When life hands you lemons: Sweet Milk Scones with Candied Orange Peel

Every cook goes through slumps; meals that should have been spectacular are insipid, the weather sets the chemistry of a baked good off, the no-fail recipe is a dismal failure. All of the above happened to me this week. Venison steaks with blackberry mustard sauce, rhubarb strawberry crisp, and most spectacularly, candied orange peels, while not being inedible, we’re not what my mouth was set for when I started cooking.

So what does one do with two large baking trays of candied orange peels that just won’t dry? I’ve made candied citrus peels before. They should be tender, but not soft, the translucent color of shards of stained glass.These, not even close. More like those candy orange slices, which I realize is not a bad thing, but not what I was expecting.

But I started thinking about the cake I had heard of, a Southern recipe, that includes Orange Slices. A simpler thing to make would be candied orange scones. Scones are very similar to Southern biscuits with a hint of sweetness in the dough and usually some sort of fruit or flavoring mixed in. I found a basic sweet milk scone recipe by America’s Test Kitchen.

I incorporated about a half cup of the candied peel into the dry ingredients and formed it into a disk, cutting it into wedges before baking it instead of using a round biscuit cutter. I sprinkled some of the sugar from the peels over the top and into the oven it went.

Oh the agony of waiting! would I break my losing streak or break my teeth on a rock hard scone?

I think I did it! And the orange peel is perfect. It has subtly infused the scones with their fragrance, and are soft and chewy bursts of flavor through each bite I take. The blood orange lemon curd isn’t bad either. Perfect with a cup of black coffee.

Everyone has their off days (weeks). Sometimes it is equipment or ingredient failure. Sometimes the elements just don’t add up. Julia Child said “never apologize” and I think she has a good point. Just keep trying and looking forward to next time, when you can turn those lemons into candied orange peel scones.

Sweet Milk Scones with Candied Orange Peel

 2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbs sugar

4 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

3/4 cup milk

 Optional:

½ cup chopped candied orange peel

Granulated sugar to sprinkle over the top

 Preheat oven to 450F

 Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl until mixed. Add the cold butter pieces and use either a pastry cutter, a couple of forks, or your fingertips, mix the butter into the flour until the mixture has a pebbly texture.

 Add the candied orange peel and the milk, stirring just until the dry mixture is moistened and forms a ball, being careful not to overmix. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead 4-5 times to form a ball. Flatten the ball into a round disk and place on parchment on a baking pan, in a large cast iron skillet or on a non-stick baking sheet.

 Using a bench scraper or other blade, score the disk of dough into wedges, like the spokes of a wheel. Sprinkle the top of the scones with a light coat of granulated sugar.

 Bake for 10-12 minutes until the top is golden.

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Well, peaches peaches…..

Canning fruit is like giving a present to your future self. I spent a few hours in an orchard last summer and came home with buckets of Suncrest and Faye Elbertas, sun- warm and so ripe they bruise if you look at them wrong, the kind you eat leaning over the sink so that at least some of the juice doesn’t end up running down your neck. What we couldn’t eat fresh, I made into peach butter or sliced and processed in a light syrup in pint jars so that one evening in late March months before any peach that I might be so unfortunate to purchase in a supermarket is even a shadow of what a real peach should taste like, I can pop open a jar and bake a bevy of these buxom peachy muffins.

These are lightly spiced muffins whose charm is due not only to the swirl of yellow peach running through them, but also to the crunchy crust that the coarse-crystalled sugar forms on the top, similar to a streusel topping, but lighter and crisper. Using all purpose flour makes the muffins lighter and more tender, and the white whole wheat is slightly denser but not heavy. Either flour (or a combination of the two) makes a lovely muffin. It’s up to you which you prefer.

Peach Muffins

1 ½  cups flour (all purpose or white whole wheat)

⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of fresh grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground flax seed meal

½ cup oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup brown sugar

½ cups white sugar

⅛ teaspoon lemon extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped (fresh or home canned, drained and crushed)

turbinado  or raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease or line 12-15 muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, and flax seed meal. In a separate bowl, mix the oil, eggs, and sugar. Add the flavoring and peaches. Mix well. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Use a spoon or spatula and fold together until just incorporated. Spoon about ¼ cup of the batter into each of the muffin tins. Sprinkle the tops of each muffin with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. As soon as you are able to handle them, turn the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool.

Sweetart: Lemon Curd Tart

We drove up into Napa Valley for dinner tonight. We waited for our table out on the patio with a gin and tonic, enjoying the last of the February sunshine. After dinner we headed home for a slice of sunshine I had made earlier today, a Valentine’s Day lemon curd tart for my sweetheart. I love the tangy curd with a buttery, nutty crust, the sunshine yellow contrasting the bits of green pistachio.

Lemon Curd Tart in Pistachio Pastry

I used this recipe from Fine Cooking for lemon curd. The technique is unusual but makes a smooth lemon curd almost fool-proof.

Pistachio pastry

1 1/4 cups all- purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

½ cup coarsely ground toasted pistachios

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

2 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool

Lightly grease your baking tin. Whisk flour, sugar, pistachio meal, and salt

together.

Beat butter and cream cheese together with your electric mixer at medium-high speed until completely homogenous, about 2 minutes. Add flour, sugar, salt, and pistachios  and combine on medium low until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Increase mixer speed and beat until dough forms large clumps and pulls away from the bowl.

Form into a disk and press into the pie tin with your fingers, working out from the center and up the sides until the dough is evenly distributed.

Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Bake at 325 for 35- 40 minutes for a fully baked crust or 20-25 minutes for a partially baked crust. remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

I made the lemon curd while the crust was cooling so that it wouldn’t have time to cool and set before pouring it into the crust. For a really good basic pie or tart crust, omit the pistachio meal. I use this recipe for a pecan tart at Christmastime and for any other pies or tarts I need to get right because I am not a confident baker and have yet to fail spectacularly with this recipe.

Chill the tart to firm up the filling. A spoonful of whipped cream or whipped crème fraîche and a shower  of acid green pistachio slivers and let love abound.