Butternut Squash Scones with Dates and Walnuts

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Let’s talk about scones shall we?

I’m no expert at scones, but I learned a few tips and tricks that will help you make great scones every time. And since I go completely crazy over butternut butternut squash every fall, I decided to post a recipe that combines a few of my favorite things. So here it is a light and flaky scone recipe with a subtle hint of butternut squash, walnuts, and sweets dates.

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The first thing to keep in mind when making these is to handle the dough gently and as little as possible. Start off by sifting the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt twice. Yup, twice. Why do you ask? Sifting helps in breaking up existing clumps which will produce lovely light pastries. It also blends the dry ingredients which gives more consistency and therefore better results.

Then proceed in grating the frozen butter and mixing it with your fingers until it resemble crumbs. When adding in the chilled wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, you don’t want to mix it more than it all just coming together or the scones will turn out chewy. As soon as the dough comes together, tip it onto a floured surface and form it into a thick round circle, and slice it into eight wedges. If you prefer small scones (like the ones pictured) then continue reading the directions below. Now, the dough may be sticky and that’s totally okay. If it is too sticky, I found that putting the dough in the freezer for a few minutes makes it easier to handle.

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It is very important to keep the whole mixture cold all the time because you don’t want the butter to melt. These cold bits of butter will create pockets of air when they’re in the oven, therefore making the scones airy, light, and flaky. If you have some extra time, chill the sliced wedges for 20 minutes before placing them in the oven: this will help in making the scones flakier and rising higher.

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Serve the scones as soon as they’re out of the oven with some jam, butter, or cheese!

Ingredients: Makes about 24 mini scones

1 large egg, cold
1/2 cup butternut squash or pumpkin puree*, chilled
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
310g (2+1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
55g (1/4 cup) packed brown sugar
113g (1/2 cup, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, frozen
175g (1 cup) chopped dates, tossed in flour (to avoid pieces to stick together)
100g (1 cup) chopped walnuts

*To make butternut squash puree, simply cut a squash in half, discard the seeds, and bake in a 400°F (200°C) preheated oven until tender (about 45-60 minutes). Scoop the softened squash in a blender and puree until smooth.

Directions:

1. In a small bowl combine egg, pumpkin, yogurt, and vanilla extract and mix well and keep refrigerated.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)
3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices twice. Mix in the sugar.
4. Using the largest holes on a box grater, grate the frozen butter into flour mixture and mix with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal.
5. Stir the chilled wet ingredients into flour mixture. Using your hands, mix all the ingredients together until just combined then turn out onto a floured surface.

For regular sized scones:
Using the palm of your hand, shape the dough into a 7″ (18 cm) circle, 1″ (2.5 cm) thick, and cut into eight equal wedges. Then transfer each wedge to a lined baking sheet spacing them apart and brush with cream or egg wash (a mix of 1 tablespoon of water or milk with a whole egg). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until just golden then cool. Serve immediately.

For mini scones:
Pat the dough with the back of your hand and shape into a large rectangle, about 10″ (25cm) long, 7″ (18cm) wide, and 1″(2.5cm) thick. Straighten the sides with a dough scraper. Cut the rectangle into 3 long rectangles, and then each into small triangles using diagonal cuts. Place them on a baking sheet 1/4 inch (1cm) apart. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until just golden then cool. Serve immediately.

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Bohsalino (Pistachio Paste filled with Kashta Cheese)

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Bohsalino reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen and how dedicated she is as a cook and baker. I always watch her prepare this Lebanese dessert when she visits Lebanon. It used to look so complex to me: grinding the pistachios, magically turning them into a sweet paste, and sandwiching it with creamy kashta (fresh Lebanese cheese, which can be substituted with Ricotta cheese). I am still fascinated by the whole process and how good it tastes! I’m not lying when I say that I can live on bohsalino instead of chocolate. That’s a dangerous statement don’t you think?

