Apricot Scones

If you’re interested in molecular gastronomy, you need look no further than baking. When cooking the results can be spectacular, but they almost always resemble the original ingredients; a raw steak and cooked steak both look like steak. But when baking flour, sugar, butter and eggs come together to form something that is much more than the some of its parts. I believe that the first person to mix these together and bake a cake was a genius.

Baking is about about proportions; the right combination of ingredients will lead to something magical. Each ingredient plays a part. The flour mixed with liquids form gluten that traps air bubbles and gives baked goods their texture. The sugar sweetens but it also adds air to the batter, contributes to browning and stops the gluten from getting too tough. Butter tenderizes and moistens.

I know all these things.

Yet somehow I still manage to mess things up.

On Sunday I decided to make banana bread. I’ve made banana bread so many times I no longer even look at a recipe. I mixed up all my ingredients put them in the oven and waited. And waited. And waited. The bread never rose, the top never browned. After about an hour and a half (the bread should only have taken an hour) I thought back on my steps and realized I had forgotten the sugar. I kept baking because I thought maybe the sugars in the bananas would somehow save it. They didn’t. When the bread wasn’t cooked through after two hours I gave up.

I’ve made this mistake before and I’m sure I’ll make it again. I wasn’t fazed, just upset at the wasted ingredients.

This morning I got up with the intention of making scones. I found a recipe from a reputable source and gave it a try. I tried even though the voice in my head said it was off. “There’s too much sugar, too much flour, not enough butter” the voice said; I ignored it. “The oven isn’t hot enough” she told me; I didn’t listen. I added more liquid to compensate for the dryness, popped them in the oven and waited. When they came out of the oven they were like overly sweetened hockey pucks.

Another failure. Had a I lost my baking mojo?

I couldn’t let this second failure get to me.

I went through my boxes and found the scone recipe I’ve always used in a pile of papers. As I read it knew this was right. Just enough flour; very little sugar; and a hot, hot oven. I started again.

Thankfully, my baking mojo is not lost. I needed to trust myself, that’s all.

This recipe is a little different than the typical scone recipe, in that it has eggs. This makes them a little more cakey, less biscuit like, but still a little flaky and layered. I used dried apricot in the scones, but anything could be added, raisins, nuts, chocolate chips. They can also be flavoured any way you’d like; spices, lemon zest, rose water.. the possibilities are endless!

Apricot Scones

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling on tops)
  • 6 tbsp butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1 cup roughly chopped dried apricots
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F
  2. In a small bowl whisk the eggs and milk together. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the butter to the dry ingredients, then using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until there a few pea sized pieces of butter.
  4. Pour the milk into the flour and stir together with a fork until just combined, then stir in the dried apricots. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a disk, about 1 inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter or a glass, cut circles of dough and place them on parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  5. Sprinkle the tops of the scones with sugar. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the tops are browned.
  6. Serve with your favourite jam or fruit butter.
Enjoy!

Easter Babka Three Ways

Happy Easter!

This year Easter is going to be at my place. Normally we would have it at my parents, but their oven broke and won’t be repaired in time. Most of the prep is still being done by my parents. Right now they are marinating a huge leg of lamb that will be roasted here tomorrow. My mom is also taking care of the pierogi, and the stuffed vine leaves (we have a multicultural Easter, part Polish, part Egyptian). All of the baking was done here yesterday. My mom came over around 10 and we baked all day.

The first thing we made were the Babkas. Babkas are a traditional Eastern and Central European yeasted sweet bread that are served for Easter. The traditional version is flavoured with dried fruit. That’s what my mom always makes. This year, I wanted to try something a little less traditional, chocolate babka.

My mom wasn’t super enthusiastic at first, but then I reminded her of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries to buy a chocolate babka. Everyone loves chocolate babka! That helped convince her. Once we decided to veer from the traditional, my mom suggested a third option, poppy seed babka. 

So we made all three.

We made one batch of dough and divided it into three, using a different filling for each. In the traditional version, we used raisins and dried apricots soaked in rum. For the poppy seed version we used a store bought poppy seed paste that also had raisins and candied orange peel. The chocolate version was originally based on Smitten Kitchens technique. Unfortunately, the dough we used could not hold up to the weight of the chocolate and sort of .. imploded. So this morning I made another chocolate babka. This time I used Smitten Kitchens dough recipe and just added chunks of chocolate. Her babka dough is very similar to a brioche recipe. Although it tasted very good, I found my moms recipe much easier to work with. My moms also has a much lighter texture. I can understand now why her chocolate babka didn’t implode, the dough is much stronger.

This basic dough can be used with any filling or flavourings. It makes enough for three loaves.

Basic Babka Dough

  • 5 tsps dry active yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 8 cups all purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups milk, warm
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tsps vanilla
  • 2 tbsp dark rum
  • zest of one orange
  1. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside for the yeast to dissolve. Note, make sure the water is below 105 degrees F, otherwise it might kill the yeast.
  2. While the yeast is dissolving, whisk the eggs slightly.
  3. Put 6 cups of flour and the salt in the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl if kneading by hand). Create a well, and pour in the eggs, yeast, warm milk, melted butter, vanilla, and rum. Add the orange zest. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined, then place in the mixer with the dough hook attached and knead. Slowly add the remaining two cups of flour. Knead for 10 minutes. If kneading by hand, this will take about 30 minutes.
  4. If using dried fruit or chocolate chunks, add them to the mixer at this point and knead until combined.
  5. Divide dough into three and place in separate greased bowls. Cover with plastic wrap let rise for an hour until doubled in bulk (or overnight in the fridge).
  6. Punch down the dough. If using a filling like the poppy seed paste or a chocolate spread, roll the dough out into a rectangle, spread the filling over the dough, then roll the dough tightly like a jelly roll.
  7. Place dough in a loaf pan, baking sheet or bundt pan. Cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350.
  9. Bake the babka for 15-20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 and bake for another 15 to 20. Note, if using a loaf pan it may take a few extra minutes. When done, the bread will sound hollow if tapped.
Enjoy!