Cherry Almond Cream Scones

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All things almond are favorites in our house. For me they are a close third behind vanilla and chocolate. Rich and Calvin might rank them slightly higher. And if you combine the almond with cherry, Rich will be your friend for life.

I was kicking around ideas for scone flavors when we were trying to use up our bounty of cream. We had some heavenly dried cherries that I had been itching to use in something other than salads or for snacking. I had sliced almonds in the freezer and almond extract in the cabinet. Rich and I chatted briefly about the possibilities and cherry almond scones were born.

These bake up into tender triangles of dairy richness with a subtle almond note, punctuated by pockets of sweet tart cherries. A thick layer of almond-vanilla glaze and a sprinkling of sliced almonds push them over the top from just good to knock-your-socks-off.

Make these. Make them as written, or make them your own. Add a few chocolate chips. Skip the topping in favor of a sprinkling of sugar before baking. Drizzle them with melted chocolate. Make them plain. But make them. You can have them mixed up in minutes and on the table in less than half an hour. Warm, sweet, scones. You know you want them…

Download or print the recipe here.

Cherry Almond Cream Scones
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 8 scones

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dried cherries (see notes)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup heavy cream (see notes)
2-3 tablespoons cream or milk, if needed (see notes)

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream
2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds

Notes: If your cherries are very hard and dry, mix them with 1-2 tablespoon of water and microwave them for 20-30 seconds, or until they swell and absorb the water. Cool slightly before adding to the flour mixture.

If you use all-purpose flour instead of the white whole wheat flour you will probably not need as much cream to get the dough to come together.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper.

Stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir in the cherries. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract and about ¾ cup of the cream. Stir gently. If there is still a large amount of dry flour, add the remaining cream. If the dough is still very dry, add more cream, or milk, a tablespoon at a time, just until most of the flour is wet, turning and mixing the dough with your spoon. The dough will be moist, but not particularly sticky. There should be only a small amount of dry flour, if any.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Lightly flour the top of the dough and your hands and shape each half of the dough into a round ball and then flatten into a disk ¾-1 inch tall. Try to make the edges straight and even. Cut into 4 wedges. Push any errant cherries back into the scones, so they don’t burn in the oven. Repeat with second dough ball.

Place wedges on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden on top and darker golden on the bottom.

While scones bake, prepare the glaze: mix the powdered sugar with the extracts. Add the milk or cream gradually, starting with 1 tablespoon. Add more milk or cream until you have a thin glaze.

Cool baked scones for about 5 minutes. Then drizzle each scone with glaze, or dip the tops of the scones in the glaze. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Serve warm or room temperature.

Scones keep at room temperature for a few days. Reheat for a few seconds in the microwave before serving. If you want to freeze the scones, wait to glaze them until you defrost them.

Creamy, Decadent Chocolate Mousse

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I guess I should have posted this yesterday, when it was National Chocolate Mousse Day. Who comes up with these days? And should we really care? I get Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparents’ Day – I am all for showing appreciation to the special people in our lives. But does chocolate mousse really care if it has a day? And there isn’t a chocolate mousse council that needs to make sure people know about chocolate mousse so they can get their daily serving. Hmmm, I’d serve on that council if there were one. Heck, I’d serve on the dairy council. I like cream, butter and cheese.

I have been planning to blog about chocolate mousse since we had it a few weeks ago, to use up our cream supply. I had the post all ready to go and I wasn’t going to delay posting it just to avoid going along with the crowd on Chocolate Mousse Day.

I have always wanted to make chocolate mousse, but I never got around to it, until Rich suggested it as one way to use up some of our lovely cream surplus. Lots of recipes called for a ton of butter and others called for just chocolate and cream. I am all for a pure chocolate flavor, but I wanted something a little different than what is basically whipped chocolate ganache.

I found a recipe at Joy of Baking that was just what I was looking for: a nice balance of chocolate, butter, sugar and cream. It did call for eggs, which were not cooked, but I used pasteurized eggs to eliminate any possibility of salmonella. The recipe went together in no time, with just a bit of whipping and melting.

