A Date with a Scone, A Scone with Dates… and Walnuts

Since adding the post titled “KitchenCauldron – Unplugged” (February 3, 2012) to this blog, in which I talk about the first time I tasted a scone, I’ve had scones on my mind. Maybe not obsessively, but with a clear intent to bake some soon. Turns out it’s very soon. Four days later. This morning.

I pulled out the little scone cookbook I mentioned in that blogpost (literally small, 5.6” x 5.5” with only 144 pages), Simply Scones: Quick and Easy Recipes for More than 70 Delicious Scones and Spreads by Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright (St. Martin’s Press, 1988). Seeing the copyright date, I wondered if it was still in print. Turns out it is, and available on Amazon – for almost twice the price I paid for it way-back-when (now costs $9.95). Still, the plethora of only-scone recipes makes it worth it; it’s tiny but jam-packed (pun not intended on the fact that I like my scones warm, with butter and jam/preserves/fruit spread most of the time). Out of the many baking choices, the hyphenated word “date-nut” caught my eye and imagination. My revised version of the Weiner/Albright recipe follows but not, of course, without a slight digression or two.

Weiner/Albright decided to ask a few people, “since scones might not yet be a household word,” for their idea of what exactly a scone is. Some of the responses were quite funny, or just a vague notion (remember- it was 1988 and this country was clueless about lots of “foreign” cuisine, and people were not celebrity-chef-and-Food-Channel-crazy, as they can be now). I think my favorite answer that they heard was that they’re like “a puffy oatmeal cookie.” The authors did, fairly accurately as it turns out, predict that this confection would become more common in the U.S., although perhaps it hasn’t reached the height of “household word.” Stroll down the baking/spices aisle in most grocery chain stores, however, and you’re likely to find a boxed mix for scones, with a picture on the front (so folks nowadays might know at least what they look like). However, I doubt they’ll overcome muffins in popularity with breakfast or coffee klatch crowds, at least not any time soon.

Online at Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of this luscious cross between a muffin and quick bread (my definition) calls it, “a rich quick bread cut into usually triangular shapes and cooked on a griddle or baked on a sheet.” I guess that about covers it. I like that Simply Scones goes beyond Webster’s to tell readers that the word “scone” might come from one or some of many sources:

  • From the Dutch, schoonbrood: fine, white bread
  • From the Middle Dutch, schoon: bright, and broot: bread
  • From the Gaelic, sgonn: a shapeless mass or large mouthful
  • From the Middle Low German, schonbrot: fine bread
  • Or, the word may be based on the Scottish town of Scone.

I particularly like the “shapeless mass or large mouthful…” because it’s pretty shapeless when you’re handling that big blob of dough, before being molded into a circle.

Webster’s provides a link to the online Encyclopedia Britanica entry re scones, which informs that scones were, “[a] quick bread of British origin… made with leavened barley flour or oatmeal… rolled into a round shape and cut into quarters before baking on a griddle. The first scones were baked in cast iron pans hung in the kitchen fires of rural England and Wales. With the advent of Eastern trade, scones became an integral part of the fashionable ritual of “taking tea,” with which they are still served daily, hot and buttered, throughout Britain and many regions of its former empire.”

At the beginning of Simply Scones‘ recipe, the writers suggest topping the finished product with Citrus Curd or Citrus Butter (both recipes published in the book), but – hey – it was early in the morning and I wasn’t about to go for concocting one of them too! Instead, as the yummies approached their last five minutes in the oven, I asked Bill (who was awake by this time) which he preferred: apricot fruit spread or orange marmalade (we had both in the cabinet, as yet unopened). He opted for the marmalade, which turned out to be perfect (I enjoyed it too).

Here’s how I concocted my version of Date-Nut Scones, inspired by Weiner and Albright:

  • I replaced the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat.
  • Simply Scones lists ⅓ cup milk as an ingredient. I assumed they meant to use whole milk, which I don’t keep in our fridge, so I did a combo of 1% and Light Cream (which I did have), plus added a bit more cream because I was using vanilla powder rather than vanilla extract and didn’t want the scones to be overly dry for lack of that tiny bit of moisture.
  • I added a teaspoon of Roasted Saigon Cinnamon. Why not? I love it. It’s good for ya!
  • I assume the authors meant for bakers to use dried lemon peel,  but I zested a real lemon instead (reserving slices for later use in ice water, which is what I generally drink with meals since giving up Diet Decaf Coke).
  • I only had half of an 8-ounce bag of chopped pitted dates left (not the 8 oz. suggested) and that seemed plenty to me.
  • As for the walnuts, I used what I already had chopped from a previous recipe, which was a “scant” ½ cup rather than exactly that amount. Plenty.
  • I misread the recipe and sifted the flour mixture together, whereas the book said to stir the stuff. Oh well. I liked the result anyway, very much!
  • I would say that the egg/water wash, which was noted as “optional” in their recipe, would be pretty much required for me!

