Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Apples and Scones - Irish Style?

One of the fun parts about baking for me is exploring my family roots through food. Like many Americans, I have a bit of a 'Heinz 57' heritage - a little bit of everything. I've done some family history research and have found some interesting things - I have relatives that came over on the Mayflower (fully documented, I am a member of the Mayflower Society), which came over from England. I have family that emigrated from Denmark and Germany. My two strongest ties, however are to Ireland (I still carry that family name) and Sweden (I still have family with whom I am in contact there). Since my grandmother and aunts were born in Sweden, I grew up exposed to many of the wonderful foods of that country - in fact, I plan to use them in several blog posts to come (although I can guarantee that Herring Pudding will never grace this blog site - yech!!). That being said, I have no expressions of the Irish side of the family - most of my ancestors died very young and lived under very tough and poor conditions once they came to the US, so they didn't take much time to record information to pass down the line. So, my list of Irish family recipes is fairly short - zero. I'm very interested in knowing more about what my family may have been eating some 100 years ago when they emigrated - as well as what the Irish people in general like to eat.

I've found a number of recipes online that claim Irish heritage or at least popularity, but it can be difficult sometimes to sort out the truth from the other stuff out there in cyberspace. Maybe some of my visitors can recommend some good sites for Irish recipes and history?

In the meantime, as I take a short vacation on the Oregon Coast, I begin looking ahead to the change in seasons to my favorite time of year - Fall. I love the weather, cool, foggy, crisp, clean. When I sense those changes coming, I can't help but begin thinking of fall cooking - comfort foods - and for me, my favorite Fall ingredient has to be apples. Of course, we can get apples here year-round, but fall is the time when the best of the harvest come in and everyone's thoughts start to turn to baking with apples.

So, looking at my pile of fresh Granny Smiths, and considering how I might explore some of that Irish heritage, I came across a recipe on for an Apple Scone Cake. Now, if the description of this recipe as posted on Joy of Baking is to be believed, the Apple Scone Cake is one of the most popular desserts made by home bakers in Ireland (can anyone confirm that??). It certainly sounded like an interesting recipe to try - and, for all I could tell, seemed as if it could be a real 'Irish' dessert. Why not give it a try? The concept is interesting - it's not really a 'cake' as I would think of it - it's really more of a cross between a cake and a pie. Imagine apple pie, but instead of the traditionally flaky pie crust, a more 'cakey' scone crust instead. Since I'm not yet experienced in the fine art of pie crust, but have successfully made scones, this seemed like a great gateway recipe to my first ever 'pie'

Overall the results were very good. Having made this, I would probably make the following changes the next time around: a bit more sugar/cinnamon in the apples - I used more apples than the recipe called for, but didn't add more sugar to account for that change. Second, I would bake it just a bit longer - I like my apples a bit softer, but this was still pretty good. Third, I might add just a few small pats of butter (not margarine) in with the apples. Lastly, I might add just a touch more sugar to the scone base. With all of that being said, I am including the full original recipe with no modifications so you can start at the same point as me. This is a hearty and tasty dessert - perfect for a cool fall evening - I will definitely be making this again.

Apple Scone Cake (originally from

2 Cups (280 grams) All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup (100 grams) Granulated White Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup (113 grams)(1 stick) Unsalted Butter, Cold and cut in pieces
2 Large Eggs, Divided
1/2 Cup (120ml) Milk, Divided
1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract

1 Pound (454 grams) Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch (2.54cm) chunks
2 - 3 Tablespoons (30-45 grams) Granulated White Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

Granulated White Sugar

Preheat over to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in the center of oven. Butter (or spray with nonstick cooking spray) a 9-Inch (23cm) glass pie plate.

In a small bowl, whisk together one egg and 1 tablespoon from the 1/2 cup milk. Set this aside for later use as a glaze for the top of the cake.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter in small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like course crumbs. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the remaining one egg, remaining milk and vanilla extract and add to the flour mixture, stirring just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix the dough.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough gently four or five times. Divide the dough in half. Pat one half of the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate.

