PERFECT… WINTER SCONES

chestnut-scone-featured-header

As a reluctant and often times struggling home-baker, I have an unfounded, persistent, borderline sickening obsession with making biscuits and scones.  Nobody in the family eats them but me really (it isn’t saying much when you scan through all members in the family).  I have to endure the look of lostness and concealed disappointment in Jason’s eyes every time he comes home to the smell of butter and sugar, and yet I put myself through it often (yes everything is about me).  They aren’t the most foolproof things to bake either, evidently from the ghost of dead doughs past that still lingers in the apartment.  So I don’t know, I guess they just feel so much more earnest than cookies and cakes, a warmer and friendlier thing to break over a conversation or a cup of tea… well, with my imaginary friends at least.

But the truth is until a few days ago, I had not been able to tell them apart in the kitchen.

chestnut-scone2 chestnut-scone3chestnut-scone23chestnut-scone4 chestnut-scone5

What the hell is the difference between biscuits and scones?  Unlike the obsession, the confusion for it isn’t unfounded, as I have seen and tasted recipes that are titled interchangeably, with ingredients and ratios not that different from one another.  And the tastes can range from moist with soft and porous interiors, to crumbly, dense and almost shortbread-like.  Online research certainly doesn’t help especially if it takes European definition into consideration.  In my restless and obsessive mind, I just don’t feel comfortable not knowing where the line is drawn.

And if there isn’t any out there, I’m going to draw it myself.

In my more-North-American based perception, biscuits have a Southern ring to it.  They should be round, moist with flaky layers (whereas in the UK, biscuits are more like shortbreads/cookies), and one should almost always eat it by first breaking it horizontally in half, where then all possibilities follows.  Scones on the other hand – something with less dispute over the definition for – are more crumbly, buttery and slightly denser with not much perceivable layers.  Ways to tackle scones are agreed to be more flexible however if there’s a corner, that’s where I would start.  The difference in texture is essentially a result of the ratio between butter and liquid.  Biscuits tends to have a slightly lower ratio of butter, cut into slightly larger bits, and a higher ratio of liquid (could be cream, milk, buttermilk or etc).  Whereas scones tend to have a higher ratio of butter, cut into smaller bits/further worked into the flour mixture, and a lower ratio of liquid.

So as the definition goes, even though I have one recipe mis-titled as a “scone”, I haven’t actually, made a real scone yet.  It’s time.

chestnut-scone24 chestnut-scone25 chestnut-scone26

Winter-time, that is.  And could be more fitting to eat now than the flavours of roasted chestnuts, sweet figs and vanilla?  Ladies and gentlemen, my first-born baby scone, and it is perfect.

Ok fine, maybe second-born.  The chestnuts were initially chopped into breadcrumb-consistency, which was then mixed into the dough.  Even though I was fairly happy with the result, I knew it wasn’t enough.  It needed something else… something more… violent, yeah, something to thoroughly inject the nutty and homey chestnut flavour into the life of these scones.  To use the chestnuts… as… as a wet ingredients.  I went back into it, and what I have to tell you about now is the best scones that I have yet to taste, from anywhere.  It is buttery with delicate crumbs, just firm enough but still comfortably moist.  But on top of all else, it tastes like winter… like waking up to a white morning of the first snow-fall, like a wood-burning fireplace… like a light-lit pine tree.  Like it’s almost too warm to be eaten in the summer.

Whoever you share this with, real or imaginary, will agree.

chestnut-scone28 chestnut-scone32 chestnut-scone36

Makes: 8 large scones

Ready-to-eat roasted chestnut (labeled as “sugar roasted/wok-ed”) is pretty abundant in China especially during this season.  They are even sold peeled-and-packaged, which I snobbishly turned my head away from then later regretted immensely as my finger nails ached (I bet you didn’t know they can ache.  Oooh but they can, my friend… they can).  So if you can buy them roasted and peeled, just do it.  But if you can only buy fresh, I’m going to refer you to the first link that Google referred me to on the very first page.  I trust Google but am not responsible for any kitchen failure due to the referral…

I wouldn’t suggest using canned pureed chestnuts as they may come in different consistency, which is quite crucial since I have come to believe that this kinda stuff can widely affect the result.

Dried figs on the other hand can be purchased in a lot of places like Amazon, or any other health food stores that you prefer.

