Articles for the Month of August 2013

Recipe: Peanut Butter and Jelly Scones

I love peanut butter. Like LOVE IT. So much so that I could probably live off it. In fact if you saw my pantry, you’d probably think that I do. There’s crunchy peanut butter, creamy peanut butter, white chocolate peanut butter, cinnamon raisin peanut butter, almond butter (yes I know that doesn’t technically count but it’s still fantastic and obsessive), dark chocolate peanut butter, honey peanut butter, banana nut peanut butter, powdered peanut butter, and there may or may not be even more jars of the same varieties because I’m so afraid to run out of peanut butter that I buy extra jars unnecessarily.

And by may or may not, I totally mean there is. What? I eat it with practically everything! It’s delicious!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Scones

Peanut Butter and Jelly Scones

So it was a no-brainer that peanut butter scones, and possibly a whole host of peanut butter based scones, would eventually show up on this site. Hey, if I can make scones out of mascarpone cheese, why not peanut butter? Okay those have nothing to compare each other to and I just wanted to justify my peanut butter obsession.

What Is Pu-erh?

a pu-erh brick

a pu-erh brick

Tea aficionados have been talking about pu-erh more and more lately. It goes by many names, much like a rose, such as the diet tea or the anti-aging tea. Great, right? Drink a certain kind of tea and you’ll not only stay thin but you’ll stay young forever. Could this tea be the elixir of the fountain of youth?! Let’s examine, shall we?

 

Processing Pu-Erh

Pu-erh is grown in the Yunnan province of China. The tea leaves are piled, dampened, and turned to ensure even fermentation (a lovely and appetizing article compared this process to composting). After about six months to a year, the tea is considered ripened and then dried, weighed, and steamed to prepare it for pressing.

The pressing and aging are the two signature processing elements in pu-erh. The tea is pressed into a brick and aged much like whiskey or Scotch. After years of aging, it is finally ready to enter the market and your teacup.

 

Preparing Pu-Erh for Drinking

It is possible to buy pu-erh in a loose leaf form (most tearooms that offer pu-erh have loose leaf pu-erh for ease of brewing), but if yours is still in its brick, simply flake off or cut off pieces of the cake in a vertical direction. Technically pu-erh should be brewed at 95°F for 30 seconds for a first brewing and reaching up to 10 minutes for a subsequent brewing, but I’ve brewed mine at 205° for two minutes and it has been perfect.

I treat it much like a black tea. The pu-erh I’ve been drinking is flavored with caramel and vanilla and is strong but decadent with a splash of milk and sugar.

 

Health Benefits

There hasn’t been any studies done in humans yet, but scientific studies with animals have shown a decrease in body weight following consistent pu-erh consumption. Liver health improved and cholesterol lowered. Overall body fat composition lowered as well, which is why pu-erh is called the slimming tea. The Chinese believe that pu-erh can also help cure a hangover by invigorating the spleen. I think we all need invigorated spleens so we should all drink pu-erh.

Recipe: Spiced Peach Scones

Well, my friends, today is the last peach recipe in my short series of peach scones. Are you sad too? I wish sometimes that all fruit was available ripe and perfect year round so that if I had a hankering for–let’s say–peaches in winter because my Spiced Peach scones would be the perfect holiday baked good, I could find peaches to make them as tasty in December as they would be in the height of peach season.

The agricultural world is so not fair.

Spiced Peach Scones

Spiced Peach Scones

Then again, if we had the full spectrum of fruit available year round, maybe we wouldn’t appreciate the excitement and delight of each fruit coming into season. Would I cherish each carton of fresh strawberries if they were always as delicious as they are in the blush of spring? Maybe not. Maybe seasonal produce is nature’s way of giving us something to look forward too (though it definitely stinks that all my favorite fruits are spring and early summer fruits).

This recipe was a challenge for me because I had nothing to base it on. Even some recipes that I create are based in part on recipes in books, like the peach basil ones of last week were adapted from a strawberry lavender scone I found somewhere else. But none of the recipes I have bookmarked or saved used compote as its primary source of liquid. I really was flying blind here.

