Gingerbread scones and shortcakes

Gingerbread Scones
Makes 8 scones
Buttermilk does wonders for baked goods, adding a touch of acidity and an appealingly homey taste whenever it is included. Buttermilk scones are a classic. And they're easily adapted. Omit the sugar and you've got warm dinner biscuits. Change the flavorings and you change the scone-try dried blueberries and lemon zest, dried cranberries and ginger, or dried apricots and toasted hazelnuts. These are also the base for the Gingerbread Shortcakes with Caramelized Apples and Cider Sabayon recipe.

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) cold buttermilk
2 tablespoons light, unsulfured molasses
1 egg, lightly beaten

Gingerbread scones and shortcakes
Baking Sheet, Parchment Paper or a Thin Silicone Mat, Food Processor Fitted with a Metal Blade, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Chef's Knife, Pastry Brush, Cooling Rack

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F and position an oven rack in the center. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a thin silicone mat. Place the flour mixture, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of the food processor and process for 10 seconds to blend well. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse 5 times at 1-second intervals, or until the butter is cut into medium pieces. Combine the buttermilk with the molasses and then pour in the buttermilk mixture and pulse another 20 times, or until the dough holds together in large, thick clumps. Use a spatula to scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently squeeze or knead the clumps together until they form a cohesive dough.

2. If the dough seems sticky, lightly dust your work surface with flour. Pat the dough into a circle 7 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. Use a chef's knife to cut the dough into 8 equal wedges and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.

3. Brush the tops with a thin coating of the beaten egg (you will not use all the egg). Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake for 14 to 17 minutes, until firm to the touch and golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve the scones warm or at room temperature.

Gingerbread scones and shortcakes
Once the scones are baked, serve them within 2 hours, when they are at their freshest and most appealing. Store uncovered at room temperature until serving time.

Gingerbread scones and shortcakes
Once the dough is prepared and cut (through Step 2), the wedges can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. They will not rise quite as high as when freshly mixed, but they will be attractive and tasty. To bake, proceed with Step 3.

The dough can also be cut and frozen for up to 1 month. Place the wedges on a baking sheet and freeze until hard, about 1 hour. Transfer to a resealable plastic freezer bag. To bake, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then place on the prepared baking sheet and proceed with Step 3. Or, thaw at room temperature on the prepared baking sheet for about 20 minutes, or until cool to the touch but no longer hard in the center. Bake as directed.

Tips for Success
Improvising Flavors: Biscuits and scones are a blank canvas upon which you can work your culinary creativity. You can add a wide variety of dried fruits and nuts to the recipes here, as long as you keep the amount to about ½ cup per recipe (you can add up to 1 cup, but the scones will be thicker and will take a few extra minutes to bake). Add your flavorings after the butter is cut into the desired size and right before you stir in the liquid.

Zests, spices (½ to 1 teaspoon for each recipe here), extracts (½ to ¾ teaspoon for each recipe here), and oils (a few drops to ¼ teaspoon for each recipe here) may also be used to flavor the dough, as may chocolate and other flavored chips. Zests should be added with the dry ingredients, whereas extracts and oils should be added with the liquid in the recipe. You may also incorporate specialty or whole-grain flours into the biscuits or scones by substituting them for one-fourth of the total amount of flour in the recipe (for example, if the recipe calls for 2 cups of white flour, use ½ cup of whole wheat flour and 1½ cups of white flour).

-From The Art and Soul of Baking by Sur La Table with Cindy Mushet, Andrews McMeel Publishing

Gingerbread Shortcakes with Caramelized Apples and Cider Sabayon
Serves 8
A very special ending to a celebratory autumn dinner (even if all you're celebrating is falling leaves), these shortcakes offer layer after layer of favorite cold-weather flavors. And the apple, cinnamon, and caramel bring to mind those other seasonal favorites: wood smoke curling from the fireplace, big plaid blankets, and trees ablaze with color.