It was hard to wait for the mousse to chill, but it really made a difference in both the texture and flavor. The little (let’s get real: big) tastes we took were wonderfully creamy and rich, but the mousse was so much better after chilling for a few hours – creamy but still light and airy, with just the right amount of sweetness balanced with deep, dark chocolate. What more can you ask of a chocolate mousse?

Note: I am not posting the recipe here because I didn’t change it at all. I know some people post unchanged recipes, giving credit, but I am just not comfortable with that unless I have permission from the original authors.

Cream Scones with a Hint of Vanilla

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“A surplus of heavy cream – what a horrible burden to have,” said no one ever. I wrote about our cream saga last week, but I never gave you any resolution. Rest assured, we managed to use the cream before any of it went bad. It was a hard task, but we persevered.

The first thing I thought of to use up our cream was a batch of cream scones. I had read a recipe years ago that used cream as the fat and the liquid in scones, no butter at all. I was intrigued, but never made any. Of course, when I wanted it, I couldn’t find that particular recipe. A quick internet search found plenty of recipes that called for both cream and butter, but very few that called for only cream. I found a good one from King Arthur flour.

I mixed up the dry ingredients in the evening to have them all ready to go in the morning for an easy, lazy Saturday breakfast. Mixing the dough in the morning literally consisted of adding a dash of vanilla and pouring in cream. I had the scones mixed and ready for baking before the oven was preheated.

The cream scones did not disappoint – they were flaky, buttery (with no butter in them), soft inside and slightly crunchy outside. And they were big. We each only ate one. I put the rest away for the next day. My mother-in-law was here for the week and we proceeded to make our way through the area’s pastry and doughnut shops on the following days, leaving the scones to sit in their container on the counter.

I give you this background because I did not have high hopes for the leftover scones. Scones usually are not good keepers and I was kicking myself for not freezing the leftovers as soon as they were cool. Sometimes coffee shop scones are stale, even in the morning, just hours after they were baked. I was pleasantly surprised that our scones were fabulous, even three, four and five days after we first made them, reheated in the toaster oven and spread with a little jam. They were a little crumbly toward the end, but they were still soft and not dry at all.

We were able to eat the scones for so many days because the recipe made a lot. I got twelve large scones from the recipe. While they were very good leftover, they were really best when they were fresh. I have cut the recipe in half for future scone adventures. I also give directions for making the scones smaller than the original behemoths. I doubled the vanilla from the original, because, why not? And I replaced half the flour with white whole wheat because I like the nuttiness that gives the scones. Can you use only all-purpose flour? Sure. You might not need quite as much cream, in that case, but I’m sure you can find a use for it.

Download or print the recipe.

Cream Scones with a Hint of Vanilla
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 8 small scones

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream, approximately*
2-3 tablespoons cream or milk, if needed*

Topping:
Cream or milk
Coarse, pearl or granulated sugar

*If you use all-purpose flour instead of the white whole wheat flour you will probably not need as much cream to get the dough to come together.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

Stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the vanilla and about three quarters of the cup of cream. Stir gently. If there is still a large amount of dry flour, add the remaining cream. If dough is still very dry, add more cream, or milk, a tablespoon at a time, just until most of the flour is wet, turning and mixing the dough with your spoon. The dough will be moist, but not particularly sticky. There should be only a small amount of dry flour, if any.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Lightly flour the top of the dough and your hands and gently shape each half of the dough into a round ball and then flatten into a disk ¾-1 inch tall. Try to make the edges straight and even. Cut into 4 wedges.

Place wedges on prepared baking sheet. Brush each scone with cream or milk and sprinkle with your choice of sugar.

Bake scones for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden on top and darker golden on the bottom.

Serve scones hot or at room temperature, with butter and jam.

