Spring Senses: The Taste of Maple, in a Scone

IMG_6245It’s early spring in the North Country of upstate New York and one thing says spring here, more than mercurial temperature swings and dirty, muddy snow. One thing says spring even more than news of ice fishermen having to be rescued from the melting lake.

Maple. Maple anything and maple everything—that says spring.

In my continuing yearly celebration of all things maple, I offer to you possibly the best recipe for scones you’ll ever try.

It’s also probably the least healthy recipe for scones you’ll ever see but, really, how many scones could you eat in a day?

Really, that many? Me, too!

My recipe comes directly from The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. This cookbook is a compendium of recipes for popular foods, the kinds of foods for which everyone has a recipe and none of the recipes are the same.

When there are 1000 recipes for chocolate chip cookies, for instance, how do we know which one to use?

I turn to Cook’s Illustrated. The editors comprehensively test these multiple approaches to a given recipe and seek to provide the definitive recipe for such items as pasta with bolognese sauce and macaroni salad and, yes, chocolate chip cookies.

I love this cookbook because, in a very systematic way, it identifies what the cooks were aiming for and then provides details of the different tweaks they made to achieve their goals. This all just really makes my cake bake, literally and figuratively!

The Cook’s Illustrated goal for oatmeal scones was “to pack the chewy nuttiness of oats into a moist and tender breakfast pastry, one that wouldn’t require a firehose to wash down the crumbs” (714). They provide variations for cinnamon raisin oatmeal scones and oatmeal scones with dried cherries and hazelnuts but . . .

It’s spring in the North Country of upstate New York and we’re talking maple here! These scones are tender and amazing, and so very maple.


Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones

from The New Best Recipe

Ingredients

1 ½ cups rolled oats (4 ½ ounces) or quick oats

½ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ cup maple syrup

1 large egg

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 ½ ounces) (such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon table salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½” cubes

For glaze

3 tablespoons maple syrup

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread oats and pecans evenly on one baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes; cool on wire rack. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. When oats are cooled, measure out and reserve 2 tablespoons for dusting the work surface.
  1. Whisk milk, cream, 1/4 cup maple syrup, and egg in medium bowl until incorporated; remove and reserve 1 tablespoon to small bowl to brush scones.
  1. Pulse flour, baking powder, and salt in food processor until combined, about four 1-second pulses. Scatter cold butter evenly over dry ingredients and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, twelve to fourteen 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and stir in cooled oats. Using rubber spatula, fold in liquid ingredients until large clumps form. Continue mixing by hand until a mass forms.
  1. Dust work surface with half of reserved oats and flour (if needed), turn dough out onto work surface, and dust top with remaining oats. Gently pat into 7-inch circle about 1 inch thick.  Cut dough into 8 wedges and set on parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Brush surfaces with reserved egg mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes; cool scones on baking sheet on wire rack 5 minutes, then remove scones to cooling rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  1. When scones are cooled, whisk maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar until combined; drizzle glaze over scones.

IMG_6229

The Sound of a Door Closing

closed for the season

photo by Alison Hurt

Listen—did you hear that? That was the sound of the door closing on my candy shop, for the 2013-2014 season.

One of the best things about working with chocolate is that you can’t do it when it’s warm. Chocolate simply cannot be tempered if the temperature is above about 70 degrees. So, as a home-based chocolatier, with no interest in a bigger operation, the coming of summer means the end of chocolate making. Right when I want to do other things, I can!

I just finished dipping the last of the candy that I will take to a spring boutique later this week. Last week, I deactivated the candy listings on Etsy. I’m out of the chocolate business until October!

I’m both happy and a bit verklempt about the end of the season. It was a good year, and very busy. I plowed through the 230 pounds of Callebaut chocolate I wrote about in August and had to order 55 pounds more of milk chocolate. That adds up to something like 700,000 calories worth of chocolate, spread around the US!

I did my first-ever face-to-face sale in December and it went so well I’m doing another on Wednesday, with a lot let angst this time.