A witchy word (or two, or more) about cinnamon. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003) lists its “energies” as “love, psychic awareness, money.” These are not reasons why I use so much of this spice in my cooking, baking and even a few hot beverages; I just happen to love it. But I could always use lots of any or all of those three things (actually, I seem to have plenty of love but wouldn’t mind a bit more of the $$$!). Cunningham also notes that, “Most cinnamon sold in the United States, no matter how it’s labeled, is actually cassia. Cassia is a dark spice, usually reddish brown, while true cinnamon is actually tan-colored.” He assures his readers, however, that “there’s virtually no difference between the taste and magical effects of cinnamon and cassia.”

If none of the above “magical” revelations draws you toward adding more of the stuff into your diet, how about this: yesterday I caught the end of Dr. Oz’s show and heard him say (before hubby continued on with his channel-surfing) something about cinnamon and that it only takes a teaspoon a day to make a difference. I’ve since found a pertinent Oz quote online (note that he is not directing anyone to Cinnabon for their daily dose…):

Here’s a tantalizing observation: Cinnamon (with an ‘m’ not a ‘b’) seems to have an insulin-like effect that helps enhance the satiety center in your brain (and also reduces blood sugar levels as well as cholesterol levels). Just a ½ teaspoon a day can have some effect. Sprinkle it in cereal or toast, or add it to a smoothie.

In The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic (Citadel Press, 2005), Patricia Telesco talks about the symbolic meanings of several spices; for cinnamon, she lists “sacredness.” She also includes a recipe headed with the title Perfect Love “Cakes,” with the following explanation:

This Scottish quick bread called a scone very likely takes its name from the Stone of Destiny (or Scone), the place where the Scottish kings were once crowned. The original triangular scone was made with oats and griddle-baked. Since this recipe includes cheese (a love food) make your scones round like the magic circle and serve them as “cakes” after any ritual gathering.

The Love Cakes recipe itself sounds like something I’d like to try, its buttermilk and cheese an enticement. Plus, I once took a feminist thealogy course (no, it’s not a spelling error, “heal” is meant to be in the middle of that word!) called Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. Its name comes from the Book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible, wherein God says to Jeremiah, “Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the Streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough to make cakes to the Queen of Heaven and to pour out libations to other gods, in order to anger me!” (Jeremiah, 7:17-18)  The Queen of Heaven is the ancient goddess, the Feminine Divine, and the cakes were to honor her. [Come to think of it, I took Cakes twice, the first time in a co-ed class and Bill joined me at those sessions. The curriculum is designed for women but a number of guys at the Schenectady Unitarian Universalist church wanted to learn more about the topic too, so they set up a two-gender rendition. It was wonderful but years later, taking it with all women, an entirely different atmosphere reigned – one which I loved!]

Oh, and this is cool: To the left of the beginning of each set of directions within a recipe in The Kitchen Witch Companion, there’s a black cauldron symbol!

On to my scone recipe. Don’t be put off by what looks like a long process (lots of numbered steps) or lots of ingredients. I prefer, always, to split everything into separate steps, procedure-wise. I think it’s easier to keep track of where you are in the process (no matter how often you read the recipe beforehand!). In fact, the authors of Simply Scones managed to get their version onto one page plus six lines on the facing page – that’s how “simply” it can be presented!

DATE-NUT SCONES
Yield: 8 scones

Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt (unless you have fine-ground sea salt)
  • ½ teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (or regular Saigon Cinnamon, or regular Cinnamon)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled
  • ⅓ cup whole milk, or ¼ cup 1% milk with enough Light Cream added to bring measuring up to ⅓ cup total of “milk” (I did the latter, for reasons explained above), PLUS another tablespoon of Light Cream if you intend to use vanilla powder rather than vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder (can substitute vanilla extract, but see above re milk ingredient)
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) chopped pitted dates
  • scant ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with ½ teaspoon water, for glaze

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lightly butter a 10-inch diameter circle in the center of a baking sheet (a pizza pan works great).
  3. In a large bowl, sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Cut butter into ½-inch cubes and distribute them over flour mixture.
  5. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors-like (actually I use the pastry blender plus a butter knife), cut butter into the mix until the whole flour mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
  6. In a small bowl, stir milk, egg, vanilla and lemon zest, combining well.
  7. Add the milk mix to the flour mixture; stir to combine. Mixture will be a bit sticky so, for next step, you might want to “flour-up” your hands.
  8. Knead the dates and walnuts into the dough until they’re evenly distributed throughout.
  9. With still-floured hands, pat the dough into a 9-inch diameter circle in the center of your buttered baking sheet.
  10. Brush with the egg/water mixture.
  11. Cut into 8 wedges with a serrated knife (if you forget, don’t panic; I forgot to cut the triangles and did so when it first came out of the oven—no problem!).
  12. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (mine took 25) until lightly browned and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
  13. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Recut into wedges, if necessary. At this point, you can move scones from sheet to a rack to cool completely, or serve.
  14. Serve with butter and preserves/jam/marmalade or however you please.
  15. Can be stored, after completely cooled, in an airtight container.

Incidentally, I was sated with one of these scrumptious “heavenly cakes” – but Bill managed to ingest two of them. The dates and walnuts made for a slight crunchiness, truly fit for a god(dess).

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