Cherry Vanilla Scones Make a Great Breakfast (or anytime) Treat

Cherry Vanilla Scones

Tony and Gio are big fans of American coffee house scones, and a recent purchase of some lovely dried Bing cherries from Trader Joe’s has inspired me to play around with my recipe to make these gorgeous Cherry Vanilla Scones.

American scones are usually sweeter than their British counterpart and are often enjoyed as a morning pastry, while British scones are typically served at tea time. And, while the Brits enjoy slathering their tea scones with heaps of butter and cream, over here we put those ingredients right inside our scones.

American scones are essentially a type of quick bread, like their other cousin, the southern biscuit, but they benefit from the addition of sugar and often an extra ingredient, or two, like dried fruits or chocolate chips. For practical purposes, (and in no disrespect to any British readers), I will refer to them from this point on simply as scones.

I confess that, until recently, I never quite understood the big attraction to scones, but, since I love baking and my guys love scones, I set out a couple years ago to find the perfect scone recipe. After trying out several versions, I’ve learned a few things along the way and have come to regard the scone with new respect.

First, (and best, in my opinion), scones are really easy to make, requiring basic pantry staples and very little skill. In fact, they are just another incarnation of flour, butter, sugar and cream, with a little bit of salt and baking powder thrown in for good measure. If you’ve ever found scones difficult to make, I urge you to try this recipe.

Next, scones are incredibly versatile. You can make them plain, or enhance them with a variety of add-ins like dried fruits, fresh fruits, chocolate chips, and nuts. Currants, raisins and cranberries are common add-ins, but we’ve also used dried strawberries and today’s special feature, dried cherries. I also like to throw in half a teaspoon of lemon or orange zest, just enough to brighten up the flavor without taking over.

Fresh berries can also be heavenly in a warm scone, and Gio loves to pick raspberries straight from our garden when they are in season. The extra moisture from fresh berries may alter the texture of the scone just a bit, so be careful when adding them to the dough and gently fold them in. Don’t worry, they may look slightly different but they will still taste amazing. You could even reduce the amount of sugar to just one tablespoon and make a savory scone, with add-ins like aged cheddar cheese and chives.

There are a few key factors to know when making scones, and I cannot stress enough the importance of using cold butter, which creates wonderful steam pockets while baking. This enhances the overall texture of these scones, which are crispy-crumbly on the outside, and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside.

To ensure this result, I cut the butter into ¼-inch cubes and place it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before using, and once the scones are ready to bake I’ll place them in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes before putting them in the oven.

Cut scones into wedges

Another tip for success is to handle the scones as little as possible, which is why I prefer to cut them into wedges versus other shapes. I’ve found that shaping the dough in a round cake pan first allows me to get consistent portions with minimal handling, but you can shape it by hand, too.

Tony likes his scones plain, while Gio prefers his with a simple glaze over the top. I love that I can fill my freezer with them, baked or unbaked, and have a favorite treat on hand for breakfast or an after-school and work snack.

CLICK HERE for the Cherry Vanilla Scones RECIPE

Drizzle with glaze

Breakfast Favorite Video: Homemade Bacon Pancakes

One of our absolute favorite breakfast specialties is homemade pancakes, and cooking them in a bit of bacon grease takes them to a whole new level!

This week on North Dakota Today, Tony demonstrates how to make homemade bacon pancakes using one of our favorite kitchen appliances – the griddle. This recipe is easy to follow, and the pancakes are beyond delcious. We hope you give them a try! Just click on the photo above to watch Tony’s demonstration.

We serve our homemade bacon pancakes with real maple syrup, our easy fresh fruit salad, and of course, bacon.

We prefer to use Dakota Maid all-purpose flour, which we find has a lighter texture to it than other flour brands. Plus, it’s nice to support our locally-produced products!

Do you make pancakes from scratch, and if so, what is your favorite way to prepare them? Do you use a box mix? Which one?have a favorite way to prepare pancakes? 

Sweet Little Friands: Something New for Easter Brunch

Meet my sweet little friend, the Friand. I first discovered friands (free-onds) last spring when I was searching Pinterest for some new baking recipes, and was immediately attracted to their lovely presentation and unique oval shape. I knew that this was a specialty I had to make for Tony and Gio, who are now happily on the friand bandwagon.

Wildly popular in Australia and New Zealand but little known elsewhere, friands are charming almond tea cakes similar to the French financier. I confess, I loved discovering a darling new treat that no one else I knew was making. Even better:  In spite of their elegant, refined appearance, friands are surprisingly easy to make and the batter can be prepared up to two days in advance. Seriously, what’s not to love?

I have adapted our recipe from the Australian blog, “What Katie Ate.” While her recipe uses measurements in grams, I’ve converted our version to the American measuring system in case you don’t have a scale to use at home.

