By Lauren Chatttman
Breakfast Treats with Spice I never did find time to make a gingerbread house this month, but that doesn’t mean I skipped the pleasure of filling my kitchen with the spicy aroma of gingerbread. As soon as some truly frigid weather hit Sag Harbor a few days ago, I raided the spice cabinet in order to make some seasonal scones that I hoped would warm my family and wake them up as we scrambled to complete our work before the holiday.
For classic gingerbread flavor, I used a blend of ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. To sweeten my scones, I used a combination of brown sugar and molasses. Light molasses is too mild to lend character to baked goods (it’s great, however, drizzled on waffles or ice cream). Blackstrap molasses, although an excellent source of nutrients (I’ve read that one spoonful has as much iron as 9 eggs, and more calcium than a glass of milk!), is too bitter for baking. So I chose dark molasses for its deep flavor.
I wanted my scones to have some chewy texture and whole grain goodness, so I added a healthy amount of rolled oats to the dough. To moisten the dough, I used buttermilk, which lent my scones a tangy note. Finally, I stirred in some finely chopped crystallized ginger for extra zip. I get my ginger from the bulk bin at Provisions, where it is always plump and moist.
Shaping and baking scones is not difficult, but for best results the dough should be handled with care. Just as when making biscuits, butter should be cut into small pieces and well-chilled before it is worked into the dry ingredients. A good rise depends on air pockets created when the water trapped in cold, solid bits of butter evaporates as the scones bake. If the butter is already halfway melted and the liquid has already begun to escape from the fat, your scones won’t rise well. Stir in the buttermilk just to moisten the dough. Over-mixing will develop the gluten in the flour, which will up your scones. For the same reason, gently shape the dough. It’s better to have somewhat misshapen and tender scones than perfect but unyielding triangles. Baking the scones at a high temperature encourages a quick rise before the dough begins to solidify. But high-temperature baking comes with some risk: Just a minute too long in the oven and your scones will become scorched on the bottom and may dry out inside. So remove them from the oven just as soon as they are well-risen and nicely colored on the undersides (use a metal spatula to take a peek).
I serve these scones warm from the oven with cranberry compound butter that I make by mashing together 3 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter with 1 tablespoon of cranberry preserves and ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest.
Makes 12 scones
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons dark (not blackstrap) molasses
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon Pinch nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sanding sugar (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the butter into ¼-inch dice, place it in a small bowl, and set it in the freezer while you gather your remaining ingredients.
2. Whisk together the buttermilk and molasses in a glass measuring cup.
3. Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in a large bowl. Add the chilled butter and, with an electric mixer, mix on low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the oats. Stir in the milk mixture on low speed until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Do not overmix!
4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Shape each half into a 6-inch disk. With a sharp chef’s knife, cut each disk into 6 wedges. Place the wedges ½-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the scones with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar if desired. Bake the scones until they are firm and beginning to color on the bottom, 12 to 13 minutes. Let them cool for 5 minutes and serve them warm.