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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.