Spiced Peach Scones

Spiced Peach Scones

I wanted to try cooking the fruit before incorporating it into the scone, so I decided to make a heated mixture of those fresh peaches we’ve been working with and some spices. The only problem is that I had no idea how to do it! I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as putting peaches in a saute pan and just letting them heat up. Yet I still had never made a compote before so was clueless as to how much sugar to add to the peaches, when to boil versus simmer, and how long it would take.

After some research and a little bit of math (real world application!) I attempted to make a spiced peach compote. It was so easy, I wondered why I haven’t been making fruit compotes my whole life. I feel like a whole new world of oatmeal toppings and desserts was just shown to me. Seriously, compotes are now a revelation for me: a thick, spiced syrup of gooey ripe peaches and melted sugar…are you drooling yet? You better be peeling those peaches at least!

Spiced Peach Scones

Spiced Peach Scones

Probably because the main liquid here is a thick syrup, these scones are very dense unlike the majority of scones I make. The first time I made these I also overworked the dough, and I think it was because I didn’t add enough other liquid to incorporate the ingredients without kneading too much. Lesson to all scone makers: it is more important to lightly handle the dough than using less flour on your workspace or having less cleanup. Add more liquid to the dough so you have to knead it less. You won’t regret it.

The peaches are wonderfully soft and sweet with the spices mulling about them. Your kitchen will smell incredible, making these not only one of the best tasting scones you’ll ever make, but also one of the best air fresheners you ever used. More incentive to make multiple batches!

Spiced Peach Scones

Spiced Peach Scones

Spiced Peach Scones

Ingredients for Compote

  • 10 ounces chopped peeled peaches
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Ingredients for Scones

  • 200 g all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 50 g ultrafine sugar
  • Compote
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Making the Compote
Put peaches in a small saucepan. Add sugar, stirring to coat completely. Turn stove to medium heat.
As the sugar dissolves, the peaches will release a lot of liquid. Bring this liquid to a boil. Add nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. Stir well. Once mixture is boiling, leave over heat for 4 minutes to reduce liquid, stirring frequently.
Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour into a glass bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Bask in its incredible smell. Resist urge to grab a spoon and dig into the compote. Do not pour over vanilla ice cream. Do not spoon over oatmeal. Do not do anything with it but let it cool.
Making the Scones
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Make sure everything is well mixed.
Add the COOLED compote (I didn’t let mine cool enough and my hands were definitely heating up when incorporating it to the dry ingredients). Once fully incorporated, add whipping cream one tablespoon at a time until dough has formed and is very moist. DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH. The compote already adds a heavier element to the dough so it will be denser than most scones, but overworking it will result is very tough scones. And that would be no bueno.
Turn out onto a floured surface and pat down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out (5 cm) rounds and place on baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes or until they are puffy and beginning to turn golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.
Spiced Peach Scones

Spiced Peach Scones

Yes these are good with clotted cream :)

And the Water Was Hot, Hot, Hot

The process of brewing tea seems so simple: boil water, pour over tea, steep, pour out and enjoy. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is so much more than that! There is practically an art form to brewing the perfect cup of tea, and everyone has his or her own methods. We’ve been over some of them like teabags or loose leaf, steep and strain or steep and remove, milk first or last, milk at all…so let’s go one step further and talk about water.

Tea kettle with boiling water; steam against a black background.

You can’t have tea without water. Try it; I dare you (okay before you fire back at me I am excluding milk teas from this dare). Water is essential to tea! Tea is basically flavored water after all. Delicious, soothing, varied, and even healthier water but water nonetheless.

However water can also ruin your tea. Yes, by steeping your chosen tea in a water bath of uncoordinatedly high temperatures, you can essentially burn the tea leaves and be left with a bitter cup of tea that you won’t discard because that would just be tragic but you certainly won’t enjoy to its fullest. It may even result in your not liking tea, which would be even more tragic than you pouring tea down the drain!

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So let’s quickly go over the proper water temperature and brewing time for each type of tea. Sounds good?

Black Tea: Because black tea is so robust and is the most oxidized of the teas, you can actually brew this one in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Try not to pass 5 minutes or you will be past the bitter point of return (I’m a little punny while writing this, my sincere apologies).

