Strawberry Scones

The rains of spring have arrived with determination, filling the forecast with a week of gray, overcast skies. After a long winter of snow and cold weather, I forget how much I enjoy the sound of the rain drumming against the window panes and sloshing through the gutters. In the last evening downpour, I threw open the windows and turned on the fan, bringing the deep scent of earth into the apartment. I curled up in bed with a book, eventually lulled to sleep by the steady beat of raindrops overhead.

Rainy days are my excuse to set aside the busy schedule and curl up indoors instead. The pace of a slow day is rehabilitating in a dozen small, but significant ways. These heavy gray skies may soon feel monotonous, but for now I am reveling in these moments before the heat descends. 

Once the winter season of citrus passes, I am anxious for spring produce to arrive. It is still early in the season for fresh strawberries, at least in the Midwest, but my impatience cannot always be tamed. After sorting through the tubs at the market, I found dark red berries with a sweet scent. For now, these would do.

Overcast days feel like baking days to me. After slicing the strawberries, I gently mixed them into scone batter and baked them up for a taste of spring.

Because sliced strawberries hold moisture after baking, I recommend eating the scones the same day they are baked. If you do choose to store them overnight, cover the scones, but do not keep them under an airtight seal; this will prevent the scones from becoming soggy. As an alternative, a quick 5-8 minute reheat in a 350 degrees F oven will also bring the scones back to the right consistency.

Strawberry scones are a sweet recipe to use up the fresh, seasonal strawberry bounty. Sliced strawberries are mixed into a classic scone dough which is flavored with vanilla bean seeds. Once baked, the scones are topped with a vanilla bean glaze for extra sweetness. The scones hold moisture so they are best eaten the same day they are made. Serve for a special breakfast or enjoy as part of a morning snack.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Rolls
Two Years Ago: Blueberry Oat Bars & Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes
Four Years Ago:  PB & J Muffins, Almond Butter Chocolate Cookies, Sunflower Seed Bread, Blackberry Fool, Lime Curd Tart, Honey Chocolate Chunk Cookies, & Strawberry Charlotte
Five Years Ago: S'mores Cupcakes, Mai Tai, Homemade Mascarpone, Ladyfingers, Tiramisu Cake, & Honey Wheat Cake
Six Years Ago: Lemon Thins, Vanilla Pear Muffins, Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies, & Chocolate Raspberry Pots de Creme

Strawberry Scones

Yields 8 scones

Strawberry Scones
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (28 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) cold butter, cubed
8 ounces (225 grams) fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large egg
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream

Egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, whisked)
Raw or turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Vanilla Glaze (optional)
1/2 cup (62 grams) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender (or your hands) until mixture resembles coarse sand. Gently fold in sliced strawberries. 

In a small bowl, beat together egg, vanilla bean seeds, and heavy cream. Pour over the scone batter and lightly mix until the dough comes together. 

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, form a circle, and flatten it until it is about 1-inch thick. Using a sharp knife dipped in flour, cut 8 equal pie wedges. Transfer scones to a baking sheet using a flat spatula dipped in flour. Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

For the glaze, stir together all ingredients in a small bowl. Using a spoon, drizzle glaze over cooled scones. Allow at least 15 minutes for the glaze to set before serving.

Scones are best if served on the same day. If storing, cover the scones, but do not keep under an airtight seal.

Poached Pear Gingerbread Loaf

The holiday season has arrived, with lights glowing and bells jingling. I spent the week of Thanksgiving visiting family, enjoying the food, and spending time in each other's company. It felt wonderful to get away from the everyday for awhile, to refresh and unwind in a familiar presence. Now that I am back home, I am finding it difficult to fall back into the daily routine (and even harder to wake up to the morning alarm). However, the excitement of the holiday season is in the air—on television, in stores, and on the faces of my students—which keeps the energy high. 

I haven't caught the holiday spirit yet, but I imagine spending more time in the kitchen baking up holiday classics will make the spirit easier to find.

The holiday season is one of my favorites for baking. While there will always be the traditional foods (like Grandma's Honey Cookies), I like to use the holidays as an excuse to try new ideas. When Wolf Gourmet asked me to test their countertop oven, it felt like permission to play in the kitchen. I currently live in a small, one bedroom apartment, where space comes at a premium. I initially thought I would store the countertop oven in the closet when it wasn't in use, but I use it so often now that it found a permanent place in my kitchen.

This countertop oven is great for baking, but I use it just as often to heat up a quick dinner. It takes much less time to heat up (and is much more energy efficient than my current standard conduction oven). The countertop oven also has a "Proof" setting, which is a low-temperature setting that helps yeast dough rise faster than it would at room temperature. I have tried to mimic this setting in my standard oven without success, so my yeast doughs—whether pizza or bread—find their way in the countertop oven too. 

My favorite oven setting by far is convection. The convection setting circulates the air in the oven, which provides more uniform heating and reduces baking time up to twenty-five percent over a standard conduction oven. When I first made this Poached Pear Gingerbread Loaf, the loaf cake baked in 40 minutes instead of the usual 55 minutes. The convection setting also allows the food to bake more evenly, which means that my loaf cake was tender all the way through (my standard conduction oven tends to overbake the outside before the inside is done).

