As I sit here this Monday morning, I realize that I must wave goodbye to Autumn. It is a rather melancholy acknowledgement.
It seems that Autumn arrives while we are sleeping, but then departs with the wind. A bleak, moody wind, the kind you can hear moaning and warning of bitter temperatures and grey scenery, because those winds carry the last of the autumn leaves away with them. I love all that Autumn is: its colours, its brightness, its cozy atmosphere, its invitation to prepare the nest for the bleak months to follow. It beckons baking and braising, basting and basking in the aromas of harvest fruits and vegetables.
But before we are ready for it, Autumn bids adieu. Now we are confronted with the reality that for the next three months or so, we will be surrounded by shades of slate, charcoal, dove grey and hopefully pristine whites (the winter white of snow never lasts for long in a city!) I guess, if we can accept this new reality (only new in the sense that it has now replaced the reality we had yesterday) then we will be far more content for it. Which is what I usually try to do. Embracing each season is far more soothing for the psyche. To battle against something that we cannot return, control or change is a lesson in futility. So let’s try and find the positive aspects of the new season upon us.
Yes, I know, winter doesn’t officially start till December 21st or so. But if you could hear the winds howling outside my kitchen patio door right now, you would understand why I have turned to the dark side! But it’s alright. This is the time of true Hygge. The funny little Danish word that embraces all that is cozy and comforting, relaxing and creating an atmosphere for gentle reflection and entertaining. I guess we used to think of it as nesting. Getting the home all ready for winter: pulling out the wool blankets, the fleecy slippers, the candles, the faux fur pillows and throws. Out come the books we’ve been wanting to read, the music that is more calming and atmospheric (think Al Jarreau, if you’re anywhere around my age and into jazz!) These days I guess it means we make a project of creating a new Spotify playlist or two! We can make this a time to truly enjoy being home. It can be a haven from the windstorm so to speak. The board games we always say we want to play as a family, that favourite tv series we’ve been meaning to binge watch, the knitting project that got put on the back burner, all of these can now take centre stage on a winter evening. I actually pile up more crocheted blankets (my mom’s signature gift!) on the bed, making it a fun place to hang out. The cats love all the blankets- sometimes we can’t actually figure out which one they’ve burrowed into!
And what do we eat on these occasions? We totally celebrate comfort food in all its forms. Baking takes on new meaning now. It isn’t just a means to an end. It can also be part of the whole hygge process. I mean, who doesn’t love walking into the kitchen and smell gingerbread baking? Or to have the aroma of citrus and cardamom wafting down the hallway inviting you to snack on something yummy. Most likely washing it down with hot cocoa or cider? Oh go ahead and spike it, I know you want to!
And that’s where these lovely scones come in. Scones can be the perfect bridge between sweets and breads. But finding one that has that wonderful tender, flakey texture that borders on a light an airy cake can be challenging. Often they can be dense and dry. Then we end up relying on glazes etc to bring them back to life.
Not so with these scones. I will say, the base is not my recipe. It belongs to Alanna Taylor-Tobin, the Bojon Gourmet, and her book, Alternative Baker. If you’ve been hanging out here for any length of time, you know how I feel about her recipes. They always work. They are always delicious. And they always use unique ingredients. In this case it is chestnut flour and sweet rice flour. I always have chestnut flour in the freezer. I use it in my gluten-free Chestnut Bread, and in certain pastry crusts etc. So yes, these scones are gluten-free as well. And the final texture is amazing. They are light, tender, and after the first day, they become almost cake-like, in the best way possible.
I had fresh figs in the fridge, and I was craving something to nibble on. I was thinking scone or muffin. So I grabbed Alternative Baker from the bookshelf, and found this most darling little recipe. She says that it reminds her of a fig newton. I had to try it!! It is so easy. The pastry comes together wonderfully, but it does take a bit more work, owing to the fact there there is no gluten. I used frozen butter that I grated into the flours. Fresh cream is the other binder. Once kneaded the dough is divided in half and two rounds are formed. She has us sandwiching a layer of chopped figs in between them both and pinching them together to create the final scone pastry. They are brushed with more cream and sprinkled with turbinado sugar, and baked off.
