Cheddar Nut Scones

I was grabbing breakfast on the run earlier this week and had been scanning the baked goods at a local coffee shop. The scones of the day were these giant orange wedges dotted with something green and dusted with red pepper flakes. I just finished wondering why on earth someone would ruin a perfectly good scone by covering it in pepper, when the man in front of me exclaimed, “Oh you’ve got those scones again! Fantastic, I’ll take two!”

Not only was I surprised at his enthusiasm, but you’ve got to understand that two scones together were quite literally the size of a football. I can’t tell you if the man ate them both himself, but he was whistling as he carried his bulging paper bag and coffee out the door …and then it was my turn to order. And there was one single scone left.

I’m sure you have figured out that my curiosity got the better of me and I bought the last – very strange – scone. Along with a half-caf soy latte, my prize and I braved the morning drizzle …and as soon as I had taken that first bite I knew that guy was on to something. The scone had all the magic of the traditional cheddar variety, but with whole pistachios adding a satisfying crunch and red pepper flakes providing a deep warmth. The pepper didn’t bother me at all and – surprise, surprise – turned out to be the key ingredient. If you’ve ever had Mexican hot chocolate then you’ll know what I’m talking about. That giant scone lasted all day and before I had even gotten through half of it, I knew I wanted to try to replicate it at home (in a slightly smaller form, haha).

Cheddar Nut Scones (inspired by Uncommon Grounds)

Ingredients:

* makes 8 – 10 small scones *

3   C   AP flour, plus extra for dusting

2   t   baking powder

pinch of salt, if desired*

1/3   C   unsalted butter at cool room temp (neither fridge-cold nor soft)

1   C   buttermilk (or 1 C milk + 1 T lemon juice, let sit 5 minutes)

1   egg

½   C   shelled whole pistachios

½   C   shredded cheddar cheese, minced fine

1   t   red pepper flakes, powdered**

extra cheese and pepper for topping as desired

* Note: Between the (usually salted) pistachios and the cheese, I didn’t bother to add any salt to my dough. Depending on your preference or the nuts you’re using, though, you might want to add a pinch.

** Note: In order to avoid pockets of spiciness, blend the flakes in a food processor or grind with a mortar & pestle to produce a fine powder. If you’re apprehensive about the heat, start with just a pinch and see how the scones come out. If you’re a fan of all things spicy, feel free to load ’em up!

Procedure:

1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt (if desired), and butter in a food processor until the blend resembles fine crumbs (or, alternatively, use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut in the butter). In a separate bowl, beat together the buttermilk and egg. In a third small bowl, combine cheese, nuts, and red pepper powder. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and gently mix until just combined. Add the fillings to the dough and work them in.

2) Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead only three or four times to make the dough nice and smooth (overworking the dough means dense scones). Pat or gently roll the dough out to a circle of about 1½” in thickness (I had to use a rectangle due to limited counter space, but do what you can). Using a pizza cutter or knife, divide the dough into equal-sized wedges and place wedges on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

3) Top scones with a sprinkling of cheese and extra red pepper flakes as desired and bake until golden – about 15 minutes. A toothpick test can check to ensure the centers have cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for a few minutes before serving warm with coffee or tea.

Beezer’s Notes:

My mini-replicas turned out very similar to the giant version from the coffee shop. Their scone was a bit more crumbly, so I’m suspecting I overworked my dough despite being careful, but the flavors were spot on and the delicious subtle heat was there without being overly spicy. I’m a big fan of pistachios so this recipe makes me happy as-is, but I can see it being equally tasty with sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Give it a try and tell me what you think! Perhaps this strange peppery madness is just a local thing, haha.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥

Hummingbird Cupcakes

I’m going to apologize right off the bat for the short post. After a few days of feeling blissfully healthy in the middle of last week, my cold returned with a vengeance and brought with it tinnitus, pressure, extreme sensitivity, and a heat sensation in my right ear. I’ve never had an ear infection before, but something tells me I should go to the University clinic tomorrow…

BUT you don’t want to hear about it and I don’t want to write about it. In fact, I want to take another ibuprofen, crawl back under my comforter, and watch the Oscars online. However, these cupcakes I made at Brad’s request were just so good I feel obligated to share the recipe on time – you just have to know about these! (those of you who’ve known about them for years, feel free to gloat).

I adjusted this recipe only slightly to better suit our tastes. I halved the sugar in the batter and subbed a bit of honey in for confectioner’s sugar in the frosting. The result was an almost savory cake (think banana nut bread with highlights of pineapple) and a just-sweet-enough cream cheese frosting. In fact, I reduce the sugar in the frosting twice: some of my “guinea pigs” reported back that the initial frosting, while yummy, was still a tad too sweet. Keeping in mind that honey is one of the sweetest sugars there is, I reduced the powdered sugar a bit further for the final round of cupcakes given to the birthday boy. He agrees that these are one of the best cupcakes I’ve ever made (rivaling even my Cookies ‘n Cream Vegan Cupcakes) and has already put in an order for next year, haha. 

Hummingbird Cupcakes (adapted slightly from Bake or Break)

*makes 35 normal or 18 jumbo cupcakes *

Ingredients:

For the Cupcakes…

3   C   AP flour

1   t   baking soda

1   t   salt

1   C   granulated sugar

1   t   cinnamon

3   large eggs, beaten

1   C   vegetable or canola oil

1½   t   vanilla extract

8   oz.  crushed pineapple w/ juice*

1   C   chopped pecans

2   C   chopped very ripe bananas

finely chopped pecans for garnish

* Note: If you can find an 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, just dump the whole thing in. If you’re like me and can only find larger sizes, just make sure to include some juice with the pineapple (I did roughly 2 parts pineapple chunks to 1 part juice).

