Sunday, February 12, 2006

Heart of Scone

Valentine's Day is approaching swiftly, and as the Baker's Catalogue likes to remind me each year, this is a baker's dream holiday -- the chance to make lovely, luscious baked goodies for the ones you love!

Uh-huh, says I.

And while the dear ol' BC likes to rhapsodize about baking with chocolate for this holiday, I like to go against the grain (which really shouldn't surprise you at all).

It's not that I have anything at all against chocolate, as I think you well know.

I just like to take the romantic comedy of February 14 in stride and offer up my warped little tribute to the day by baking with a different ingredient: dates.

So instead of cookies, brownies, or a cake, I thought scones might be in order. And as I discussed the idea with my trusty baking assistant, the lovely Phoenix, inspiration struck!

After picking myself up from the floor (Inspiration sometimes packs a wallop), I told Phoenix that since I still had one small pie pumpkin from the farmers' market, perhaps I should make pumpkin-date scones, laced with rich pumpkin pie spices and a sprinkling of my homemade cinnamon orange peel.

Phoenix pondered this idea for a moment, then cheerfully volunteered not only her excellent services as a taste tester but also her willing hands to make the scones.

All fine and dandy -- except then I had to figure out how to work mashed fresh pumpkin into one of my scone recipes without making the dough too soggy to hold together well.

Inspiration struck again! (This time, I ducked.) I opted to replace most of the butter with the pumpkin and to puree the pumpkin with some of the milk to get a smoother consistency.

After that, I followed a basic recipe loosely, adding more spices and tossing the date pieces in oat flour (to keep them from clumping together), and we ended up with scone dough of approximately the same texture and tenderness as the usual variations.

Though we had originally planned to make the scones heart-shaped for the holiday, I completely forgot to pull out the cookie cutter, so we ended up with the usual squares and triangles. Then, after a mere 10 minutes in the oven, we had a tray full of amber-colored, pillowy scones dotted with big chunks of dates.


And with scones warm from the oven, the winter sunshine streaming through the windows, and plenty of conversation still to enjoy, it seemed only right to invite Phoenix to stay for tea as she sampled our baking experiment and gave me her opinion (favorable, of course).

Sure, chocolate makes for a very sweet and romantic Valentine's Day. But for those of us who hope to keep our hearts healthy as well as happy, I offer you these tender pumpkin-date scones to spice up breakfast with your sweetheart.

After all, everyone should have a date for Valentine's Day.


Pumpkin-Date Scones

One of my most trusted scone recipes comes from Morning Glories, and this recipe takes the original recipe for Orange Mint Chip Scones (also fabulous!) as a launching pad and goes the healthy route by reducing most of the fat and replacing it with pumpkin. You might also enjoy adding nuts to this recipe... I know I would!

1 c pumpkin (fresh baked or canned)
1/2 c reduced-fat milk or soymilk
2 T melted butter
1/2 c chopped fresh dates
2 T oat flour (whole wheat pastry flour would also work)
2 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c Sucanat (or maple sugar or brown sugar)
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp dried orange peel
1/4 c reduced-fat milk or soymilk

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Puree pumpkin, 1/2 c milk, and melted butter until smooth and thick. Set aside.

Toss dates in oat flour until well coated. Set aside.

Whisk together dry ingredients. Mix in the pumpkin puree, and add 1/4 c milk (or more as needed) to form a soft dough. Fold in dates and mix gently. Knead the dough gently in the bowl, adding more flour if needed.

Turn dough onto floured counter and pat it out into a square or circle about 1/4" to 1/2" thick. Cut out scones with a knife or cookie cutters, and place scones on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake scones for 10 minutes at 400 F, until scones are slightly firm to the touch. Remove from baking sheet and allow to cool on wire rack.

Makes 8-12 scones, depending on how big you cut them

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