I developed some new candies, most notably lemon meltaways and Irish cream meltaways, both with silky smooth flavored-chocolate innards, dipped in more chocolate. I also added delicate, crispy English toffee to my offerings.

I’ll miss my little morning routine of drinking my coffee, getting caught up with the news, and putting on my apron. I mostly make candy in the very early morning and those hours will be open to me now.

I’ll miss the smells—the chocolate, of course, the caramel bubbling on the stove, the mint oil, the peanut butter. And I’ll miss the heavy responsibility of taste testing!

But, as they say, when one door closes, another opens.

It is finally beginning to be spring in upstate New York so the door opens to lawn and gardens, and they need a lot of work.

The door opens to the linen closet, too—I have been very lax about listing vintage linens on Etsy and those piles of pretty linens are not getting any smaller!

The door will open soon to another glorious summer on beautiful Lake Champlain and summer activities—bike rides to go for soft ice cream, garage sales, campfires, and s’mores, and family time.

Who wants to be in the kitchen, making candy, when there’s so much else to do?!

So, I’ll go downstate and sell candy for one more day. I’ll stash any leftovers for sampling and sharing over the summer. I’ll put away the candy equipment and ingredients and soak my apron in Oxi-Clean to get the chocolate out.

And I’ll go outside, to play in the sun. I’ll weave things and finish a quilt. I’ll talk to you and do a lot of ironing of pretty things. I’ll get back to that list of things I’ve been meaning to do (IBMTD)!

And, along about September, I’ll start yearning for the smell of melted chocolate and the comfort of the candy-making routine. And then the door will open again. . .

 

The Power of Positive Vibes . . . And a Great Sister!

Thanks to the good vibes you directed my way and to my amazing sister, the holiday boutique I participated in was truly fun!

It was a long day—we set up at 7:30 a.m., the doors opened at 10, and closed at 7:00 p.m.—but it went by pretty fast. Those of you who assured me that, of course, people would want to buy chocolate were right—we had lots of interest and lots of folks went away with chocolate for gifts, and for themselves.

For the display table, I used some of my stash of vintage linens—I grabbed everything red and white—so it looked festive and different than the other displays. I polished up some Revere bowls and dragged out the vintage aluminum platters and was set to go.

The most popular items didn’t come as a surprise to me—chocolate-covered caramels with fleur de sel have always been my best seller and peppermint bark just tastes like Christmas.

I was so glad to have my sister’s help—most of the vendors were there by themselves and had no on else to rely on. Just having the friendly support of someone who totally understands me made a huge difference!

My introverted tendencies didn’t get in the way. I’m not especially shy—I’m what a friend calls “an introvert with good social skills.” So the day went fine while I was there but I was glad to have a long-ish drive home the next day, alone, with no one who wanted me to talk to them! My people batteries are drained!

So, thank you to all of you who were so supportive and made such kind comments beforehand and thanks, again, to the sister who is my biggest supporter and best marketer! I feel so lucky to have you all on my side!

A Daydream Made of Caramel

IMG_3990 I spent the early morning hours with family. “Big deal, Kerry,” you say. “It’s Thanksgiving in the United States and most Americans are spending it with family.”

But I spent my morning with a grandmother who has been dead since I was 12, two cousins who live hundreds of miles away, and a sister sound asleep in the guest room.

No, I didn’t have a séance and I wasn’t Skyping. I spent the last three hours wrapping a gazillion (really—I counted) little squares of caramel in a gazillion little squares of waxed paper.

As I stood at the counter and wrapped, I daydreamed and I am, if I say it myself, a world-class daydreamer.

I daydreamed about my history with wrapping caramels.

Caramels have been a part of the winter holidays for me for, literally, my whole life. I grew up on a farm and my grandmother made caramels (and divinity) only at this time of year, for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so it was a big event.

I’m still using her recipe—it takes a full two hours or more to make a batch and involves instructions like, “add the milk, drop by drop. Add the butter, bit by bit.” We kids—my sister and two cousins and I—weren’t encouraged to be around while the caramel was cooking because the hot syrup can cause the most awful burns but, once the caramel was poured and had time to set, our work began.

