Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Whole-Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones: No frosting required

When I was a child, it was all about the muffin for me.

Blueberry, streusel-topped concoctions that resembled coffee cake; carrot muffins lubed with more oil than the transmission in our Econoline Ford van; chocolate chip-studded monstrosities that my mother used to pick up from Costco in packs of 24.

Because clearly every child needs 24 head-sized chocolate chip muffins. (And the variety pack of frisbee-sized cookies to go along with them.)

I never much considered the scone until college. Likely because it didn't contain enough sugar to be a viable breakfast for my youthful self, but also because I'd never encountered a truly revelatory version. In my limited experience (that mostly revolved around the pastry case at Starbucks), scones were pedestrian. Dry. And way too adult. The kind of thing that required a good dredging into a cup of coffee (or, more accurately, frosting) to make palatable.

That is until I met a certain cinnamon chip scone.

There was a Great Harvest Bakery near the stadium where my cross-country team met for practice that was essentially Oz for carb-starved collegiate athletes. We'd troop in every few weeks armed with our revved up metabolisms and descend on the free samples of freshly baked wheat bread, warm chocolate chip cookies and scones like we were hibernating for the winter.

Which we probably were it being Chicago and all.

While we'd usually fill our carb quota around sample #5, occasionally one of us would actually buy something. Usually a cookie, but sometimes the cinnamon chip scone - an egregiously large mound of tender, butter-engorged dough streaked with crunchy nubs of cinnamon.

Essentially the love child of a cinnamon roll and Southern-style biscuit, it completely obliterated all my prior misconceptions about scones as the muffin's uglier step-sister. It superseded the muffin, rendering it obsolete in my world view during the four years I spent at Northwestern and, ultimately, raising the bar on my expectation for the humble baked good.

In the years since, I've become somewhat of a scone snob, arching a disdainful eyebrow at most of the bakery case blunders I come across -- usually because of their brick-like properties or because they never quite live up to the bold proclamations of their titles. Currant orange scones with a measly four currants interspersed throughout, leaden whole-wheat varieties that could double as pet rocks, and blueberry concoctions that seem confused as to whether they want to be a scone or a misshapen muffin.

It's all very disheartening for a former-muffin-monogamist-turned-pastry-polygamist.

Out of dire necessity (because all breakfast situations are such), I've committed myself to a life of homemade scones - first, to Molly Wizenberg's near-perfect recipe template, and, most recently to these whole-wheat raspberry ricotta behemoths.

Or, for the uninitiated, the scone solution.

The collusion of butter and ricotta and fresh raspberries spring the scone to new life. The ricotta enriches the dough with the fat it needs to maintain a delicate crumb, the raspberries saturate each bite with an intensity of flavor that is not usually commiserate with its four-currant Per Capita cousins, and the butter, well, the butter just makes it all worthwhile.

It comes, predictably from Deb at Smitten Kitchen who addresses every potential bakery case hazard in one formidable pastry package. The dryness. The bore factor. The need for frosting or repetitive coffee-dunking.

And while it is absolutely nothing like the cinnamon chip scone that first turned my head in college, it's just as significant. A breakfast game-changer. And the perfect reason to get out of bed in the morning outside of a muffin the size of your head.

Whole-Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
Lightly adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Makes 9 scones

Notes: I did very little to change Deb's vision for these impeccable, egregiously delicious scones. I substituted low-fat ricotta for whole since I couldn't find the full-fat version at the store, and brushed the tops with melted butter and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar before baking to give them a bit of crunch and that bakery-style golden brown appearance. I also refrigerated my dough for a bit before portioning into pieces so it was easier to work with (the batter is quite sticky!). Everything else remains intact. One final word of wisdom, while you can certainly try these with strawberries, they won't integrate into the dough quite like the raspberries do, so for at least the first go-around, I recommend you make them as Deb intended - a perfect marriage of raspberries and ricotta. 

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled + 2 tablespoons melted butter for glaze
1 cup fresh raspberries, chopped
3/4 low-fat ricotta
1/3 cup heavy cream
Turbinado sugar

In a large bowl, combine both flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Whisk together until well integrated. Cut cold butter into pieces, and, moving quickly, use your fingertips to work into the flour mixture. Continue gently massaging into the flour until the mixture resembles a course meal and no clump of butter is larger than a pea.

Stir in the raspberries, then add the ricotta and heavy cream, using a spatula to combine and form the batter into a dough. (It will be quite sticky so don't be alarmed!) Use your hands to knead the batter into an even mass, then dump out onto a piece of press and seal or nonstick wrap.

Mold into a 7-inch square about 1-inch high, then wrap up and transfer to the fridge. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to make the dough easier to work with.

While the dough is chilling preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the chilled batter into nine even squares. Place on the prepared baking sheet, then brush with the melted butter. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

Bake for about 15-17 minutes or until lightly browned and the centers are set. Let them cool on the baking sheet for five minutes before using a spatula to transfer to a cooling rack.  Like Deb instructs, it is best to let them set a few minutes before digging in!  But they are well worth the wait.


yutjangsah said...

I too had a Great Harvest Bread Co very close to me in college. My roommate worked there and she'd bring home granola, cookies, bread ohemgee. I love scones and I love how you are making the ingredients collude - I'm going to make these one fine day.

Gastronomer said...

D - I NEED THESE! NEED! Vern too ;-)