For some reason this dessert always seems to be a mystery to me. No one but my grandma makes it. When I tell people about it most of them have no clue what I’m talking about; that’s because it’s not as popular as other Middle-Eastern desserts such as sfouf, knafeh, or baklava. So I decided to write a post about bohsalino, because I want to be able to whip up a big plate whenever I want and tell the whole world that they are missing out a fabulous dessert, possibly one of the best ever.

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This fall, I called my grandma to ask for the recipe so that I could figure out how to make it. Like most grandma recipes, there was a list of ingredients, approximations of quantities, and inexact instructions. When I asked her: “How long do I cook the semolina?”, “How much heavy cream do I add to the kashta?”, or “How much rose water do I need for this recipe?!” She simply replied to me to figure it out “3al nazar” (common Arabic expression that means add to taste or ‘visually’). I had no choice but to make it through trial and error, and write down the exact quantity of ingredients for consistent results.

Bohsalino is very rich with flavor additives such as rose water, orange blossom water, and mastic. The latter is a well known ingredient in Arabic, Greek, and Turkish cuisines. Mastic (miskeh or arabic gum) are very aromatic resin drops mainly used in pastries, breads, puddings, and desserts because it enhances the taste of the ingredients. You can buy mastic in Greek/Middle-Eastern/international stores, or online.

I divided the recipe into separate sections to make it easier for assembly at the end.

1. Prepare the sugar syrup, which holds the dry ingredients together and forms a paste.
2. Cook the coarse semolina flour and butter over medium heat to reduce the gritty texture.

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3. Grind the unsalted pistachios in a food processor.

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4. Mix these three together to get a sweet pistachio semolina paste and then roll out into a 12.5″ circle.

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5. Prepare the kashta cheese mixture, which will be spread out on top of the paste.

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6. Add the second paste on top of the cheese to close it off, and trim the edges.

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7. Finish off with some decorations on top.

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Here’s the recipe for Bohsalino. It’s easy, quick to prepare, and excellent for a crowd.

Ingredients and Directions:
Sugar Syrup:
1 cup water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup rose water
¼ cup orange blossom water

Stir the water and sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once it starts boiling, add the lemon juice and continue boiling the mixture for another 2 minutes. Take the saucepan off the heat, stir in the rose and orange blossom water, and set aside to cool.

Pistachio Semolina Paste:
1 cup coarse semolina (not semolina flour)
113 grams (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
500 grams raw unsalted shelled pistachios (shells removed)

Combine the coarse semolina and butter in a small saucepan and place on low heat. Stir until the butter melts and the semolina becomes a bit lighter in color (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and pour mixture in a large bowl.

Grind the raw pistachios in a food processor until finely ground and reserve ¼ cup on  for later use. Add the rest of the pistachio flour to the semolina paste and mix with until homogeneous.

Slowly pour in the sugar syrup while mixing with wooden spoon just until a firm dough is formed (you will end up with extra syrup). It’s important not to work slowly and be careful not to pour all the syrup at once or you will end up with a gooey pistachio paste that doesn’t hold its shape*. Once your dough is ready, place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Kashta Cheese Mixture:
4 medium drops of mastic
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
500 grams kashta (or ricotta cheese)
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or 4 tablespoons if you using ricotta cheese)
1 tablespoon rose water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Rose petal jam (for decoration – optional)

Grind mastic drops with the sugar in a mortar and pestle until it turns into powder. Sift the mixture to get rid of clumps. Mix the kashta cheese with the mastic powder, heavy cream, rose water, and orange blossom water. Reserve ¼ cup on the side for decoration.

Assembly:
Divide the pistachio semolina paste in 2 halves. Cut out two sheets of wax paper, large enough to cover a 32 cm (12.5″) serving plate. Sandwich one half of the paste between both sheets of wax paper. Press the paste down with a rolling pin and move it from the center out. Roll into a 32 cm (12.5 inch) circle and then transfer to round serving plate.

Spread the cheese mixture over the first layer of pistachio paste. Roll out the second half of the dough and place on top of the kashta cheese mixture to close then trim the edges. Add the reserved ground pistachio on top and spread out to cover the whole surface. Pipe the reserved kashta cheese on top and decorate with rose petal jam (optional).