Oolong Tea: Brew between 185-205°F for about 5 minutes. Basically allow the water to boil and then cool for 30ish seconds before brewing.

Green Tea: As we move further down the oxidized ladder, the teas should be brewed at lower temperatures. Green tea is optimal at 150°F for only 2-3 minutes. Green tea becomes bitter very quickly so keep an eye on it!

White Tea: Oddly, this tea can be brewed a little warmer than green tea at 180°F for about 4-6 minutes. Why odd? White tea is a gentler tea than green tea so you’d expect to coddle it a bit more, but there needs to be an exception to every rule I suppose.

Rooibos: Note that I didn’t label it rooibos tea because technically it’s a tisane and we are all about technicality today! This South African tea can handle it’s stuff; feel free to brew it with boiling water for longer than 5 minutes. It probably won’t get bitter.

Herbals and Tisanes: The rest of the not-teas can be brewed at boiling water for 5 minutes as well, but as there are no hard and fast rules about tisanes, feel free to experiment to your taste.

 

Now you know, now there are no excuses, and now you are going to completely disregard these guidelines because who wants to use a thermometer when preparing a kettle?

Recipe: Peach Basil Scones

Unsurprisingly, the basil in my mom’s backyard is still growing like a weed. A ridiculously pleasant smelling, sweet tasting, very welcome weed, but a week nonetheless. She is almost desperate to find uses for it (okay not that desperate, caprese salads are a frequent occurrence at mealtimes) so I volunteered to add my mom’s basil to my dad’s peaches in my scones. See how scone making can become a family affair?

Peach Basil Scones

Peach Basil Scones

Peach and basil have an affinity for each other; in fact, basil is like vanilla in that it has an affinity with almost all fruit. I would say basil is like the social butterfly of herbs. It really is friends with everyone and is very inclusive. Our kindergarteners would do well to learn from basil.

The best way to check if you used enough basil in a recipe is the good old-fashioned smell test. Once the basil is all stirred in, sniff the flour (be careful not to snort up the flour as I’m sure that would be unpleasant and nasty) and use your judgment. Can you smell the basil, or do you have to struggle to get a whiff? If it isn’t a clear smell, add a little bit more. Don’t worry, it mellows as it is heated so it won’t overwhelm your little peaches.

Peach Basil Scones

Peach Basil Scones

In fact, the basil is almost an aftertaste. Think about how in wines, you describe the end of the taste as the “finish”…these scones have a basil finish. Unless of course you happen upon a large piece of basil in a single bite and then that bit is going to be basil forward. These also work well with clotted cream, like most scones with two or less flavors, but the heavy cream runs a risk of taking over the light and airy texture of the scone.

These puff up nice and high, and their flavor follows in its perkiness. Peach basil scones truly are the summery butterflies of scones!

Peach Basil Scones

Peach Basil Scones

Peach Basil Scones

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp ultra fine sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped fresh peaches
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, or to scent
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 450°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

 In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Add the peaches and the basil (you may need to add more basil depending on how strong your leaves are). Toss to combine.
Add whipping cream and begin to knead together until dough forms. If mixture is too dry, add one tablespoon of cream at a time. Turn out onto a floured work surface.
Roll or pat out dough to desired thickness (1 cm) and then cut out scones with a scone cutter (5 cm). Place on baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until scones have puffed up and the edges are golden brown. Turn out immediately onto a wire rack to cool.

 

Peach Basil Scones

Peach Basil Scones

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern

IMG_1266One of the best parts of afternoon tea is its link with tradition. You get to indulge in a practice that has been around for hundreds of years, connecting with the past through a simple teacup. And though afternoon tea is mostly considered a British tradition, it has also been an institution in America since the colonial era.

IMG_1265This is where Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg comes into play. Marking the edge of Virginia’s historic colonial town, Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern allows you to step directly into an afternoon tea party held during the Revolution. So get ready to enjoy a splash of history with your tea!

