Don’t you just love the scent of holiday baking? Kitchens all across the country are filled with the warm aromas of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and nutmeg. Spices are links to our ancient past, when they were used as medicine for centuries. They were considered quite valuable, and both trade routes and political alliances were for created to procure these precious food stuffs. Today, they enhance our baking in subtle and striking ways, turning a plain-Jane dessert into something quite memorable.
Spices are actually the dried bark, seeds and fruit of trees and plants, and I often wonder who the first person was to peel the bark from a type of laurel tree (for cinnamon), dry it and drop it into a stew pot…or the first person to ferment and dry vanilla beans. We had adventurous ancestors! We get to enjoy the fruits – or spices – of their labor in our favorite desserts of the season. Apple pie filled with cinnamon-scented apples, quince poached with cardamom (a relative of ginger), pears roasted with vanilla bean and cloves, and pumpkin pie, featuring a careful blend of spices, are fall and winter desserts that celebrate the season’s produce with that special underpinning of spice that rounds and completes the flavor profile of each dessert.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy the warm baking spices this time of year is gingerbread. Cookies, cake, scones, soufflés – even coffee drinks entice us with the name gingerbread. With the deep, round flavors of brown sugar and molasses playing against the blend of spices, I find nearly anything titled gingerbread irresistible. Today, I’d like to offer you a favorite recipe of mine that is perfect for holiday season entertaining – Gingerbread Shortcakes with Caramelized Apples and Cider Sabayon. It’s warm and comforting and elegant all at the same time. There’s plenty that can be done in advance, so be sure to check the notes at the end of the recipe. And if all you want is a great scone to start the day, warm gingerbread scones (the shortcakes of the recipe) are just the ticket on a winter’s morning. Gingerbread latte anyone?More Spices of the Season ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Gingerbread Shortcakes with Caramelized Apples and Cider Sabayon
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.
Equipment: 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 recipe Gingerbread Scones (see recipe below)
- 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
- ¾ cup (6 ounces) heavy whipping cream
To Finish The Scones
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons turbinado (page 25) or Hawaiian washed raw sugar
- 6 large, tart baking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices
- ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 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°For 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.
- 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.
- 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. prinkle 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.
- 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.
- 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.Gingerbread Scones
- 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached, all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (2-1/2 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1-3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoons ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons light, unsulfured molasses
- 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, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves 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. Stir the molasses into the buttermilk thoroughly. Pour this mixture into the food processor 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 surface. Gently squeeze or knead the clumps together until they form a cohesive dough.
- If the dough seems sticky, lightly dust your work surface with flour. Pat the dough into an 8 by 4-inch rectangle. Finish the recipe for Gingerbread Shortcakes as directed in Step 3 of the recipe above.
Tools of the Trade:
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.