Week Twenty-Eight: Breads With Nuts
The last bread for this week is a quick bread, true; and I did say that I was trying to avoid those. But this recipe is so good, I couldn’t pass it up. The title won me over, in one of those instances when you just know those ingredients can’t go wrong. The original actually called for walnuts, but the idea of using pistachio instead seemed a bit more interesting, and somehow a bit more apropos. And if you’ll pardon a little bragging, I was so right. These scones are sophisticated and refined, and have such a fabulous combination of flavors! They’re going in the permanent file for sure!
These scones end up rather biscuity in texture, but it’s not inappropriate to call these particular items ”scones”. There’s an awful lot of pieces of things in the dough (i.e. the pistachios and raisins), which pushes it over into “scone” territory, if you ask me. I don’t know why I feel this way, and it may be purely a personal judgement, but I say biscuits don’t usually contain things. Maybe herbs or cheese, but never chunks of things. Scones, however, often do – currants, for one example - so no matter the texture, I say if it has bits in it, it’s a scone. Besides, it’s rather splitting hairs to say that there’s any major difference between scone and biscuit textures.
But whatever you choose to call them, there’s no denying that these end up flaky, tender, and fragrant with fennel. The green taste of pistachio with the anise flavor of fennel are a delightful half-sweet, half-savory foil for the cheery golden raisins, themselves plump little pockets of sweetness in each bite.
One lovely surprise of these scones is how savory they end up, despite a fair amount of sugar in the dough, and the use of raisins and fennel, both decidedly sweet items. They taste just savory enough to be able to pair with dinner (something along the lines of roast chicken or pork), but they’re still scone enough to look comfortable on the table at brunch.
Of course, a scone is best when it’s soft and tender, and the tenderness of a scone (or biscuit) is all in the handling. Overdo it when working the butter into the flour, and there’s nothing in the world that will keep your scones from ending up tough. But don’t be scared! Once you get the hang of it, it’s quite easy. Oh, and having a trick up your sleeve doesn’t hurt either.
I never made tender biscuits, scones, pie crust, or anything similar until I started using this method: cut the butter into as small pieces as you can. Tiny. Miniscule, if you can manage it. Put it on a plate and freeze the whole thing while you prepare the other ingredients. By the time you’re ready to cut the butter in, it’s the perfect consistency: slightly pliable, but it isn’t going to melt in your hands. Pinch the larger pieces into the appropriate size with only your fingertips, working as quickly as possible. Don’t let your hands melt the butter. If you have a pastry blender, that works quite well too; personally, I prefer to feel what’s going on in the flour, but that’s just me.
There was a chef-instructor, when I was in culinary school, who swore by simply grating a stick of frozen butter into the flour, then just tossing to combine. Me, I could never quite get the hang of grating frozen butter without melting it. If you can, though, it’s an otherwise-flawless method. To each his own.
One last note: don’t be worried about the amount of fennel seed in this recipe. It looked like a little much, and I thought it might overwhelm all the other flavors, but it mainly lent a sweet licorice scent to the scones, rather than a horribly obtrusive taste. If you really, really don’t like licorice or anise, you may find it a bit much; but it was just right, to my palate. It mellows a bit in cooking, and the seeds soften to the point that they were no harder to bite into than the bits of pistachio. I thought they were simply fabulous – and so did everyone else at the table, based on how quickly they disappeared!
Pistachio, Fennel, and Golden Raisin Scones
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine
Makes 10 to 12 scones
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large egg
1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, and working quickly, pinch and blend the mixture until coarse meal forms. Lumps of butter are okay, but should be not much larger than a pea.
3. Whisk egg and buttermilk together, and add to the flour mixture. Gently stir until a rough dough forms. Add the raisins, walnuts, and fennel seeds, and gently incorporate. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead very gently just until smooth, about 4 turns.
4. Divide the dough in half. With floured hands, pat each half into a round, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut each round into 5 or 6 wedges. Transfer each wedge to the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 400° F until lightly browned, about 15 to 17 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
1. Make sure your butter is very cold, and be sure not to overwork it when cutting into the flour. It won’t hurt a thing to have slightly large pieces of butter (it makes for a flakier result, in fact), but it will end up tough if you fuss over it too long. Just move quickly, and don’t overthink it!