This upcoming weekend will be the first one in awhile that I’ll be home sleeping in my own bed. While I’ll be working the Ballard Farmers Market on Sunday, I’ve schemed up all kinds of scenarios for Saturday: sleep in and read in bed, brunch at one of the new restaurants cropping up around town, catch up on an Oscar film, hike Mount Si. Oh, the options! While traveling for the book tour has been a little more exhausting than I’d originally thought it’d be, there have been some unexpected highlights. Perhaps one of my favorites: the daily scone.
Sam came with me to Portland to promote the cookbook and we stayed at a hotel called The Kennedy School. While we usually stay at the Ace if we’re in town, I’d heard good things about The Kennedy School — it’s a historic schoolhouse that’d been converted into a large hotel with a soaking tub, a movie theater and a restaurant. It’s also close to Alberta, which is a great pocket for ambling about, eating good Indian street food, and ice cream — if that’s your thing, of course. Well, Sam loved the hotel. He would’ve moved in if the staff gave him the thumbs up. The room had really high ceilings and a great desk and he got some of his own work done while I ran about town doing classes and talks. He loved the sandwiches at the cafe, the IPA, the view from our room, the irreverence in design. And apparently, the girls working at the bar loved Sam. You get the idea. Me? I felt kind of like I was back in college for some reason … and not in a good way. The food wasn’t great (although they did serve tater tots which you’ll never find me complaining about), the parking lot was always full, and for whatever reason the charm was just lost on me. But the one thing that I really did love: morning room service coffee with a warm daily scone. Hello, daily scone! Where have you been all my life?
The first morning we were there, the scone was a blueberry mascarpone, the second morning it was a decadent chocolate affair, and the third morning a really light, crumbly cherry almond. I loved every one. The recipe I’m sharing with you today is certainly healthier than the scones we had in Portland. Sure, there’s butter, but I used all whole-wheat flour and opted to sweeten these ever so slightly with maple syrup instead of a more refined sugar. There is a new-ish coffeeshop here in Seattle called Vif and they make a fine, fine scone if you get a chance to visit (as a side note, they also make their own almond milk for lattes which blows my mind each time I have it). I always ask what the Vif secrets are and inevitably they tell me there’s either ground walnuts or almonds in the actual scone so I took their lead here and used walnut meal as well as chopped, toasted walnuts. I love the rustic quality of the crumb: the walnut meal adds an earthy toastiness along with little flecks of color. They’re not overly sweet, and they feel simple and solid — perhaps the definition of a good scone? If you happen to like your scones a little less simple, I think golden raisins would be really wonderful folded into the dough as would little bits of chocolate (they do this at Vif) or even crystallized ginger.
If you’re a scone sceptic, I think you might still like these: they have a crumbly, flaky exterior but the interior is extremely tender — almost more like a muffin. I know quite a few people in my life who would take a muffin over a scone any day because they feel scones are often dry and lifeless. These are an exception.
Because we’re using buttermilk and a liquid sweetener for these scones, this dough is definitely on the wet side — so do know you’ll want to use some flour to help you form it into a disk without sticking to the counter … and your hands. And don’t skip the step where you let the dough rest for 10 minutes — that’ll help the whole-grain flours soak up a little of the moisture. If you have trouble finding whole-wheat pastry flour, feel free to use spelt flour or all-purpose flour instead.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lay the walnuts on a small baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 1 cup of the walnuts until very finely ground. Coarsely chop the remaining 2 cups.
Increase the oven temperature to 375 F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk in the ground walnut meal. Add the cubed butter and, using your hands or a pastry cutter, rub or cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles small, course peas. Do this quickly so the butter won’t warm too much. It’s o.k. to have a few larger chunks of butter. Fold in the remaining chopped walnuts.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Add to the dry ingredients and, using a wooden spoon or flat spatula, stir until the dough gathers together (I actually use my hands at this point). The dough will be pretty wet and that’s o.k. Let it sit for 10 minutes to allow the whole-grain flours to soak up a bit of the moisture.
Take out a large wooden board (or use a clean table surface) and sprinkle generously with flour. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter or surface and sprinkle the top with a little flour. Gather the dough into a ball and pat/push it down so it’s circular in shape and about 1-inch thick. Cut into 6 large wedges (or 8 for smaller-size scones).
Place the wedges on an ungreased baking sheet, brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake for about 25-30 minutes – or until tops are lightly brown. Cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.