 

First Impressions and Service

When Colonial Williamsburg claims authentic, they mean authentic. Every employee is dressed in period outfits, and the tavern is no exception. The only daily seating isn’t until 2:00 pm, but while you wait outside on the wraparound porch, Mrs. Christiana Campbell and her friends will come out to keep you company while her slaves and servants ready your dining room. Don’t expect to talk about iPhones or what happened latest on your favorite television show; I was roped into a lecture about why I wasn’t carrying a fan and how carrying a fan was of paramount importance if I ever wished to find a husband.

One of the house staff

One of the house staff

Once inside, you are served by Mrs. Campbell’s small household staff in three courses. Service is pretty limited to taking your tea order and delivering the food, but you are more part of a presentation than a customer. Throughout the meal, Mrs. Campbell and her friends wander through the dining room telling stories of the current events and daily lives of the colonists. One person sings songs about the Boston Tea Party, and you really wish she wouldn’t. Mrs. Campbell instructs you on the proper etiquette of tea including how to properly hold your teacup. I tried her way, and although it is wrong I’ll stick to mine!

 

Décor

Restored to look as exactly like it did in the 18th century as possible, the dining room is all wood paneling and plain paint. Thank goodness the tavern didn’t use the eyesore bright colors you’ll find in the wealthy homes in Williamsburg. Considering you are partaking in a meal, those bright colors might have upset your stomach.  The tea set and other table settings are all accurate recreations of what would’ve been on your table in Revolutionary America.

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Tea Selection

The teas are all done in bags, and here is where I’m not sure how authentic the selection is. You get two tea bags (so you can do both the same kind of tea or two different types) at the start of the meal and they bring hot water out again halfway through. Mom chose the Earl Grey as always, but since I had a cold I went with a mango green tea. I really enjoyed mine, but I wish they had brought out more hot water when I asked because I was drinking my tea like there was no tomorrow. You’ll have a few options of black teas, a few green teas, and a few tisanes and herbal teas.

 

Food

The server reviews with the room as a whole what is served in each of the three courses. Unless there is an allergy the menu is pretty set. Instead of a tiered stand, each course is brought out one at a time and once the room has finished eating, it is cleared away and the next course is brought out. This takes pacing almost completely out of your hands, making you feel a bit rushed if you aren’t quite ready for the next course (I eat slow at tea time). But as it is more of a meal and a show, pacing is kind of determined based on the performance and less of your own stomach.

Sandwiches

Since only one of the offerings is really a sandwich, it’s almost incorrect to label the savory course as sandwiches, but I am always one for consistency. Only one of the four pieces is a vegetarian option, but since no one in our sitting was a vegetarian I have no idea what they do to accommodate vegetarianism.

Asparagus Tart

Asparagus Tart

There was an asparagus tart with some sort of mayonnaise or mustardy cream and a few pieces of yellow carrot. Not the most appetizing option, the creamy filling overpowered any vegetable taste and the crust was a simple butter and flour pastry.

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Next was smoked ham salad on a puff pastry. Between the smokiness of the ham and the relish and pickles, this one really reminded me of BBQ. Did they have BBQ in the colonial era?

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

It almost seems a requirement that there be a chicken salad on a croissant. I have the usual complaints (mayo) but the croissant was nice and buttery and the chicken was in chunks not pureed which is always a plus.

Salmon on Cucumber

Salmon on Cucumber

The salmon was less of a sandwich and more of a piece of salmon rolled on top of a cucumber slice with some dill. When salmon is involved, bread is superfluous anyway right?

Scones

The scone course had more than just a little scone on it; there was also a berry muffin and a cranberry tea cake. A dollop of TRUE clotted cream (you go Mrs. Campbell!) and red fruit jam rounded off the plate. The scone was small but had a perfect scone texture. The flavor was a but reminiscent of a buttermilk pancake, so I think they made the scones with buttermilk, but buttermilk pancakes are preferable to sugar cookies any day.

Scone Course

Scone Course

In the usual contradiction: Mom liked the muffin while I liked the tea cake. The muffin tastes like a cupcake with some fruit mixed in the batter and a sugary streusel topping. It is very moist but definitely sweet as a cupcake. I love how there were actual chunks of the fruit and not just fruit jam stirred in. The tea cake is your requisite pound cake; it was also moist and fresh. Not as sweet as the muffin, the cake had pieces of dried cranberry in it.