These keep for several days in an airtight container at room temperature. Reheat in toaster oven, oven or microwave. Freeze for longer storage, thawing overnight at room temperature, or in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Calling all Cream Lovers

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We have a surplus of cream. By surplus, I mean more than a quart. My mother-in-law is visiting us for a few days while Calvin is on spring break from school. We usually plan for a certain amount of indulgences while she is visiting, ranging from homemade desserts to a trip to the doughnut shop. To prepare I made sure we had a ready supply of butter, along with a pint of heavy cream. Then our neighbors called and asked if we wanted a little cream and some broccoli that they couldn’t eat before they left for vacation. Of course I said yes. Her definition of a little cream turned out to be a full pint, plus part of another one.

I am looking for ways to use up the cream. So far I have thought of cream scones, chocolate mousse, cream over oatmeal and cream in our coffee. I need more ideas. Send them my way. We just might make one or two. Or three. And then we’ll eat some steamed broccoli. That should counteract all the cholesterol and fat from the cream, right?

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with a Twist

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I have a favorite chocolate sandwich cookie that I make every so often. It started out as a basic cookie, until I tinkered with the recipe. I increased the cocoa and decreased the flour. Later, after more taste testing, I replaced some of the cocoa with some black, extra dark cocoa I had ordered from King Arthur Flour. Perfection. Darkly chocolate, slightly crunchy cookies surrounding creamy vanilla filling that tastes slightly of butter. After a day or two in an airtight container the cookies get slightly softer, which I really like.

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If you don’t want to buy special cocoa for these, they are perfectly good with only natural cocoa powder. I have seen a few different kinds of darker cocoa in the grocery store, next to the regular cocoa. I have only used natural cocoa and a little of the black cocoa, as noted in the recipe, but feel free to experiment. If you use only natural cocoa your cookies might be a lighter brown than the pictures, but they will still taste fabulous.

The last time I made the cookies, we were brainstorming different fillings we could try. We came up with cinnamon, cherry and bacon. Cherry and bacon were a little more complicated than we wanted to mess with that day, so we decided to try cinnamon. I will tinker with the bacon and cherry possibilities some day soon.

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I wanted some cookies with plain vanilla filling, so I divided the filling in half and added cinnamon. I started with ¼ teaspoon, but it was barely discernable. So I doubled it. The cinnamon flavor was stronger, but I thought it might get lost against the dark chocolate of the cookies. So I added another ¼ teaspoon. Perfection – richly cinnamon without straying across the line into too spicy.

I started out dolloping a tiny portion of filling onto the middle of a cookie and then gently squishing the filling flat with a second cookie. While this made a pretty cookie, with smooth edges on the filling, there wasn’t enough filling. I went back to my old method of smearing the filling on and adding the top cookie. Not as neat, but definitely a better ratio of cookie to filling.

I could have pulled out a piping bag to pipe the larger amount of filling into the middle of the cookies, but that was way more complicated than I wanted to get. Full disclosure: I have used my piping bag just a handful of times over the 10 years I have had it. Maybe someday I will get inspired to use it more often, but I’m not holding my breath. If you want picture perfect cookies, you can certainly use a piping bag. But I’m in favor of saving the time and cleanup and eating my slightly less-than-perfect cookies that much sooner.

Download or print just the recipe.

 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From 365 Great Cookies and Brownies
Makes 45 small sandwich cookies

If you want to bump up the chocolate flavor a bit, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of dark or black cocoa for 2 tablespoons of the natural cocoa. This is totally optional, but really good.

Cookies:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup natural cocoa powder (see headnote)
¼ teaspoon salt

Vanilla Filling:
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, approximately

Cinnamon Filling:
1½ teaspoons cinnamon for the full recipe
¾ teaspoon cinnamon for half the recipe

Do not preheat the oven. The dough needs to chill before baking.

Beat the ½ cup butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again until well combined and light. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and mix on low speed until dough is smooth.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a long log, about 1¼ inches in diameter. Make the logs as smooth and uniform as possible so your cookies will be uniform. Wrap the dough logs in parchment paper or plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

While dough chills, make the filling. Beat the 2 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the filling is light and fluffy.