Ingredients:

  • 3.7 oz (105 grams or 5~6 large) dried figs + 1 tbsp of whole milk
  • Chestnuts puree:
    • 6.3 oz (180 grams or 1 1/4 heaping cup) of roasted and peeled chestnuts (the weight DOES NOT include shells, and PLEASE trust the weight not the cup because I apparently have big cups)
    • Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
    • 7 ~ 8 tbsp of whole milk
  • 1 3/4 cups (228 grams) of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar
  • 1 tbsp of baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 9 1/2 tbsp (135 grams) of very very cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp of whole milk
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Use a scissor to cut the dried figs into tiny bite-size pieces, then combine with 1 tbsp of whole milk and microwave on high for 1 minute to plump up (pause the microwave and give it a stir at 30 seconds).  Chill in the fridge for 15 min or until cooled down.

Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out all the black seeds.  Process the seeds with roasted and peeled chestnuts in a food-processor, gradually adding in 7 ~ 8 tbsp of whole milk until it’s pureed as COLD peanut butter-consistency (should be stiff and holds its peak).  Set aside.

This is my first time using a stand-mixer for biscuits/scones, but you can of course just use a pastry blender.  So, in a stand-mixer with paddle-attachment, stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together just to combine.  Add the cubed unsalted butter and mix on low, until the butter is mostly incorporated into the flour mixture, like the texture of coarse meal with larger butter pieces looking like flat disks about 1/2″ wide (slightly smaller than a penny).  If you are using a pastry blender, the largest butter bit should be the size of small peas with the rest of the mixture looking like coarse meal.  Now add the dry figs from the fridge and mix on low until they are separated from each other (they can stick) and evenly spread out.  Add all of the chestnuts puree, 1/4 cup of whole milk and 1 large egg yolk (save the egg white for egg wash!).  Mix on low for a few seconds to bring the dough together.  You may need to add 2 tbsp more of whole milk in order to do so.  DO NOT over-mix.  Stop just when the dough seems to have come together, then dust the working surface lightly with flour and transfer dough on top, press all the “loose ends” together with your hand to bring it together.

Pat the dough into a flat disk and plastic-wrap it.  Chill in the fridge for AT LEAST 2 hours!  This is important NOT ONLY to re-chill the butter inside the dough for puffing, but also to give time for the flour to absorb the moisture in order for the scones to be moist, and not dry and “floury-tasting”.

30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven on 400ºF/200ºC.  Whisk the egg white with 1 tsp of water until frothy.

Lightly dust the working surface with flour.  Unwrap the dough and roll it out into a 1″/2.5 cm thick rectangle.  I like my scones with straight edges… call me anal, so I trim the uneven edges off and cut the rest into squares, then piece the edges back again to re-cut.  You don’t have to.  Whatever shape works really.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake AS MANY AS YOU ARE GOING TO EAT.  Scone is at its highest value when it’s fresh.  Plastic-wrap the rest and keep in the freezer.  Scones on demand.  Nothing better.

Brush the top of the scones with egg white-wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Bake in the oven for 17 ~ 20 minutes until golden browned on top (add 2 ~ 3 minutes for frozen scones).

I know it’s inhumanely cruel to ask you to wait.  But just 10 ~ 15 minutes on the cooling rack will allow the scones to set and the flavours to “round up”.

chestnut-scone-featured-header-2

Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someoneShare on StumbleUpon

14 Comments

  • Helens says:

    A valiant attempt to draw the line between biscuits and scones. Although, your description of scones as tall, flakey and always cut in half, does sound a lot like what gets called scones here in the UK, which are usually served with strawberry jam and clotted cream. (Although you also get savoury ones with like… cheese and chives) You do occasionally see these flatter, square scones about, but they tend to be at American coffee chains (beginning with S) and the likes. It’s not that we wouldn’t call these scones, just that we might also decide to call them… I dunno… tea cakes, or something.

    As a non-American, who has recently discovered the absolutely divine calorie-bomb that is biscuits in gravy, this nomenclature issue has also been bothering me (so much that I sometimes refer to biscuits in gravy as ‘scones with saussage-bechamel sauce, just for kicks). For me buiscuits (in the American sense) are like scones, but with less sugar and usually with something like buttermilk to give them a tang that you don’t get in UK scones.

    Likewise, to me a biscuit (UK) differs from a cookie, in that cookies tend to be softer, chewier, sometimes sweeter and often larger, where as biscuits tend to be smaller and harder. But then sometimes I make chocolate chip shortbread biscuits that are probably more like a cookie… so who knows.

    On an unrelated note, I bought some doubanjiang yesterday (where has this beautiful savoury, slightly spicy bag of decliciousness been my whole life?!) and I was wondering how it is best stored. A bag will probably last me a little while, so I was wondering if it needs refrigerating? I’ll probably decant it into a jar, since that sachet looks like a mess waiting to happen.