1 recipe Gingerbread Scones (page 157), prepared through Step 2

Cider Sabayon:
6 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) Calvados or other apple brandy
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) apple juice
3/4 cup (6 ounces) heavy whipping cream

For the Scones:
3 tablespoons turbinado (page 25) or Hawaiian washed raw sugar

6 large, tart baking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Large Bowl, Double Boiler, Whisk or Hand Mixer, Instant-Read Thermometer, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Chef's Knife, Pastry Brush, Baking Sheet, Parchment Paper, Cooling Rack, Large Sauté Pan or Skillet, Paring Knife

1. Make the sabayon: Fill the large bowl halfway with ice and water and set it aside. Place 2 inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer. Place the egg yolks and sugar in the top of the double boiler off the heat and whisk briefly, just until well blended and slightly lightened in color. Add the Calvados and apple juice and blend well. Place the egg mixture over the simmering water and whisk constantly for about 5 minutes (a hand mixer can be used here), or until it becomes very light and fluffy, resembling softly whipped cream in texture, and registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Do not exceed 165°F or the eggs could scramble. If you see the sauce beginning to scramble around the edges, quickly remove the top of the double boiler from the heat and whisk vigorously. This will usually save the sauce, but if it still looks flat and broken, or there are large pieces of scrambled egg in the sauce, there is no recourse but to begin again with new ingredients. As soon as the sauce is finished, remove it from the heat. Place immediately in the bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally with the spatula until cold to the touch.

2. In the bowl of the stand mixer, or with a hand mixer and a medium bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Use a clean spatula to fold the whipped cream into the cooled sauce.

3. Cut and bake the scones: Preheat the oven to 425°F and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly dust the work surface with flour and pat the dough into an 8 by 4-inch rectangle. Use the chef's knife to cut the dough in half lengthwise and into quarters crosswise, making eight 2-inch squares. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush off any excess flour and space them evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar generously over the tops and press lightly into the surfaces. Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, until firm to the touch and golden in color. Transfer to a rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. These are best served while still warm, although they may be served cool.

4. Caramelize the apples: While the scones are baking, toss the apple slices with the sugar and cinnamon until evenly coated. You might think that there are too many apple slices, but they shrink quite a bit during the cooking process. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. When it has melted, swirl the pan to coat it with the melted butter, turn the heat to high, add half of the apple slices, and spread in a single layer. (Note: Don't try to cook the apples all at once-if you crowd them, they'll poach in their own juices rather than caramelize.) Cook, without stirring, for 2 minutes. Gently toss or stir the apples. Cook for 2 minutes longer, then toss or stir again. Continue in this manner until the apples are golden brown and cooked through (the tip of a paring knife should slide easily in and out of the slices), yet still hold their shape, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to a large plate. Repeat with the 1 remaining tablespoon of butter and the rest of the apple slices.

5. Assemble and serve the scones: Split the warm scones in half and place a bottom half on each plate. Spoon the apples onto the scone bottoms, allowing some to fall onto the plate. Top with a generous spoonful of cider sabayon. Place the scone tops slightly askew and serve immediately.

Getting Ahead
The scone dough can be cut, placed on the baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before baking. The cut dough can also be wrapped airtight on the baking sheet and frozen for up to 6 weeks-do not defrost before baking. In either case, the scones will not rise quite as high as when the dough is freshly made, but they will be delicious nonetheless. The sabayon can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated, covered. If it softens, use a whisk to whip it back to the desired firmness just before serving. The apples can be cooked up to 8 hours in advance and kept, covered, in the refrigerator. Undercook the apples slightly, as they will continue to cook when you reheat them in a sauté pan just before serving.

Cindy Mushet has been a pastry chef and culinary instructor for nearly 20 years, and began her career at the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. She has since headed pastry kitchens in restaurants and bakeries across California, from Napa Valley to San Diego. She has taught professional training courses at Le Cordon Bleu, the Culinary Institute of America, and the New School of Cooking, among others. She has also taught hundreds of recreational classes both in California and across the country.

For five years she wrote and published the highly regarded "Baking With The American Harvest," a quarterly baking journal with subscribers nationwide. Her first book, Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style, was published by Scribner in 2000. She was also a contributing writer to The Joy of Cooking, The Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies, and The Baker's Dozen Cookbook. Her recipes and articles have been featured in Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking, Gourmet Magazine, Country Home and The New York Times, among others. Her recipes were among the few to be chosen for inclusion in The Best American Recipe books (Houghton Mifflin), including the recently published 125 Best American Recipes of the Last 10 Years.

She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is a patisserie chef-instructor in the Le Cordon Bleu program at The California School of Culinary Arts, and consults regularly with restaurants and bakeries on menu development and staff training. Cindy is a regular guest on KCRW's Good Food radio show. She has been a spokesperson for The American Butter Institute, and a guest chef at food conferences around the country. She founded the San Diego chapter of The Baker's Dozen. She helped to organize and moderate the first annual Worlds of Flavor Baking and Pastry Retreat at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. She is a long-standing member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, as well as a member of The Baker's Dozen San Francisco and Slow Food. She received her culinary diploma from Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco, and in addition holds a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, and a certificate in Sustainable Agriculture from UC Davis.

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