The countertop oven is relatively small (after all, it does fit on the countertop), which limits what you can fit inside. It will not fit half sheet pans or a few of my unusually shaped pans, but it will fit a standard 9 x 13-inch pan, which accomodates most dishes or desserts you will bake. The standard kitchen oven is not replaced, but the countertop oven can complement your current oven, especially during the holiday season when having more than one oven for baking or entertaining is ideal.

Edit: Giveaway closed.

Poached Pear Gingerbread Loaf is a cake with sophisticated flavors. Pears are poached in spices and white wine, rendering them soft and sweet. The poached pears are placed in a loaf pan and surrounded with gingerbread cake batter. The gingerbread is made with fresh ginger, which lends a bold, spiced profile to the cake. The pears bake up beautifully in the loaf cake, adding a soft contrast to the strong flavors of the cake. Drizzle each slice with white wine syrup before serving.

Two Years Ago: Almond Espresso Cookies
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Streusel Muffins & Cranberry Upside Down Cake
Four Years Ago: Gingerbread Muffins, Persimmon Cake, Lemon Cranberry Scones, & Chocolate Pomegranate Tart
Five Years Ago: Pumpkin Chocolate Granola Bars, Banana Cocoa SmoothiePumpkin Panna Cotta, & Honey Cookies
Six Years Ago: Sugar-Coated Daydreams, Blueberry Brownies, & Pear Chips

Poached Pear Gingerbread Cake

Yields 1 loaf

Poached Pears
3 Bosc or Bartlett pears, peeled with stems left on
1 bottle (750 mL) white wine
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 mL) water
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and seeds scraped
Peel from 1/2 an orange
3 cinnamon sticks

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until a knife easily pierces the pears. Remove pears and set aside.

Run remaining liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove solids and continue to simmer the liquid until it thickens into a syrup that can coat the back of a spoon, about 45 minutes.

Gingerbread Loaf Cake
1/2 cup (120 mL) dark molasses
2/3 cup (140 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (170 mL) milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a 10 x 4-inch loaf pan with parchment (it helps to transfer the loaf after baking), grease lightly, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the molasses, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Alternately, fold in the flour and stir in the milk until uniform. 

Place poached pears in prepared pan and spoon gingerbread batter around the pears. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before using parchment to transfer loaf to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To serve, dust loaf with powdered sugar and drizzle each slice with poached pear syrup.

Disclosure: A complimentary countertop oven was provided for review by Wolf Gourmet. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Pear Vanilla Sorbet

Whenever I travel, the small moments stay with me longer than the big ones. The feeling of standing at the center of an ancient world in Delphi, Greece. The beauty of the fogs rolling in over the lush English countryside in springtime. A nectarine in southern France that tasted so divine that time stopped moving, just for a breath. It is the unexpected experiences that bury themselves in my memory, to be remembered and re-lived often.

I may not be able to tell you all of the landmarks I have seen or the museums I have visited, but I can tell you how it feels to sit on the steps of a church in Rome at night, the piazza lit with yellow lamps, and listen to a man softly strum a guitar. In the end, that may be more important after all.

On my recent trip to Paris and southern France, I fell in love with pear sorbet at Soleileïs, a quaint ice cream shop in Arles. The sorbet was the literal essence of pears; the texture, the delicate sweetness, and the soft flavor were all represented. From that moment on, whenever I found another ice cream cone on my travels—which was often—pear sorbet was tucked in the bottom of the cone so I could savor it in the last few bites.

While pear sorbet is somewhat of a staple in France (and perhaps most of Europe?), the United States is barren to such pleasures. Since I adore it so, I set out to create my own version of that first cone.

Not to be confused with pear ice cream (where pear is blended in more or less equal parts with cream), this sorbet stays pure to its namesake. Pears are peeled, cored, and cooked down with vanilla bean, forming the base of the dessert. There is little added sweetener in this sorbet, relying on the natural sugars of the pear to bring out the sweetness. The pear flavor reminds me of a good vanilla ice cream: satisfying spoonful after spoonful, but never overpowering. 

Make a batch to share and create your own new, small moments to remember.

Pears are cooked down with vanilla bean, lemon juice, and sugar before they are blended into a thick puree. Use a high setting to keep the sorbet silky smooth. The final sorbet will retain the flavor, sweetness, and texture of a good pear. I find that a cone full of sorbet can be used as a wonderful palate cleanser after meals, since it feels light and bright on the tongue.

One Year Ago:  Pear Chocolate Scones
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Chunk Ginger Cookies and Vanilla Bean Marshmallows
Three Years Ago: How to Freeze Cookies Dough, Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Dark Chocolate Oatmeal
Four Years Ago: Minnesota Wild Rice Soup, Cherry Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies, and Cranberry White Wine Spritzer

Pear Vanilla Sorbet

Yields about 1 quart

6 bosc (or bartlett) pears, peeled, cored, and diced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise with seeds removed
1 tablespoon agave nectar (or honey)

In a large saucepan, place prepared pears, sugar, water, lemon juice, vanilla bean seeds, and vanilla bean pod. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce heat, and simmer until the pears are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove vanilla bean pods. Stir in agave nectar. Cool until warm to the touch (it is dangerous to blend hot liquids because they expand drastically).

Transfer pears and juices to a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Place in the refrigerator and chill 3-4 hours, or until cold.

Freeze mixture in ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer sorbet to an airtight container and freeze for 2-3 hours before serving. The sorbet will keep well for 2 weeks in the freezer.