Their unusual oval shape makes them the perfect choice for an Easter brunch, but finding the correct pan can be difficult here in the States. After a bit of searching online last year, I found several silicone options available at Amazon.com for under $25. I’ve also used a mini-muffin pan with great results – the friands won’t have their signature oval shape, but they’ll be bite-size darling and just as delicious.

What makes these cakes so special isn’t just their shape. Friands are made with almond flour, which creates a wonderful flavor and texture. Almond flour is easily found in our local grocery stores and can be stored for up to one year in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

The cakes may look like some version of a muffin, but the similarity stops there. Friands have a crispy top with a moist, almost-gooey inside, similar to a Petit Four. They are typically made with egg whites, and this fuss-free recipe only requires you to mix them for a few seconds until they are just combined. I usually count to ten, but (very) recently I felt like mixing them longer, which resulted in all of my berries sinking to the bottom of the cake. Lesson learned – they still tasted great, but weren’t as eye-catching as the ones with fruit on top (see pic below).

Melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and a small amount of all-purpose flour round out the rest of the ingredients. This past weekend I attempted to make gluten-free friands by using a gluten-free version of all-purpose flour, but the results were less than thrilling. I’ll keep working on this recipe and will post an update on our blog once I’ve found the right balance.

I love the versatility of friands. You can play around with a wide variety of flavors and are limited only by your imagination. Today’s photos feature raspberry, blueberry and vanilla friands, but we’ve also made them with sliced apple, blackberries, strawberries, citrus zest, chopped up chocolate pieces, and even crushed Oreo cookies (a bit of genius from Gio, as they were delicious).

Friands can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. I’ve read that they freeze well for up to three months, but honestly, I’ll have to take their word for it: ours have never hung around long enough to find out.

CLICK HERE for the RECIPE for Raspberry Friands

Strata, Schmata: this is one delicious Eggbake!

Welcome to part two in our Easter Menu Series. Last week we found our inspiration in a new recipe from Down Under, but this week we’re hearkening back to an old family favorite with a recipe for Easter egg strata.

My mother has served this egg bake on Easter Sunday many times, and she often pairs it with fresh fruit, homemade cinnamon rolls and an apple sausage breakfast ring. This year we’ll be adding the Australian friands from last week’s column to round out our brunch menu.

Our family’s recipe comes from the cookbook “Entertaining with Imagination,” which was produced locally in 1978 by the Lake Agassiz Arts Council (now known as The Arts Partnership). The cookbook features hundreds of interesting recipes, all contributed by area residents to benefit local arts programs. To my surprise and delight, a quick online search revealed that used copies are currently available online for purchase via Amazon.com.

Today’s recipe was contributed by Mrs. J. Robert (Lois) Hanson, whose husband was the much-beloved conductor of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra from 1974 to 1990. The recipe appears in the cookbook under the title “Breakfast Brunch Dish,” but my family has always called it “Easter Egg Strata.”

A strata is similar to a frittata or quiche, and was originally made by layering the bread and filling to create layers, or strata, in the dish. However, this recipe follows the simpler technique of a bread pudding by mixing everything together in one dish.

We love this recipe for several reasons. Mrs. Hanson’s egg strata is visually appealing, moist, cheesy and delicious. But, perhaps best of all, it is extremely easy to make. The recipe calls for eight slices of bread, and we recommend using Breadsmith’s Rustic Italian or French bread as their thicker texture helps to better absorb the liquid. However, day-old or even stale bread will also work great.

After removing the crust from the bread, I cut it into cubes and set it aside. Next, I beat 8 eggs together – a special gift for this occasion from our friend Renee Clasen, whose chickens produce gorgeous, farm-fresh eggs in a delightful variety of natural colors.

Mrs. Hanson’s recipe also includes one pound of grated sharp cheddar cheese, and to further simplify the process I decided to use the grating attachment on my food processor. I’d never tried this before, but I’ll definitely be using it again, because that pound of cheese was grated in about 60 seconds.

To experiment, I decided to make one strata with regular sharp cheddar (I used Cracker Barrel), and one with a good-quality white cheddar. Both were delicious, but Tony and I preferred the creamy, full flavor of the white cheddar version just a bit more.

Whole milk, salt and dry mustard powder make up the remaining ingredients, but you could also use a mixture of lower-fat milk and half-and-half.

The strata needs to be refrigerated for several hours before baking, which enables the bread to fully absorb the egg, milk and cheese mixture, and overnight is even better. The dish will puff up quite a bit as it bakes, but expect it to deflate after removing from the oven. Allow it to stand for about five to ten minutes before serving.

The recipe is perfect as is, but use your imagination to enhance it by changing the type of cheese or adding meat, fresh herbs, veggies, or smoked salmon. We’re sure Mrs. Hanson won’t object.

CLICK HERE for our Easter Egg Strata RECIPE