Baked Therapy

Nothing can keep me from baking a batch of these scones.

Nothing can keep me from baking a batch of these scones.

 

I can be swamped with work…

I can be sleep-deprived…

It can be 100 degrees that day…

But when I feel the urge to bake, I can’t be stopped.

What can I say? It’s my therapy. It’s my relaxation. It’s my treat to myself and others.

So when a review copy of the new “Baked Occasions” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) landed in my mail, I immediately dropped everything else and started leafing through it.

BakedOccasions

This is the fourth cookbook by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the owners of the popular Brooklyn baker, Baked. It includes 75 recipes perfect for holidays, special events and just any day that is an occasion of any sort. Find recipes from “Toffee Coffee Cake Surprise” to “Easter Coconut Sheet Cake” to “Peppermint Chocolate Meringues.”

“Chinese Five-Spice Sesame Scones” caught my eye from the start because I love the intoxicating fragrance of five-spice in stir-fries.

Typically a powdered blend of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns and fennel seeds, it also works wonderfully well in desserts. Think of it as a more sophisticated take on what you’d normally use in a spice cake or cookie.

The dough comes together easily in a bowl. You knead it just until it comes together. Always use a light touch when making scones, because over-working the dough will only give you tough pastries in the end.

As the scones bake, they fill the kitchen with a warm, spicy, licorice-like aroma. They bake up crumbly and crunchy from a generous amount of toasted sesame seeds in the dough.

These are made for people who don’t like their scones to be sugar bombs. They are barely sweet. Lewis and Poliafito like them spread with peanut butter. I can see why, as the nuttiness of the sesame seeds would ideally complement that.

They also suggest baking these scones for Chinese New Year’s. As you can tell, I couldn’t wait until that date of Feb. 19, 2015 rolls around.

After all, when the urge to bake hits, it just shouldn’t be denied.

Slice in half and spread with peanut butter or almond butter for a real treat.

Slice in half and spread with peanut butter or almond butter for a real treat.

Chinese Five-Spice Sesame Scones

(Makes 8 large scones)

1/3 cup sesame seeds

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon well-shaken buttermilk, plus more as needed

1 large egg yolk

1/4 cup demerara sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium skillet, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat, stirring and flipping, until just starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep stirring for another minute or so. Remove from the pan onto a small plate and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, five-spice powder, salt, and cooled sesame seeds. Add the butter and use your fingertips (or a pastry cutter)  to rub (or cut) it into the flour until the butter pieces are pea-size and the overall mixture looks coarse and pebbly.

Place 1/4 cup of the buttermilk into a glass measuring cup or bowl and whisk in the egg yolk. Make a well in the dry ingredients and slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Use a large wooden spoon and stir until just combined; do not overwork the dough. Gently and briefly  knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it just comes together. The dough should be very dry but hold its shape. If it feels too dry (i.e., the dough is falling apart), knead in another tablespoon of buttermilk.

Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured surface and pat into a rough circle slightly under 1 inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet.

Brush the tops of the scones with a little bit of buttermilk, top each scone with a sprinkle of demerara sugar, if you like, and bake for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until the scones just start to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes. Serve the scones slightly warm, or let them cool completely directly on the cooling rack; regardless, we like them with a little peanut butter or butter.

How to Store: The scones taste best when eaten within 12 to 24 hours.

From “Baked Occasions” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

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