk: I use whole milk for scones and half and half for biscuits – 2% or skim will do for scones and whole milk for biscuits, but the product will not keep as well.
6. Shelf Life – Let scones and biscuits cool completely and store in a plastic bag. Scones will keep a few days and biscuits a little longer. You can also freeze these products at this point. They both need to be reheated to return to their original state. Always reheat in an oven and not in a microwave. Neither biscuits nor scones like the microwave.
The most sought-after recipe in my Café was this one. Made with any kind of dried fruit they are at once flaky and soft. I prefer to use dried cranberries, dried cherries or currants, but you can even use chocolate chips or butterscotch chips. I never use fresh fruit or any ingredient that is too wet. It will not allow the scone to cook properly. There is an interesting variation listed at the end of this recipe for a savory scone.
- 6 cups flour (all purpose or unbleached)
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 lb. butter
- 4 eggs
- 1 ½ - 2 cups milk
- 1 cup currants or other dried fruit (cut bigger fruit into small dice)
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes. Cut the butter into the flour mix using a pastry cutter or food processor (with an on/off motion) until the mix resembles a very coarse meal. Toss in the dried fruit. Beat three eggs lightly and combine with 1½ cups of milk. Add the wet mix to the dry ingredients at once and ‘toss’ until combined. Add a little more milk if it is too dry and will not come together.
Turn out the dough on a floured surface and pound flat (about 1 ½ inches high) into a circle or an oval. Cut into long strips about 2 inches wide. Then cut each strip on the bias into diamond shapes. If you want to use a round cutter, feel free, just stick the excess dough back together to use it all.
Put the scones on an ungreased baking sheet. Beat the last egg in a small bowl and brush each scone with some of it. Sprinkle a tiny bit of sugar on each scone. Let sit uncovered for about 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the scones in the middle of the oven and cook for 10 minutes at this temperature. If you have a particularly hot oven, make sure the tops are not burning. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and cook another 5 minutes. Check for doneness – See hint #4.
Sauté finely chopped scallions, jalapeno peppers and red peppers in a small amount of olive oil until they are fairly dried out. Cool and add to the scones in place of dried fruit. Instead of sprinkling sugar on the top use coarse ground black pepper. This is a great savory scone to serve with soup or salad for a luncheon treat. Substitute green peppers for the jalapenos if you don’t want any heat.
A Better Biscuit
Biscuits are one of the ultimate comfort foods. Rich and buttery and flaky, they have many uses. I use this biscuit dough recipe for everything from strawberry shortcake to chicken and biscuits. It always seems to please.
- 6 cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 lb. butter
- 2 cups half and half
- 3 eggs
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter in small cubes and cut into the dry ingredients. Use a pastry cutter or food processor (see instructions for scones). Beat the eggs and mix with the half and half. Pour the milk and egg mix into the dry ingredients and toss until combined. If the mix seems too dry add a little bit of milk. If it is too wet add a little flour just over the top. Turn out the dough on a floured surface and pound into a circle about 1½ inches thick. Cut with a round cutter sized to your liking. Gather scraps and continue cutting to use all the dough. Set biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Set the biscuits in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Turn down the oven and check every 5 minutes for doneness – See hint #4.
Use as breakfast biscuits hot from the oven. They are great with ham and eggs or on their own with jam. For strawberry or peach shortcake or chicken and biscuits – break in half (lengthwise) and place the bottom half in a bowl. Place a heaping ladle of your favorite filling on top of the half biscuit. Cover with the top half. Top with more filling. Don’t forget the whipped cream on the fruit shortcakes.
Please Stay Safe , Wear Masks and Keep Social Distancing – We will get through all of this with the help of the kitchen!