Baking with Julia – Buttermilk Lemon Vanilla Scones

IMG_5076At my old job we sold an inordinate amount of scone pans. Every time someone asked if we had them or where they were or brought one up to the counter, everything in me wanted to say “Please don’t do this. This is a completely unnecessary purchase.” But I didn’t. Obviously. Discouraging customers from purchases is generally frowned upon in retail. It’s just that scones are so simple. You don’t need a mixer, or a special cutter, or fancy ingredients and you definitely don’t need a specific pan. Sheesh.

These days simple feels even better than usual. Things you can count on. Things that don’t change. Things that offer comfort at the basest level. Something sweet and crunchy and warm from the oven that I can slather in butter usually covers all the bases. These scones definitely fit the bill. I loved the crunchy crust that formed from sprinkling sugar on the tops before baking. This attribute really only lasts for a few hours after they come out of the oven, so make sure to eat one right away. They’re still good the next day or even re-heated out of the freezer but you really can’t beat a fresh one.

The original recipe for these was even more basic but I really wanted to add vanilla because it seems sad and wrong to not add it to most baked goods. I have this jar of vanilla paste that I never seem to use so I decided to break it out and give it a try. So I un-simpled them a bit, but not much. Still totally reliable, comforting, buttery ol’ scones, heading straight for your face.

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Buttermilk Lemon Vanilla Scones

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

zest of 1 lemon

2 1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

3/4 t salt

1 1/2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 cup buttermilk

2 t vanilla paste

2 T butter, melted

Position the oven racks to divide the oven in thirds and preheat it to 425 degrees.

Put the sugar in a small bowl and add the lemon zest, rubbing it into the sugar with your fingers to release the essential oils. This smells amazing and is really tactile and fun – I try to incorporate this technique into any recipe I can. I just think it distributes the citrus flavor really well throughout the finished product. Reserve a small amount of this sugar to sprinkle on the scones just before baking.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the cold butter pieces and cut them into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (or a fork, or your fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Try to leave some larger pieces of butter mixed in with the little ones as this will add to the flakiness of the finished scones.

Pour the buttermilk into a glass measuring cup and whisk in the vanilla paste. Add the vanilla/buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. You do not want to over-mix. Bring the dough together into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it very briefly, then divide the dough into two equal pieces. Pat each piece into a circle about 7″ across, then use a sharp knife to cut the circle into 6 triangles. Place the scones on a baking sheet (the original recipe said an un-greased baking sheet but I used my Silpats because I am lazy and don’t like washing baking sheets. Bottom line – use your discretion) brush them with the melted butter and then sprinkle them with the lemony sugar you set aside. If you forgot to set some aside, it’s no big deal. Just use regular sugar. Or do what I did and remember that you have some vanilla sugar and use that. Whatever you feel like.

Bake the scones for about 12 minutes, until they are really golden and beautiful and then let them cool on a wire rack. Eat them while they’re still warm, you won’t regret it.

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Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding

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It’s that time of year again. Christmas is over. New Year’s is over. Most people are on some sort of weirdo diet right now that’s making them crazy. Or they got a gym membership and will not stop talking about their workouts. Yeah, yeah we get it – your muscles are sore because you’re normally a lazy couch potato like the rest of us but just shut up about it already. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, etc, are blowing up with all this crap. You know what I want to talk about? NOT THAT! I want to talk about pudding. Specifically rice pudding. Though I had never experienced this crazy-easy and delicious dessert until a few months ago, I now feel I couldn’t live without it. And you shouldn’t either. I’m guessing you had a green smoothie or some other such garbage for breakfast so there’s no need for the guilt. Let go of the guilt – healthy, right?

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Major players in tonight’s game are gathered on my cluttered counter getting warmed up (see, I’m trying to appeal to you with the sports & fitness references you crazy health nuts). I recently bought the Joy the Baker Cookbook and I noticed her recipe for Cinnamon Sugar Rice Pudding the other night. I was all set to just make that when I remembered the lonely bag of Meyer lemons in my fridge. Then things started to get real. I decided to do things a little bit Joy’s way, and a little bit my way and Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding was born. Meyer lemons are so cheap this time of year so if you haven’t bought any yet, please do. Make delicious things and say thanks when you’re done stuffing your faces.

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Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding

2 cups water

zest of 1 Meyer lemon

1 vanilla bean

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup long-grain Jasmine rice

3 cups whole milk (or a mix of whole and other milks if you don’t have 3 cups. That’s what I did and it was still delicious)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. While that’s happening, slice the vanilla bean down the middle with a sharp paring knife. Once the water is boiling, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the water, then throw the pod in there too.

Add the rice. salt, and Meyer lemon zest and stir to combine. Bring everything back to a boil, then turn the heat down, cover the pan, and cook for 15 minutes to let the rice absorb the liquid.

Scrape the rice mixture into a bowl, then add the milk, sugar, and butter to the saucepan and warm it over medium heat. When the milk is warm, the butter has melted, and the sugar has dissolved, add the rice mixture back to the pot. Keep the heat at medium and stir frequently until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid – about 20 minutes. You want there to be a little bit of liquid left so your pudding isn’t too stiff (haha).

Pour the pudding into a bowl, fish out the vanilla bean (don’t throw it away dummy!) and press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the top of the pudding leaving no air pockets. This will stop the pudding from forming that gross skin on the top. Take a paper towel and dry off the vanilla bean as best you can, then leave it on the paper towel overnight to dry out.

Let the pudding cool until it is just barely warm, then eat as much of it as you can! You can refrigerate the pudding and serve it cold, but I prefer it slightly warm. This is good for breakfast, dessert, afternoon snacks, you name it! I topped my pudding with some vanilla sugar and that was mighty tasty

Vanilla Sugar

This is ridiculously easy to make so I’m not even going to put it in recipe form. You just take vanilla beans and put them in sugar. That’s it. They can be fresh beans that you’ve just sliced open or they can be gnarly beans that you used in other recipes and then dried out – it matters not. You just throw them in a container of sugar, put the top on it, shake it every few days, and in a week or so BOOM! it’s vanilla sugar. Do it, you won’t be sorry.