If you are making the cinnamon filling, add the cinnamon now. Use 1½ teaspoons cinnamon if you want to make all the filling cinnamon. If you want half vanilla and half cinnamon, divide the filling in half and use ¾ teaspoon cinnamon in one half. Beat the cinnamon filling until uniform in color with no lighter streaks. Cover the filling(s) and leave at room temperature until ready to use.

When the dough is chilled preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Work with one log at time, leaving the other one in the freezer until ready to slice. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into ¼-inch, or slightly thinner, rounds. Try to keep them uniform so they all bake at the same rate. Place the rounds fairly close together on the prepared baking sheets. They do not spread or rise very much at all.

Bake cookies, one pan at a time, for 5-6 minutes, or until they are firm to the touch, but not hard. The cookies will not change color, but they will puff very, very slightly.

Remove baked cookies to racks for cooling. When cookies are room temperature, spread 1-2 teaspoons of filling on the flat side of one cookie. Top with another cookie and gently press the cookies together. Leave filled cookies on the wire racks until the filling dries and sets up a bit, at least an hour. Store cookies in an airtight container for several days, or freeze for longer storage. The cookies will soften slightly after the first day.

Note: If you want to make the dough ahead of time, make four shorter logs and slip them into a ziploc bag. If it is tightly wrapped, you can freeze the dough for a month or so before using. Slice directly from the freezer and bake as directed.

Sweets for Your Sweetie

Not sure if you’ve heard, but Valentine’s Day is Friday. How could you miss the diamond commercials, the restaurant specials and the greeting card ads? I don’t buy into the idea that we have to get candy, flowers or jewelry to recognize the day. I really think Valentine’s Day should be more about celebrating however you like.

Rich and I sometimes go out for a date night dinner, but the last few years we have decided to cook at home and treat ourselves to a homemade dessert. Some years we make the expected decadent chocolate treat. Other years we go for something more non-traditional.

I have a few suggestions if you want to make something sweet for your sweetie, or yourself.

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If you want to have some fun, and make something impressive, try making your own candy hearts. They are much easier than they look. If you can play with play-dough, you can make these.

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For a supremely easy treat, try snickerdoodle bars. If you feel fancy you can cut them into hearts instead of bars.

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Try toffee bars for another easy treat that combines caramelly goodness with chocolate.

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If you feel like something a little more involved, try my version of zebra cakes. This is a great group project to share with your family or your better half.

We are still deciding what to make for our dessert this year. We do know we are having steak, baked potatoes and roasted green beans for the main event.

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?

The Freezer Makes it Easy

We have had a few busy weeks here lately. To be honest, when is a week ever not busy for any of us, but lately we have been burning the candle at both ends more than usual. Most people would probably eat out more than normal or rely on boxed frozen meals, but I’m not most people. I have a few tricks that have saved the day lately.

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Lately, when I make a casserole, pasta dish or soup, I double the amounts and freeze half for another time. Sure, that makes more work initially, but it certainly doesn’t take twice the time for twice the food. And, of course, later I will have a homemade dinner in the freezer, waiting. I do this most often with cheese stuffed shells, but it works with just about any soup, chili or casserole.

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In addition to having some main dishes in the freezer, I am trying to build up a frozen stash of a few things to give me a head start on the cooking. Our grocery store had a meat sale a few weeks ago, and I picked up a bunch of packages of bone-in chicken breasts. I baked them all and then shredded the meat. Then I portioned it out into quart bags, filling each with about two cups of chicken. It makes me feel rich to have those bags in the freezer, ready to make into tacos, sandwiches or to throw in a quick chicken soup.

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I also picked up a pork roast as part of the same sale, and cooked it in the crockpot. I shredded the cooked meat and stashed it in the freezer next to the chicken. It is all ready to mix with barbecue sauce for pulled pork sandwiches, to dice and put in stir-fry or to put into tacos. Can you tell we are on a taco kick lately?

What do you do when you are pressed for time at dinnertime? Do you plan ahead, do you get take-out, or do you stand over the sink and eat a bag of chips and salsa?