Category Archives: Blue Ribbon Winners

Jacob’s Kitchen: Scone Secrets Revealed (Project Food Blog – Challenge 7)

This post is my seventh entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to create a video cooking demonstration. Voting begins Monday, November 15, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first six rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can ever express!

I have always been in love with scones; there is something about them that really speaks to me. I think it’s the perfect balance that they strike between being earthy and rustic while at the same time also feeling fancier than other standard coffee shop fare. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I first attempted making my own batch at home. And let me just say, it did not go well. They were dry and crumbly, and had no real flavor to them, beyond that of any ordinary day old biscuit.

Determined to master the art of the scone, however, I spent quite some time experimenting with countless different recipes. Over the course of the next year, I tried everything; alternately making them with milk, half n’ half, cream, buttermilk, shortening, butter, and sour cream. I experimented by adding more salt, or sugar, or less salt and more baking powder. I tried adding fresh fruit to the dough, and brushing the tops of the scones with milk, or cream, egg wash, oil, or butter before baking to ensure perfect browning. In the end, I finally reached what I personally consider to be absolute scone nirvana.

Since then I have made more of these scones, in every imaginable variation, than I could ever possibly count. Scones have now become one of my signature dishes, and over the last couple of years variations of this basic recipe have walked away with a best of class award, two first place blue ribbons, and one third place white ribbon in the baked foods division at the Oregon State Fair. And, up until now, I have never shared the recipe with anyone.

Unlike many of the scones that one encounters out there in the world, my scones are moist, flaky, tender and full of fresh flavor. They can be made days or weeks in advance and baked off right before serving, which makes them absolutely perfect for entertaining. In this particular variation dried strawberries, white chocolate chips, lemon zest, and a vanilla bean glaze all harmonize together beautifully to create a flavor reminiscent of a classic strawberry shortcake.

Preparing delicious homemade scones like these doesn’t have to be daunting. A few simple techniques are all that you need to be making scones at home like a pro. It’s easy, I’ll show you how.

Variations – It’s sometimes difficult to find dried strawberries in the stores these days. What I can typically always find, however, are dried berry medleys (often including blueberries, cherries, strawberries, etc.) which would make a perfect substitution for these strawberry shortcake scones. But swap out the dried fruit and the flavorings that you add and you can create any number of different scone variations using this same basic recipe. Let your imagination run wild, the possibilities are really endless (cranberry orange, lemon, ginger, apricot or cherry almond, blueberry lemon, currant, pumpkin, rum raisin, etc.). To boost the fruit flavor in the scones even further, substitute one egg for a generous fourth of a cup of good quality jam.

Glazing Glaze the scones right when you pull them out of the oven. This way the glaze stays very thin (so they aren’t too sweet) and it easily coats the scones, locking in their moist texture, while adding a nice shine. Depending on the level of humidity on any given day you might need to make adjustments to the final glaze. You can really be casual about it; if it’s too thick add a tiny splash of milk, and if it’s too thin add a little more powdered sugar. In the end, the glaze should be thick but still pourable.

Storage – The cut scone dough can be made and stored in your refrigerator for up to a week, and baked off right before serving. To prepare the scone dough up to one month in advance, place the cut scones onto a baking sheet and freeze (uncovered) until frozen solid, then transfer them to a freezer storage bag. Bake the scones from frozen, adding an additional three to five minutes to the baking time. Because of the glazing, leftover scones (not that there ever are any!) can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days without a significant change in texture.

Egg Wash – I find that I get the best browning without the addition of milk/water/cream to the beaten egg for the egg wash. But feel free to use whichever you most prefer, or to omit the egg wash step entirely.

I think that it’s only natural for us to feel the most attachment to the recipes that we spend the most time carefully cultivating. For many years I wouldn’t share any of my recipes, period. It was my hard work, and I honestly felt like my ability to make perfect scones, biscuits or pecan bars would somehow be diminished if everyone else then also knew how to do it as well. As I began writing this blog, however, I slowly came to the realization that having this knowledge was so much less meaningful than sharing it all with you; after all, food is so much less enjoyable when there is no one to share it with. I hope that you really will make some version of these scones and that this recipe becomes a part of your family’s traditions, just as they have become a part of mine. Perfect for a portable breakfast, early morning business meeting, tea party, or a leisurely Sunday brunch with friends, these decadent scones are (literally) a winner every time.

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Breads, Breakfast/Brunch, Project Food Blog, Snacks

Apricot Almond Scones

Here is another variation of my classic scones made with dried apricots and sliced almonds. I tried for a while with this recipe and was never able to really boost up the apricot flavor. Dried apricots themselves are not enough, as they don’t really pack a punch. After much experimentation, I finally found that by replacing one of the eggs with a generous fourth of a cup of apricot jam (preferably homemade, of course) was just the ticket. In addition to the vanilla that I usually use, I add a teaspoon of almond extract to the wet ingredients, and about a half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg to the dry. To drive the flavor home even further, I make the glaze for these scones by mixing milk, powdered sugar, almond extract, nutmeg, the tiniest bit of freshly grated orange zest, and a tablespoon or so of apricot jam. These scones are moist and flavorful. Perfect for a portable breakfast,  early morning business meeting, tea party, or a leisurely Sunday brunch with friends. Enjoy!