Desserts

Lavender Shortbread

Lavender Shortbread, Cake, Truffle

It would seem like you just had a dessert course, but apparently cupcake-muffins and pound cake didn’t qualify as dessert back in the days. Instead you get a lavender shortbread cookie with a delicious dipping of white chocolate, another cake topped with almonds and glaze and with a hint of marzipan flavor, and an absolutely decadent chocolate truffle that you will try not to eat the whole thing but won’t be able to stop yourself. None of the portions are unreasonable, so you can totally clean your plates and still be hungry for dinner by 8.

 

Extras

As I said, this is basically tea and a show, so be prepared for a history lesson along with your cup. But that is kind of the entirety of Colonial Williamsburg, and that is definitely part of its charm.  You’ll kind of wish that you were in colonial attire too, so luckily if you’ve bought tickets for entry in the main street of Williamsburg, you can rent some costumes for the little ones at least.

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Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern is a must experience for anyone in Virginia, but particularly if you are at Colonial Williamsburg. You won’t find another afternoon tea like this one!

 

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern 101 South Waller St., Williamsburg, VA, 23185. (757) 229-2141. Reservations required. Cost per person $23.95 tax and gratuity included.

 

Recipe: Peach and Butterscotch Scones

What happens when you get a bumper crop of peaches at your parents’ house? Why you make a bunch of scones with them! Wasn’t that an obvious answer?

My dad went through a phase where he put a bunch of fruit trees in our backyard. So now every summer we end up with two weeks of picking over a hundred peaches and they usually go bad before they can all be consumed. And they are teeny little things too. But teeny usually corresponds with cute, and cute things are great things.

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Many of my scone recipes start with a single convenient ingredient–like the English cheddar or mulberries–and grow from there into combinations of flavors. With so many peaches sitting on the counter, my next convenient starting ingredient was chosen for me. Four day and a lot of scone batches later, I had three new peach scone recipes all ready for you.

Now you can always just take a basic cream scone recipe or a vanilla scone recipe (vanilla works with pretty much every single fruit) and just add chunks of fresh peaches and reduce the liquid by a few tablespoons. Doing this will yield a perfectly fine peach scone. However, I am having a blast lately creating fun pairings that others may not think of right away, so while Mom did make a batch of my cream scones and added peaches directly to it, when I got involved we went a little crazier.

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Originally I wanted to make Peach and Caramel Scones, but I couldn’t find caramel bits so we adapted to Peach and Butterscotch Scones instead. The two flavors work just as well together as peach and caramel would have, but I still want to try the original idea (that may have to wait until next year’s peach crop). Until then, these are a delightfully sweet treat to hold you over. I know kids will love this scone because it is a very sugar one. Kids love butterscotch. Most adults love butterscotch too I discovered as the butterscotch scones at my job sell out before the lunch rush every time. Usually I think butterscotch is too sweet, but the peaches are a bit tart so they cut the sweetness a bit. Adding clotted cream also helps temper the jaw aching sweetness, oddly enough.

The best bites are definitely those with pieces of both peach and butterscotch, and like I said the clotted cream helps mellow the butterscotch. This is a very wet dough due to the fresh peaches, so use a heavily floured surface when patting it out. Also, probably because it is so wet, these won’t rise all that much meaning that your best indication of doneness is going to be the browning on the top.

Already on the hunt for caramel bits for next year!

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed or grated
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup chopped fresh peaches
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch chips (if you aren’t as much of a sweets person, reduce to 1/4-1/3 cup)
  • 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

 

Preheat oven to the usual 450°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs (alternatively you could use a pastry blender to cut in the butter, but I prefer to do all my scone mixing by hand).
Add cream cheese, peaches, and butterscotch chips, stirring until well combined. Add cream and vanilla and knead until just beginning to smooth out. If the dough isn’t coming together, add one tablespoon of cream at a time until ready.
Turn out onto a floured surface (because fresh peaches are rather wet, this is a very sticky and moist dough) and pat down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out with scone cutter (5 cm) and place on baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the tops have hardened and begun turning brown.
Remove to a wire rack to cool.

 

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Peach and Butterscotch Scones

Top with clotted cream and peach jam for some extra peachy keen fun!

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