*Troubleshooting tip: If you added too much syrup and the dough is too soft or sticky,  slowly add coarse semolina to the mixture and re-heat again until the gritty texture is gone and the dough is smooth and shiny.

Zopf (Swiss Bread)

Zopf Bread - Brownie Box
There is something very therapeutic about baking bread, all the mixing and kneading gets me in a good mood. I was intimidated at first from the idea of making bread from scratch because most of us are used to the store bought ones. But you’ll be surprised at how easy it is! I even took pictures of every step to facilitate the process of explaining this recipe.

Zopf is a rich and flavorful bread that is excellent with butter, jam, or cheese. Its name literally means “braid” in German. It is also ideal for sandwiches because it doesn’t contain sugar and it’s very soft and light.

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The first thing you need to do is sift the flour onto a working surface, make a well in the center, and add the yeast, soured cream, milk, egg, butter, and salt.

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Little by little, work the dough into a ball and start kneading.

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When I’m too lazy I use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook to knead the dough for 20 minutes (Remember the more you knead the dough, the more the gluten will develop, and the softer the bread!)

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Wait an hour for the dough to rise.

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Divide the dough into three equal parts, then shape into thick ropes.

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Braid the ropes, pressing together the ends.

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Using the same plastic wrap that was used earlier, grease it with olive oil and cover the dough (to prevent the dough from drying)

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Bake for 40 minutes, and you’re done!

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I’m going to talk about the ingredients that are used in this recipe and explain their role in making the perfect Swiss Bread:

  • Yeast is an essential ingredient in bread making and there are two types you can choose from: fresh yeast (a firm, moist block stored in the refrigerator), or dry yeast (small granules– sold in packets). Once the yeast comes into contact with flour, the billions of microorganisms begin to nourish themselves from the sugar of the starch molecules. So they multiply and produce carbon dioxide which gives a fluffy texture to the bread. That’s why raising the dough is one of the most delicate phases in the preparation of bread, and it should be placed in a controlled warm environment (you can use your oven).
  • Olive Oil prevents the dough from drying and forming a crust
  • Salt is crucial to the flavor of bread. It shouldn’t come in contact with the yeast during the initial phase of mixing because it compromises the rising. You can make a small well for the salt in the outside portion of the mound of flour and add it at the last minute.
  • Herbs, Oats, or Dried Fruits give a great aroma and taste. You can add them to the dough before it is left to rise or after the first rising

Did you ever try baking your own bread? I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments!

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Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 2 hours for rising. Baking time: 40 minutes.

Ingredients: (adapted from Classic Breads)
Juice of Half a Lemon
2/3 cups (150 ml, 5 oz) cream, lukewarm
5 cups (600g) all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp (30g) fresh yeast or 3 1/3 tsp (10g) dry yeast
2/3 cups (150ml, 5 oz) milk, lukewarm
1 large egg, room temperature
7 + 3/4 Tbsp (110g) softened butter, cut in small pieces
2 tsp (12g) salt
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice with the cream and let sit for 5 minutes. (The mixture will thicken)
2. In the meantime, sift the flour onto the work surface, make a well in the center, and add the crumbled yeast.
3. Steadily pour the milk and the soured cream mixture into the center of the well and mix with your fingertips to dissolve the yeast.
4. Add the egg, the softened butter, and the salt (pour the salt outside of the well- explanation above).
5. Mix and then knead for 20 minutes (you can also use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook)
6. Place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour in the oven. The dough will double in size.
7. Transfer the dough to the work surface and, without kneading it, shape into a ball and then divide it into three parts of equal weight.
8. Shape into thick ropes.
9. Lightly flour the work surface and lay the ropes out in front of you lengthwise.
10. Join them at one end and then braid. Finish by pressing together the three ends.
11. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap greased with oil and let rise for 50 minutes.
12. Brush with the beaten egg. You can enrich the bread by patting on oat flakes, sesame seeds or poppy seeds.
13. Bake in an oven preheated to 355F (180C) for 40 minutes.