Cinnamon Honey Scones + Blackie

When my father first saw Blackie, it was on a bitterly cold evening, two winters ago. He was under the birdfeeder, in the darkness and wind, greedily devouring seed that the birds had scattered onto the snow. Because he was deathly afraid and mistrustful of both my mother and father, my mom began leaving platters of food on the stone patio outside for him. He would consume them with a voracity and in such startling quantity that we knew this was a creature who was not sure where or when his next meal would be coming from. 

These days, he is a bit more particular about his food offerings. Despite efforts to coax him indoors, he has grown to trust just enough to enter the garage at dinner time, where he spends the night, curled up in his soft bed, with a bowl of fresh food, sheltered from the elements and safe from any dangers he may encounter lurking in the surrounding woods. He indicates his readiness to retire for the evening, by climbing a dogwood tree located next to a dining room window, proceeding to meow loudly and insistently until he draws the attention of one the house's inhabitants. My father props open a door to the garage, and rings a small brass bell mounted to the wall, especially for this sole purpose, and Blackie runs quickly in for the night. 

Last week, my youngest daughter and I were able to house sit for my parents while they were traveling. House sitting consisted of spending a couple of days in a clean, organized, and tidy house 
(so weird!), and, for my 10 year old, the boundless delight of sleeping in an adjustable bed.  Though, it was discovered, with great horror, it shakes and produces a frightening sound if one accidentally presses the wrong button. ("what does this one do?") We were also charged with caring for their elderly gray Persian, Henry, with a mild and gentle disposition, he spends most of his days sleeping on the radiator, or letting us know when he requires help up onto the couch. Then, there was Blackie. Given that he is still fearful of anyone but my parents, we were not sure how this would go.

And, having just received a new baking book, we were also inspired to bake something.

And what an amazing book it is. It is Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery book, filled with so many inspiring recipes and beautiful photographs, thoroughly detailed with instructions that make me feel like I could actually make that chocolate croissant. The only thing I don't love about it is how large and heavy it is. More the size of a coffee table book, we weighed it - 10 pounds!

We decided on scones. For the Cinnamon Honey variation, you begin by making cinnamon pieces, mixing together a dry paste that gets pressed into a flat square and frozen, before slicing into small cubes. These are stirred into the dough as if you were adding chocolate chips or nuts. They melt only a little, resulting in a crunchy bite of cinnamon that reminds me of the swirl of cinnamon sugar you sometimes find in coffee cake.  Because I didn't have crème fraîche on hand for the basic scone recipe in this book, this time I mixed the cubes into a favorite recipe from Molly Wizenberg's book, A Homemade Life.

As the oven was preheating, my daughter noticed someone peering in at us through the kitchen window.  Someone all gray and white and furry, with bright, intelligent eyes. Meowing and tapping lightly on the window with his paw, Blackie wanted to be let into the garage. After a few long moments of hesitation, he zipped by my feet and considered me warily before deciding I wasn't overly terrifying, and approached his food bowl. I slipped into the house, relieved he was in, and out of the snow.

How I wish he could tell us his story.

Cinnamon Honey Cubes

adapted, barely, from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery book

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon clover honey

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and cinnamon.  Toss in the butter cubes. Pinch and squeeze the butter between your fingertips into the flour mixture until large pieces are no longer visible. Add honey and combine until the mixture becomes a dry paste. Wrap in plastic, using the plastic to help you press and shape the paste into 4 inch square, about 1/4 inch thick. If it doesn't come out perfectly square, no worries. Rustic is also good. Freeze for two hours. Cut into 1/4" cubes. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Plain Scones
makes 8

adapted from A Homemade Life

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (I prefer aluminum free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more for glazing
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter cubes. Using your fingertips, pinch and squeeze the butter, letting the pieces fall back into the flour mixture until there are no longer large chunks of butter visible. (Stir in the Cinnamon Cubes now, if using)

Pour 1/2 cup of the half-and-half into a small bowl or measuring cup. Beat in the egg with a fork to mix well. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour/butter mixture, stirring gently to just combine. The dough will look dry and shaggy, with some unincorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl. Using your hands, squeeze and press the dough into a rough mass. Turn the dough, and any extra flour, out onto a board or countertop, and press and gather and knead until it just comes together. You don't want to overwork the dough, ideally, do not knead the dough more than 12 times. There may be some excess flour that is not absorbed, but it doesn't matter. As soon as the dough holds together, pat it into a rough circle about 1 inch thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. (At this point, I chilled the scones until I was ready to bake).

Brush the scones lightly with the additional half-and-half. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until pale golden. (Mine were a touch underdone at 10 minutes, next time I would bake for 12).

Honey Butter Glaze

adapted from the Bouchon Bakery book

3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons clarified butter*
1 tablespoon clover honey

Stir the butter and honey together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the butter has combined with the honey.

As soon as you remove the scones from the oven, brush the tops with the glaze. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly, and serve warm with butter, if you like.

The scones are best eaten within a day or two.

*clarified butter has had the milk solids removed, these are what cause butter to burn, so you are left with only the golden liquid butterfat. It is easy to make, simply melt unsalted butter gently in a small saucepan over low heat, until it begins to foam. Skim off most of the foam with a spoon. Carefully pour the melted butter through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth into a heatproof container, leaving the whitish solids behind that have settled to the bottom of the pan (I found cheesecloth in the cooking tool aisle of the supermarket).  Clarified butter can be stored covered in the refrigerator for several months.

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