In a separate bowl, toss together the cut apples, sugar and cinnamon. Spread the apples evenly over the bottom of the dough in the pie plate.

Roll the remaining dough into a 9 inch (23cm) circle, on a lightly floured surface. Gently place the dough over the apples. With your fingers, seal the edges of the top and bottom crusts. Brush the top of the dough with the egg and milk glaze and sprinkle with white sugar. Cut a slit in the center of the dough to allow steam to escape.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 35-45 minutes or until the pastry is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Serves 6 to 8

Additional notes from Erik: I prefer to freeze my cut butter before working it into the mix, it helps keep it from melting, which is important to scone making. You can also bring this dough together in a food processor to help speed the process of cutting the butter into the flour mixture - I use this same method when I make scones and it works very well. This is a 'rustic' recipe, so don't worry if your crust doesn't look perfect. Lastly, I used 'decorators sugar' instead of regular sugar on the top of the cake - I like the look and crunch of the bigger sugar crystals.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Freakin' Good Frittatas

While this blog is primarily about baking sweet treats and other goodies, I must confess that I have a soft spot in my palette for all things breakfast. Given the choice, I would probably prefer to eat breakfast than any other meal of the day. With my work schedule, it's so rare that I get to have a hot breakfast (unless it's from a drive thru) that when I do get the chance, I can get pretty excited. For that reason, breakfast for dinner is a pretty regular occurance around our house. Pancakes, waffles, breakfast burrittos, breakfast scrambles, Swedish hotcakes, omelettes - bring 'em on. Part of the purpose of this blog is to help encourage me to be a bit more adventurous and to cook things I've never tried before - it's just too easy to stick with what you know and not bother with learning a new recipe. That being said, when I see a new breakfast/brunch recipe, it tends to peak my interest. So it was while watching one of my favorite Food Network chefs, Giada De Laurentiis when she made 'Mini Frittatas' one day - they looked so good, I didn't wait for the show to finish before I headed to the kitchen.

Giada's recipe uses a basic frittata base, adds a few basic ingredients, then, unlike a traditional frittata, which would be cooked in a skillet and finished in the oven, she cooks them in mini muffin pans to make some great little bites. I knew I wanted to make a few changes, so I grabbed some potatos I had on hand and rather than using the mini muffin pan, went for the regular size muffin pan - I wanted something a bit more than a little bite. Like an omelette, frittatas lend themselves very well to customization. You can add pretty much anything that strikes your fancy and that won't offend any potential taste subjects. Put it all together, bake, and you have a tasty, portable and attractive little meal. These can be eaten warm or cold and lend themselves quite well for traveling - a great idea for picnics or even a roadside snack for a long trip.

Mini Frittatas (adapted from Mini Frittats by Giada De Laurentiis on Food

This is the recipe as made with my modifications...Makes 14-18 frittatas depending upon the size of the pans and how full you fill them.
8 Large Eggs
1/2 Cup Whole Milk (I used non-fat)
1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Medium Potatos, peeled and shredded
1/2 Medium Onion, minced
1 Cup Cooked Ham, chopped
1 Cup Sharp Cheddar, grated
Fresh Basil, finely chopped
Olive Oil
Spray Oil

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. In a medium skillet, saute the shredded potatoes and onion in the olive oil over medium heat until the potatoes have softened and the onions are translucent - about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Whisk together the eggs, milk, basil, pepper and salt in a large bowl to blend well.

4. Spray muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray. Fill each cup with approximately 2 tablespoons of the potato/onion mixture. Add approximately 1 tablespoon ham and 1 tablespoon shredded cheese. Fill the cups with the egg mixture, about 7/8 full. Once the cups are all filled, tap the pan on a hard surface to make sure the egg mixutre has filled in around all of the ingredients.

5. Bake for 14-18 minutes (individual ovens will vary) until lightly browned and somewhat firm. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the frittatas to loosen them from the pan. Turn the frittatas out on a wire baking rack. Serve warm or cold with (in my opinion) a dollop of sour cream.