We were the caramel wrappers!  We didn’t see this as work at all. Or, if it was work, it came with great benefits! I’m sure we didn’t eat as many as we wrapped but I’m also sure we needed some time outside after we were done, to work off the sugar high.

My grandmother would carpet the kitchen table with little squares of waxed paper, cut the caramel into strips, and cut little pieces—plop, plop, plop—onto the paper. Little hands would pick up each square, wrap the waxed paper around and twist the ends to seal the caramels in.

Nowadays, a lot of my caramel gets dipped in chocolate or added to some other candy, like turtle bark or candy bars. The chocolate-covered fleur de sel caramels are by far my best-selling item.

But sometimes, I do get orders for the pure, unadulterated caramels and, as was the case this morning, I find myself wrapping little bites of caramel in squares of waxed paper.

And my mind wanders to a different warm kitchen, four little girl cousins, a plump farm grandmother, sweets made with loving hands at home—a scene out of Norman Rockwell and perfect for daydreams and happy memories. Wrapping caramels still comes with benefits.

I hope you have the chance to daydream and enjoy family memories on your day of thanksgiving!

IMG_4003

Happy National Chocolate Day . . . A Giveaway!

National Chocolate Day?! Now that’s a holiday I can get on board with! In fact, I want to write a book because I have a title that I think will sell a million copies. I’m going to call it 50 Shades of Chocolate!

To celebrate National Chocolate Day, I’m going to give one of my North American readers a one-pound sampler of the chocolates from KerryCan. It’s not that I don’t love my blog friends from around the world—I just don’t like to think of what international mail would do to a delicate box of candy.

So, if you’re from the US or Canada and would like to enter the giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post. Tell me, in the comment, what your favorite chocolate candy is—do you like chocolate straight? Or do you go for the chocolate-covered caramels? Or chocolate with peanut butter? Or mint? Or something else? Let me know and I’ll assign you a number, based on order of comments. Then I’ll use a random number generator to come up with the winner.

Be sure to leave your comment within 72 hours of the time this post was made (5 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time in the U.S., on 10/28/13)! Good luck! (And if you don’t win, all of the candy is available in my shop!)

I Tempted Fate . . .

mint meltaways-4Are you the superstitious type? Do you believe you can jinx yourself? Like, when you were in high school, and you’d say, “I think I really aced that test,” and then you’d find out you got a 72? Or you’d tell everyone how great the job interview went, and then you’d never hear from the interviewer?

You’d think we’d learn never to tempt Fate by making such declarations.

I tempted Fate yesterday. And Fate won.

I’ve been a candy-making whirlwind. I’ve made about 12 different kinds of chocolate candy in three days. Four kinds of bark. Three kinds of candy bars. Caramels about 4 different ways. Peanut butter meltaways and mint meltaways . . . oh, yes, the mint meltaways.

I’m on a tight schedule to get all this done and I’ve been a bit stressed. I said to my husband, “At least it’s all gone perfectly—I haven’t over-cooked any caramel or burned the toasted pecans.”

Uh-oh—why did I say that? I wasn’t done making candy yet and Fate heard me.

Back to the mint meltaways. I’m always happy when I get an order for mint meltaways because they’re one of my favorites to sample—silky smooth, refreshing, dark chocolate, mint—yum.

When I make these, I dust the top of half of them with finely crushed peppermint candy. Crushing the candy is the hard part. It involves putting the candy in multiple layers of plastic bags (because when peppermint candy breaks it gets sharp edges that cut through the bags!) and pounding away with a dead blow hammer. I have to pound a long time to get the candy really crushed and the only consolation is that it makes a lot, so it should last me for months of mint meltaways.

Except Fate was going to have her way with me. I finally had my bowl of precious peppermint dust in one hand. I was ready to start dipping the meltaway innards in tempered chocolate. I started across the kitchen. A stray breeze caught a piece of waxed paper and blew it off the counter. I lunged to grab it.

And my bowl of peppermint dust tipped. And jerked. And spewed dust across the kitchen like an intense mint-scented blizzard.