For the Frosting…

8   oz.   cream cheese, softened

½   C   butter, softened

1   t   vanilla extract

1   T   honey

8   oz.   sifted confectioner’s sugar, plus more to taste

Procedure:

1) Preheat oven to 350°F and prep cupcake pans with paper liners (or grease and flour pans if not using liners).

2) In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the eggs and oil, stirring until the dry ingredients are moistened (it will be tough, the batter is very dry here, but just keep stirring until it’s as homogeneously moist as you can make it). Stir in vanilla, pineapple, pecans, and bananas – mushing the bananas as you go to thicken the batter. I left quite a lot of larger chunks in mine because I love lots of texture, but my batter also turned out baking somewhat unevenly. Either mash your fruit up well or be careful how you divvy up the batter.

3) Pour batter into prepared pans, filling cups nearly to the rim (these don’t rise much). Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cupcakes to cool in pans for at least 5 minutes before removing them to cool completely.

4) As cupcakes are cooling (you want them completely cool before frosting), prepare the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and butter until creamy before adding the honey and vanilla. Add sugar gradually until frosting is light and fluffy. Give the frosting a taste-test (you know you want to) and add more sugar if desired.

5) Once cupcakes have fully cooled, frost them (I’m still using a ziplock freezer-bag, myself) and top with finely chopped nuts. Serve immediately or store in fridge if they have to sit a while or else the cream cheese frosting will turn gooey.

Beezer’s Notes:

When I first bit into one of these hummingbird cupcakes I immediately thought, “Oh man, my mother would LOVE these!” followed quickly by “…and my grandmother…” then “…and my Dad…” and I continued to list off nearly everyone I knew. That’s the magic in these cupcakes: their unique flavor combination of fruity/nutty/sweet-yet-savory can please almost any pallet. While all of the ingredients are key, I’m starting to believe the pineapple provides that secret something that takes the flavor over the top. I kept hearing, “Wow, it’s just like banana bread…but better!” and that’s also given me the idea to make this recipe into mini-loaves next time. Brad ate a cupcake without the frosting and declared it just as good, so there you are. As far as cupcakes go, these cuties are on the healthier side already (what with the fruit base, nuts, and reduced sugar) but bake them up as loaves and serve without frosting if you’re looking to cut back just a bit more.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Chocolate Cloud Cookies

Well the workload has definitely begun to swamp me again. I sat in front of my office computer for no fewer than 19 hours this weekend and am beginning this week feeling both exhausted and stir crazy. It’s an unpleasant combination that I’m sure any student or cubical rat is familiar with. I’m determined to get to the gym this evening, even if it means falling a bit more behind. I’m also trying to convince my man to make one of these for me, haha, but I’m not holding my breath.

The silver lining to this weekend was that I was able to get in some show tune sing-a-longs. See I love musicals, theater, and Disney songs of all sorts. The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack makes a regular rotation on my iPhone, along with the soundtracks from Chicago, Once Upon a Mattress, Hello Dolly, and – of course – Wicked. Being in a large office space alone at 1 in the morning means you can belt out Defying Gravity to your silly heart’s content – which I did… many times. Who says Science and The Arts can’t go together? 😉

Speaking of going well together, I recently discovered that chocolate and meringue compliment each other more so than I would have thought. Brad and I were both craving chocolate cookies the other day, but I had run out of both chocolate chips and butter. Searching for a cocoa-based dairy-free cookie recipe I was lucky enough to discover these. Now, I have to warn you that my cookies, while very good, didn’t turn out the way Heidi described: where she got gooey chocolate puddles I got crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, satisfyingly thick mounds. She does warn that baking time can be finicky and that leaving the dough out to dry can influence results. I’m guessing that the combination of those plus my mini-oven were the cause of “chocolate puddles” turning into – what I’ve decided to call – “chocolate clouds”. I’m not disappointed. My cookies married the best of chocolate and meringue-lovers’ worlds. Still, I’d be curious to see how this recipe replicates for others. Let me know if you try them please!

Chocolate Cloud Cookies (minimally adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients:

3   C   whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

4   C   confectioner’s sugar

½  C plus 3 T   unsweetened cocoa powder

pinch of salt

4   large egg whites, room temp (preferably free-range)

1   T   pure vanilla extract

Procedure:

1) Preheat the oven to 300°F and line at least 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. The source recipe warns of these babies spreading out like puddles, but mine never did. Still, just in case, you might want to give them extra elbow-room.

2) Sift together sugar, cocoa, and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the almonds, then add egg whites and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until well combined.

3) Spoon mounds of about 2 Tablespoons of dough each onto prepared baking sheets leaving some extra space between the cookies just in case. Bake until cookies puff up, and the outsides have become glossy and have cracked – 15 to 20 minutes. Once baked fully, slide the parchment paper with cookies still attached carefully onto wire cooling racks. Trying to remove the cookies from the parchment before they have fully cooled will cause the bottoms to rip off and you’ll be left with a shell of a cookie.

4) Serve cookies with a tall glass of milk and a Valentine’s Day card to your loved ones!

Beezer’s Notes:

These cookies blend the light chewiness of meringue with satisfying rich cocoa flavor and crunchy nuts. They are even better dunked in milk and – dangerously – can be eaten by the pile. Another bonus is their incredibly short ingredients list. Plus, if you choose to sub in dried fruit or chocolate chips for the nuts you can have a gluten-free*, dairy-free, and nut-free cookie! I’m actually thinking of trying these with dried cranberries and walnuts for tomorrow – giving these babies little speckles of red for Valentine’s Day.

*If you’re going for the gluten-free variety, make sure to buy pure cocoa powder. Cocoa powder itself is gluten-free, but many brands include additives that contain gluten.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥

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