Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Savory, Not Sweet

      If you were to offer me a choice between a chocolate truffle or an olive stuffed with blue cheese, I would choose the olive hands down. I see the world of gourmands as divided between the savory and the sweet—those who will pick chocolates and fruit tarts over olives and cheeses. I am of the savory genre; give me the olives and cheeses(the stinkier the better), salt and garlic (I was into kosher salt long before sea salt became vogue), a quiche for breakfast over pancakes, and, yes, anchovies on my pizza. For those of you who identify with my palate I have for you the ultimate in savory treats—the cheddar cheese scone.                                                                       
       I discovered the cheddar cheese scone at my favorite NYC bakery and café Once Upon a Tart . . . . It is located in SoHo, just south of Houston at 135 Sullivan Street (and Prince), and has been there for almost twenty years. It is owned by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau, who do all the baking.  I recommend a sojourn to this mecca of savory delights to my NYC friends and those who plan a visit.  I first discovered it as a graduate student in the early 1990s. I was constantly looking for somewhere quiet to read and study and get a good cup of coffee. I must have passed Once Upon a Tart . . .  a hundred times (I had been living in NYC for almost 8 years) before I worked up the courage to go in and sit for an afternoon. It is a small space, yet cozy and quaint. Outside the café is room for two small tables. It was their windows that called to me, full of glossy fruit tarts and scones of all sorts.
      When I finally walked in, I was beside myself to find that not only did they have the most beautiful pastries I’d seen, but they served sandwiches such as goat cheese, roasted ratatouille, and frisee on a sourdough baguette, and fresh mozzarella with oven-roasted tomatoes and pesto on onion focaccia; individual savory tarts were laid out on the counter—leek and celery, mushroom and potato, carmelized onion; there were chicken pot pies and lentil soup.  And then my eyes turned toward the cheddar cheese scone. A scone—cheesy, soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside— with a fine cup of coffee and a book to read was all I needed.                                              

       When I got my job in Las Vegas, as happy as I was, I knew I would miss this bakery. There was not, and to this day there is not, a single cheddar cheese scone to be found in Las Vegas. On my subsequent visits to NYC I would make sure to make a trip to Once Upon a Tart . . . and buy a dozen scones; in their pink bakery box tied with white string, these precious morsels were held tightly on my lap for the six-hour flight back home. After a couple of years Trader Joe’s began to carry cheese scones in a package of two. They weren’t too bad, though absolutely not the same. Then Trader Joe’s discontinued them. I had almost forgotten about my love for these savories, when one morning watching The Today Show (anything for a glance at my favorite city) I saw Frank and Jerome, pushing their new cookbook, Once Upon a Tart . . .. I immediately ordered it. The recipe stayed true to my tastebuds’ memories, and I have been recreating these tasty scones in my Las Vegas suburb ever since.                       
       These scones are great in the morning with a cup of coffee and even better with a cup of coffee for an afternoon pickup. I think each scone is fairly high in protein because the recipe is packed with cheese (cheddar AND parmesan). My guesstimate of calories is 350, a lot, I know, for those who count. But with the coffee for a snack you won’t need anything else since they are so satisfying. A recipe yields 8 scones. I freeze each separately in a baggy and then reheat in the oven when I’m ready. Or just let them thaw, but never put in the microwave—they lose their special crunch.
  The recipe calls for a food processor, which I have, but I  find that I always over mix the butter. Getting the butter consistency is crucial for a good scone, so I’ve taken to using my hand pastry blender. It doesn’t take that much longer, and you’ve got a 95% chance of getting it right (and it’s easier to clean up).

Grocery List:
2 and 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

Pinch of cayenne pepper (a secret ingredient)     
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes

3 large eggs                                    
½ cup cold milk
2 tablespoons fresh dill (another secret ingredient)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/3 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese (the third secret ingredient)
What You Need to Do:
1.   Place oven racks in the middle, preheat to 400, line baking sheet with parchment paper (not necessary but it helps).
2.   Dump dry ingredients into big bowl and mix well (a fork is a great way to stir dry ingredients).
3.    Add butter to the bowl all at once and mix with pastry blender until there are no chunks of butter left and the mixture looks like most crumbs. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERWORK.
4.   In another bowl whisk eggs to break up yolks, whisk in milk, whisk in dill and cheeses.
5.   Pour wet ingredients on top of flour-butter crumbs, and stir with a wooden spoon until no flour is visible. It may seem a bit dry, but keep stirring and it will eventually come together.
6.   Use a ½-cup measuring cup or your hand to scoop the dough and plop it onto baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between them.

7.   Place baking sheet in middle of the center rack, bake scones for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Bon Appetit !

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