And, although it doesn’t fit my “loving hands at home” image, I swore like a pirate. Like my husband, the former Marine, does when he screws up his counted cross stitch and has to rip out 4 hours worth of work. I swore and watched the peppermint dust settle  . . .

The swearing helped. And I had no choice but to clean up the mess of sticky dust, which got in every crack of the hardwood floors and wanted to stay.  And no choice but to start over and break up more peppermint candy with my dead blow hammer.

And that helped, too. Something about banging that hammer onto that candy, imagining Fate’s smug little face there, really, really helped!

But don’t tell her I said that! And don’t tell her that I have more candy to make today and that I need it to go well! And be careful, yourself, about tempting Fate—she’s listening.

Back in the Chocolate Again

  spicy bark-1 All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.
Charles M. Schulz

My kitchen has been cold and dark. Well, actually the kitchen has been pretty lively but, as a cook, I have been cold and dark since May.

My husband does nearly 100% of the cooking at our house (yes! It’s heaven!) and he has been very busy. I bake the occasional batch of cookies or loaf of bread but my main activity in our kitchen is making candy and chocolates. And I have not been able to indulge, in making or eating chocolate, since it got warm out.

The reason I had to take those months off is that it is impossible to temper real chocolate if the temps are above about 70 degrees. “Tempering” is the process by which chocolate is brought to the state where it has a high gloss, stays solid at room temperature, and has that “snap” when you break it or bite into it.

If a person wants to work with chocolate in warm weather, they either a) have a climate-controlled workspace or b) use a substitute for real chocolate, like the so-called “candy melts” or chocolate chips.

Candy melts and chocolate chips have their place in the world but they simply are not real, quality chocolate. And since, for me, chocolate is a treat (and a high-calorie one), if I’m going to eat it, or give it to my family, or sell it to valued customers, I’m going to use the real thing.

So, anyway, it’s cool now in upstate New York, so I’ve gotten back to this particular creative outlet. I’ve been re-listing candy in my shop. I guess I sell about 25 varieties and have been slowly getting them all back out there.

In the last few days I’ve made a couple different concoctions. First, I made a dipped candy that is similar to Mounds bars, but a little more robust and chewier. It has a center of coconut mixed with a cooked candy syrup that is then dipped into tempered chocolate.

coconut joys-4I also made a couple of batches of a spicy bark—dark chocolate, with toasted pumpkin seeds and dried sour cherries in it. It is souped up with cinnamon and some hotter spices, for a warm glow when you eat it. I made two batches because it is my mother’s very favorite and, since I was making it for a customer, I thought I better give my mom her fix, too!

The traditional way to make bark is to get the chocolate in temper, add the inclusions and then spread the mix, free form, on parchment paper. Then when the chocolate has set, you cut it or break it apart.

spicy bark-5When I made this bark yesterday, I did most of it that way but then made some into candy bars, using molds. I like the way they look (see that nice shine? The chocolate was in perfect temper!) but you can’t just break a little bite off, for a nibble, like you can with the traditional bark. What do you think? Is one form more appealing than the other?

choco barsI’m sure I’ll be back here, talking about chocolate as the months go by. I may even write up a lesson on how to temper chocolate, so you can make some of my goodies for yourself!

Chocolate-Covered Hands at Home

Image

I have over a half million calories worth of chocolate at my house right now. Really. My house is where you would want to be, if the “coming hard times” ever actually arrive!

One of my main creative activities is making candy—it is challenging but fun, ensures I have many friends, and means I am never without my next chocolate fix. I sell candy at my Etsy shop, KerryCan (www.kerrycan.etsy.com), when the weather gets cool enough to temper and mail chocolate, and I just went shopping to stock up for the upcoming candy-making season.

ImageImage

So, I have 21 of these big bars of Callebaut Belgian chocolate. Each bar weighs 11 pounds.  That adds up to 231 pounds of chocolate! And if you do the math it comes to about 572,880 calories! Knowing it’s there makes me feel all happy and secure . . .