Thursday, September 25, 2014

It's a Pumpkin Scone Showdown

As with pretty much everyone in the northeast, pumpkin fever has taken hold of me. I've not yet had a pumpkin spice latte, mainly because I finally broke down and looked at the calories and sugar and it is basically equal to five years of my life. Sigh. But eventually.

For now, I've settled on an excuse to bake a lot of scones. I ELSE would I decide between two pumpkin spice scone recipes? Muah ha ha!

I first went to my girl Joy the Baker and her recipe. I omitted the pecans, but followed everything else. The dough stayed pretty wet, as it had a considerable amount of pumpkin puree in it, in addition to browned butter. It was so wet, in fact, that the directions said to scoop out the scones with an ice cream scoop (the finished product for this recipe is up there on the left).

It starts in the usual way. This recipe actually had no egg--all the moisture came from pumpkin puree and butter, plus a splash of buttermilk.

Here's the buttermilk, pumpkin, and some vanilla. Looks like a crazy flan, right?
 Even after adding the dry ingredients the dough stayed loose. Normally, this is where I'd panic. But if Joy tells you to scoop the dough with an ice cream scoop, then you do it. Thankfully they held their shape when plopped onto the baking sheets. Since this was a scoopable dough, my hands stayed nice and clean: no kneading!

Of course I stood by my usual ritual of sitting on the floor in front of the oven while they baked to make sure nothing went horribly awry. As the kitchen started to smell incredible, I settled in and felt confident they'd be good. While the scones were cooling off I made the glaze, which was mainly browned butter and confectioner's sugar. It whisked up nice and thick, not quite like Royal icing, but not too far from that consistency.

It was torture not to just inhale them on the spot!
With recipe one completed, it was time to turn to the second recipe. I happened upon this one thanks to simply Googling around for "pumpkin spice scone recipe." After reading through a few, I landed on this one, which claims to replicate the pumpkin scones at Starbucks (well, before La Boulange took over as the bakery suppliers for the coffee chain).

From the get-go, I had a hunch this recipe might eek out over Joy's. I've learned from making a few scones from Joy's website that she prefers cakeier and fluffier scones, whereas I prefer the variety that are drier and almost biscuity. This dough had a smaller wet team (still using pumpkin, butter, and buttermilk, but in smaller proportions). This was going places.

Kneading the dough in flour helped absorb any lingering moisture so it could be rolled out and cut.
I got a pretty intense case of club hand, so John had to come to my rescue to add a bit more flour to knead the dough. I could have pressed it out and used a round cutter like I typically do, but since the recipe said to cut it into triangles, I figured I'd give that a whirl.

I was a little worried at this point--the instructions said to roll it to an inch depth in about a 10X17 rectangle. But there was no way that amount of dough would stretch to that size and stay that thick. So I said, "Well, time to improvise." So I rolled it out to a rectangle big enough to let me cut out 8 triangles. They were pretty thin, so I was just hoping they'd rise up nicely in the oven!

Thank goodness they did! These guys got a double shot of glaze, too.

And now...which scone reigned supreme? After testing amongst myself and John as well as a handful of my coworkers...

Triangle scone won! It got points for texture, glaze, and flavor. Though supporters of Joy's liked the soft texture, lack of crumbs, and better spices. John prefers the rounds, I prefer the triangles. A house divided. But everyone still wins. Yum yum.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


I have made Joy the Baker's best brown butter chocolate chip cookies. Much like Ree's knock you naked brownies, the recipe title does not lie. Honestly, all other chocolate chip cookies are ruined for me. I've now made this recipe twice, and the second time wasn't as good as the first, but I know exactly why, so the next time I make them I should be right back on course. Let me be clear--the second batch was still good. Just not swoon/call-911 good. The first batch...? I needed to be resuscitated.

I made a few tweaks to the recipe, partially due to what was in my baking cabinet, partially due to what was available at the grocery store, and lastly due to personal preference.

Here are the willing volunteers for greatness. The recipe calls for light brown sugar, but I only had dark brown sugar and was too lazy to buy another variety, so I just rolled with it (tweak 1). The dough starts with a twist on the usual--one stick of butter will be beaten with sugars (brown and white), but the other. The other is browned on the stovetop, and left to cool its delicious nutty jets before being added to the batter as well.

Pardon the blue bowl, but here's the brown butter--you can see the caramelized bits doing their thing.

Once the butter and sugars are creamed, some flour is dumped into the mix, finished by folding with a spatula to avoid over-working and to incorporate all the chocolate once it's added. This recipe uses more salt than a typical cookie recipe because the point is to taste the salt, not just have it enhance the other flavors. Even without the salt sprinkled on top (tweak 3), the cookies left an extraordinarily pleasing salty taste after the sweetness of each bite quiets down.

The other tweak (2) I made was using semi-sweet chocolate chunks instead of the called-for bittersweet. I was worried that it would be too sweet, but actually, the balance was pretty nice. I'd definitely try this with bittersweet, but our grocery store is heavy on semisweet varieties. I'd like to try adding some coffee to see what depth that adds, but for now I'm happy with keeping it simple. Maybe as prime holiday baking season comes, I'll experiment a little. I'll keep you posted.

A key to these is also to let the dough chill in the freezer for 30 minutes. Much like a shortbread recipe, the dough needs time to let the flavors marinate and for the butter to relax into the floury bits. It also makes it easier to scoop the dough into nice little portions. I just used my regular old ice cream scoop, which is about 2Tbsp, and allowed for about 36 cookies--perfectly in line with JtB's estimation.

I found what worked best for scooping was to flatten the dough into a disk (like shortbread) and let is chill. Then, just at the end I rolled it into a brick sort of thing. haha I felt scientific at the time.

When I made the cookies the second time, I didn't let the dough chill quite long enough (I tried rolling the dough into a log first, but it didn't chill enough because it didn't have the benefit of surface area). What I learned from not-cold-enough dough is that it will result in a flatter cookie that is crispy throughout. When the dough gets nice and cold and is then baked, you get lovely cookies that are crisp around the edges, and then chewy gooey centers, thanks to the bit of rise they get. Perfection. Absolute and irrefutable perfection.