Here’s my switch up. I love the flavour of cocoa with figs. And with chestnut (the flour turns the most lovely nutty, barely sweet flavour once baked). So I knew that I just had to add some chocolate somehow. I could add mini chips. But I decided on cocoa nibs instead. Their decidedly bitter side would contrast perfectly to the natural sweetness of the figs and the flour. Plus, they would contribute a perfect crunch to the otherwise tender scone texture. I decided that I would sprinkle one tablespoon of the nibs evenly over the top layer of dough, gently pressing them in, so that they weren’t sitting on top. The other tablespoon got mixed in with the chopped fig layer. I’m so happy I did this. They are absolutely wonderful in this scone!!
Do you have chestnut flour? If not, pick some up. Order it on Amazon. And store it in the freezer in a container. It will keep forever, and you will be so happy to have it there. Same goes for the cocoa nibs. They add a layer of flavour that plain chocolate chips or chunks simply cannot do. And they will also keep for a long time, if stored correctly. Both are truly worthy additions to your pantry. Especially as winter approaches, and you crave to be in the kitchen, baking, creating your own hygge fragrance!
Fig and Cocoa Nib Chestnut Scones
A tender scone made with chestnut flour is filled with chopped fresh figs and cocoa nibs. Perfect for breakfast or with hot chocolate on a dark winter's eve.
- 1 cup (155 grams) sweet white rice flour
- 1 cup (105 grams) chestnut flour
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated cane sugar, plus more for the figs
- 1 tbsp (12 grams) baking powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 5 tbsp (70 grams) cold or frozen butter
- 6 tbsp (90 ml) heavy cream, and more as needed to get the dough to hold together, and for brushing over the top
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (130 grams) fresh figs, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) cocoa nibs divided
- 1 tbsp coarse turbinado or demerara sugar for sprinkling
In a large bowl combine the rice and chestnut flours, the 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt.
Grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture and stir to blend. (if not using frozen, but only cold, then cut into small 1/2 slices and add. Use your fingertips to break down the butter into the flour till it is the size of small peas)
Chill mixture until cold, about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the 6 tbsp of cream, the egg and the vanilla in a measuring cup. Chill till needed.
Remove the flour mixture from the fridge. Gradually add the cream mixture and use a silicone spatula to bring the dough together. If you find that the dough isn't holding together when you squeeze some between your fingers, add more cream 1 tbsp at a time till the dough is properly hydrated. Temperature and humidity of the kitchen and how much you have worked the butter can affect this.
Knead the dough 20 or so times in the bowl to bring it together into a ball. Unlike wheat scones, gluten-free dough requires more kneading to bring the dough together. But it will eventually be amazing, work it! Cover and chill for at least 15 minutes, or up to several hours.
While the dough chills, trim and chop up the figs, and add 1 tbsp of the cocoa nibs to them. Stir gently to combine.
Remove the dough from the fridge and place on a lightly dusted surface.
Divide into two even portions. Flatten each into a 6 inch (15 cm) disk about 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) thick. Onto one of the disks, sprinkle the remaining tbsp of cocoa nibs evenly over the surface. Gently push these into the dough.
Onto the other disk, spread out the chopped figs. Leave a 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) border all around the outside. Sprinkle the figs with 1 tsp of granulated sugar.
Take the cocoa nib covered disk and place this directly over the fig covered disk. Squish the edges together to seal, and gently push down on the figs. Smooth out the sides and the top.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill till firm. 30 minutes or even overnight.
When ready to bake, position the rack to the upper third, and heat to 400F (200C)
Stack two rimmed baking sheets together, and line with parchment paper. This will keep the bottoms from over-browning.
Remove the scone dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a cutting board. Brush the top with 1 tbsp cream and sprinkle with 1 tbsp coarse sugar.
Use a large sharp chef's knife to cut the disk into eight wedges. Place these on the baking sheet, spaced well apart.
Bake the scones till golden brown on top and cooked through, between 20-30 minutes. Remove and let cool for 20 minutes (they will continue to bake from residual heat) They are best the day of, but will keep for a few days in an airtight container.
Scone dough is like pie dough, pieces of butter seen throughout will help with the flakey texture you are looking for. The first time I used an extra 4 tbsp of cream. But it is cooler, and the heat is on, so there is less humidity in my kitchen- this will affect how much you will need to get the dough to come together. Gluten-free flours need more kneading to bring the dough together- be assertive in your kneading. Scone bottoms tend to brown quickly, hence the double baking sheets, and baking in the top third of the oven. Do ahead: Cut, unbaked scones can be frozen for longer storage. Bake to order from frozen at 375F (190C) for about 20 minutes.
Adapted from Alanna Taylor-Tobin, Chestnut Fig Scones