    • Mandy L. says:

      Helens, wow.. now I’m just even more confused! What’s being called “biscuits” in UK would definitely fall under the “cookie” category in America, as “cookie” is a very broadly used term. To be more specific, maybe shortbread is a better description?

      Welcome to the wonderful world with doubanjiang!! You should definitely store your doubanjiang in the fridge, in an air-tight container (jar would be perfect). They will mostly last a long long time (a few months at least) in your fridge because they are so salty (or should be).

  • Well speaking as an Aussie here. I find scones are denser but still soft and more buttery, than flaked and buttery like the american biscuits.
    I think of biscuits as puff pastry and the UK scones as more of rough puff; if that makes sense. maybe it is just me. Could it also be the tangy flavour of biscuits are not present in scones. Scones normally use milk or cream rather than the butter milk or sour cream.
    Then again they are so interchangeable.

    After all the biscuit.scone talk is making me hungry for these chest-nutty beauties, Mandy

  • Shuku says:

    I stumbled onto your blog while looking for something entirely different tonight (recipes for liu sha bao, to be exact). I really should be working on a writing/design project, but instead I’m reading your blog archives – I’m calling it ‘Creative Research’, hah! These scones look fantastic. I’m gluten intolerant so I’m going to have to do some tweaking to get this to bake up but I have high hopes. Which may be misplaced, but even if it turns out a mistake it’s going to be a TASTY mistake and it can always be stored away for…err…crumble toppings or just snacking on.

    I so get you about peeling roasted chestnuts. They sell ‘em prepacked and shelled here too and they don’t taste bad at all, but they also have little roadside stalls that roast them and sell steamed, salted ground nuts too. Not sure why, but they’re always sold together for some reason (I live in Malaysia.)

    I actually cried a little when I read some of the recipes, this one and the ragu one in particular. I lived in the US for a long time, and scones and ragu were two of the things I made most often in my small apartment, especially in autumn. It’s been almost ten years since I came back here, but I still miss those beautiful fall leaves in Virginia.

    • Mandy L. says:

      Oh I know how you feel. I miss the change of seasons in New York, too. But if it’s any comfort, I miss everything that I ate on my trip to Malaysia, big big time! You guys are enjoying some really damn fine stuff there.

      • Shuku says:

        Which things do you want to eat? I bet you there are some recipes you can replicate in China, because a lot of it can be done in a wok. If I have recipes, I can definitely share some!

  • Melinda says:

    Hey Mandy, I should have responded to your other comments about scones vs. biscuits when I read them in other posts. Scones are more baking soda-y & solid while biscuits are LARD-y & fluffy. Scones are UK and biscuits US, but US has its own version of scones that are more fatty.

    Both are yummy but I suspect based on your other preferences, you’d prefer biscuits any day. Here is a ridiculous recipe that you should try if you are ever in the SE US, particularly Charleston, South Carolina. I am in Charlotte, NC, btw. It is called the Big Nasty Biscuit at Hominy Grill*, find pic here and recipe for the gravy http://hominygrill.com/recipes/. Their fried chicken is divine and hard to describe but very layered with flavor rather than just lard & flour. *I am not affiliated in any way with Hominy Grill. It’s just THAT good. I have ordered it take out and eaten it before driving out of the parking lot.

    Just FYI, I’ve never had a chestnut. I have no idea what they taste like :)

  • Deirdre says:

    I love your blog!

    Would this work with another nut such as hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts or pistachios (and perhaps a different fruit)? Are chestnuts best because of their consistency (aside from the great flavor combination with figs).

    Thanks
    Deirdre

    • Mandy L. says:

      Deidre, hazelnuts/cashews/walnuts/pistachios puree is going to contain a lot more oil than chestnuts puree so I’m not fairly certain if the result will be the same? Also these nuts don’t need that much moisture (milk in the recipe) to be pureed because of the high contents of oil. But it certainly sounds like it’s worth a try.

  • These look absolutely perfect!!! And I love the combo of winter flavors that you used. Delicious!

  • J.Lee says:

    you had me at chestnut puree. have you ever had a mont blanc pastry? oooozing with creamy chestnut and cream. lovely stuff you have here.

  • Kat says:

    Made these this morning. Fabulous in every respect – PERFECT texture and balanced flavors. Thanks… these made the pain of peeling all those chestnuts totally worth it. I’ll be making them again. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


5 + 6 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>