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Breakfast/Brunch, Desserts

Pecan Bars

These are the amazing, the delicious, the irresistible Pecan Bars of happiness.  A couple of years ago these bars walked away with a blue ribbon at the Oregon State Fair, and with good reason. They contain all of the wonderful flavors of pecan pie, and then some. The thick fudgey texture, toasted nutty pecans, the sweet caramely filling, and buttery shortbread crust combine together into something magical. People really go crazy for them. It may make you feel a little bit better to know that while I was granted the ability to produce these fabulous confections, unfortunately, (through some horribly evil, cosmic, voodoo curse) I am allergic to pecans. I therefore cannot, must not give in to their siren song, no matter how delicious they may look,  no matter how good they smell, and no matter how decadent they taste. These bars can be made up to two weeks (or dare I say, even a month?) in advance, wrapped tightly and stored in the refrigerator, which makes them perfect for entertaining. One pan of bars can be cut into anywhere from 20 to 75 pieces depending on how you are serving them (using a sharp chef’s knife, and keeping in mind that the chilled bars cut much more beautifully – that’s how I get those perfect, sharp edges). And if you are feeling a little extra indulgent, you can dip half of each bar in melted dark chocolate; for a treat that is sure to satisfy the sweetest of teeth.

I use a variation of Ina Garten’s Pecan Square recipe, which I’ve tweaked a little over the years, the most important differences being the addition of extra orange and lemon zest into the filling mixture, and the use of salted butter throughout  [because no matter what your recipe says, or what they like to tell you on TV, your baked goods are simply going to taste better with salted butter...period... it's what your grandmothers used, it's what my grandmothers both used, and it's what I still use today in everything that I bake....so pick a brand and stick to it (I always use Tillimook because it's made locally), and you won't ever have any problems...I promise you]. The honey, orange and lemon zest really make these bars special, and add a floral like quality to them that is deeply delicious. Know that the pan will bubble over and make your oven smoke (don’t be alarmed!)…. so it is imperative that you line your oven wrack with a thick layer of aluminum foil to prevent any unfortunate oven messes.  I also find that the crust needs to be compacted while still hot from the oven (carefully pressed down evenly with the flat bottom of a water glass or metal measuring cup wrapped in paper towels) which I think makes for a better final texture, and allows the bars to slice more beautifully in the end.

Make these. Seriously. Right now….

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Cookies/Bars, Desserts

Linzer Cookies

Shortbread dough is amazing. With just one recipe you can make numerous variations (jam thumbprint cookies on their own or with coconut or nuts, pecan shortbread, lavender shortbread, fruit tart shells, etc), and have a whole assortment of sweet treats. People will think that you have slaved in the kitchen all day, and there is no need to set them straight. Here is yet another classic use for shortbread. These linzer cookies are simply rolled out and cut shortbread dough, sandwiched together (after baking) with good quality, seedless raspberry jam. The tops (which are dusted with powdered sugar before sandwiching) can be cut out with any number of different shapes, to allow the jam to peek through the top, making it easy to personalize them for any occasion. They are buttery and sweet, crisp, and crumbly. Pretty enough to be sophisticated, and yet easy enough to throw together any old time. Perfect for a tea party, or after dinner treat with coffee, and people really go crazy for them. Enjoy!

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Cookies/Bars, Desserts, Foodbuzz Top 9

Blue Ribbon Winning Cranberry Orange Scones

Scones are one of my signature recipes, and several years ago these particular scones won Best of Class at the Oregon State Fair. Unlike a lot of scones out there, these scones are light, and moist, and full of fresh flavor. While I do really enjoy the look and charm of the classic half-square-triangle scone shape, I typically make mine round. I have always found that the triangle scones bake unevenly and one side is always over baked and crumbly, which for me, ruins the entire experience. (This is one of the rare exceptions in my life where function trumps form.) I also often deliver these scones unbaked (for those who want to, for example, surprise/fool their house guests with their very own freshly baked scones, hot out of the oven for breakfast), and the circles just travel better, for whatever cosmic reason. I like to use lots of fresh orange zest in the dough as well as in the glaze, and I never skimp on cranberries. I think in America we have really become accustom to un-traditionally sweet scones, and mine are no exception. The glaze adds another layer of sweet flavor, while also locking in the moisture, allowing these scones to keep well for up to a week, without a significant change in texture. I have made A LOT of these scones in my time and they are always met with rave reviews.  I can’t imagine anything I would rather have with a cup of coffee in the morning, or a cup of afternoon tea with a friend in the garden.

UPDATE: See my Scone Secrets post for the general recipe, and substitute the lemon zest/strawberries/chocolate chips with the zest of two oranges and a heaping cup of dried cranberries. For the glaze: add the zest of one orange to the juice of two or three oranges, and whisk in enough powdered sugar to form a thick but pourable glaze. Enjoy!

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Breakfast/Brunch, Desserts

Lime Pound Cake

Pound cake is one of my go to recipes. I can make it a thousand different ways, by simply switching up the flavor combinations, and it is always moist and delicious. I especially like to use citrus. Here I start with Ina Garten’s lemon cake recipe, and substitute fresh lime zest and juice. This cake is packed with citrus flavor in the batter itself, and when the cake is hot out of the oven I pour a syrup of sugar and freshly squeezed lime juice over the loaves, and then later finish it off with a glaze made simply from powdered sugar, lime zest, and fresh lime juice. It is tart, and sweet, and surprisingly light and refreshing. With some fresh berries, lemon or lime curd, or coconut sauce, I can’t imagine a more simple, but satisfying end to any summer time meal. Enjoy!

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Desserts