Cheesy Bacon Scone-Off

Om nom nom nom.

That’s all I can really say about this recipe from The English Kitchen.  And this one from my pal Caroline at The Wanna Be Country Girl.  But which one to make?

Oh come on.  You knew I was going to do something ridiculous like that.  It’s in the title for Pete’s sake.  And any excuse to make these beauties twice is a good one.

So here we go.

Bacon, Cheddar and Rosemary Scones from The Wanna Be Country Girl:

First, fry up about 6 slices of bacon.  I discovered at the last second that my bacon was still frozen, so I did something genius.  While I was doing the dishes I popped the sealed package in the sink and when I was finished with washing up the bacon was ready to go.

Bacon Cheese Rosemary Scones 1

Because I was so pleased with myself I made it a round 7 slices.  You’ll want to fry this up extra crispy.  Set it aside to drain and cool, then break into a million little pieces.

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt (if you’re using salted butter leave this out), and 1 tablespoon sugar (I actually forgot the sugar, and I don’t think it made much difference).  If you don’t have a hand sifter, you can shake your flour through a fine sieve instead.

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Cut 6 tablespoons butter into small cubes (it’s like halfway between 1/3 and 1/2 cup butter) and plop that into the flour mixture.

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Use a pastry cutter or your hands to incorporate the butter into the flour, so in the end all you get is crumbs.

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Find yourself some fresh rosemary.

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Take about three sprigs of that and chop it up so you end up with about 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary.  Add that to the flour mix.

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Find yourself some sharp cheddar.  If you have access to a Costco or you live in Ontario, make it a lovely Balderson aged cheddar.  It makes everything better.

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Gren knows exactly what the cheese grater looks like, where it’s stored, and what it does.  Unfortunately, I am not as liberal with my cheese droppings as the Pie is so he was disappointed today.  Grate up about 1 cup sharp cheddar and add that to the flour mix.

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Crumble up your bacon and add that to the flour mix.  Give the whole thing a good stir so everything is evenly distributed.

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In another bowl, plop 2 eggs and 1/2 cup heavy cream (whipping cream, in Canada).  Stir that up.

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Pour the liquid into the flour.  Stir it around as much as you can.

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Eventually you will need your hands to make everything stick together into a ball. Knead that ball once or twice inside the bowl.

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Dump the ball of dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat it down to a thickness of about 1 1/2″.  Use a cutter or a knife to divide it however you wish, and transfer it to the baking sheet.

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Bake for 12-15 minutes, checking to make sure they’re not browning too much.

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This one was pretty much fresh from the oven and the butter melted just looking at it.

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See?

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We may have eaten these for dinner one rainy night.  Don’t judge us.

Cheese and Bacon Scones from The English Kitchen:

Preheat your oven to 425°F.  Grab yourself a baking sheet.  

Fry up some bacon.  The recipe calls for 4oz of bacon (who weighs bacon?  The British, naturally), but in the interest of fairness I just used the same amount as I did in the last batch, which was 7 slices bacon.  Go for extra crispy, then let it cool and break it up into wee bits.

Bacon Cayenne Scones 1

Sift together 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour1 teaspoon baking soda1 teaspoon cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt into a large bowl.  I love my sifter, but a simple sieve is easier on the hands and a mite quicker. If you think your cayenne might be extra fresh, I would recommend using slightly less than a teaspoon — that stuff can build on you.

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Use a pastry cutter, and then probably your hands, to work 2 tablespoons cold cubed butter into the mix, until you have a crumb-y consistency.  Same as the last one.

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Grate up 1 cup sharp cheddar (again, go Balderson or go home).

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Add that to the flour mixture, along with the broken bacon.

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Whisk together 1 egg and 1 2/3 cups buttermilk.  You can sour milk with lemon juice, or vinegar but it’s not quite the same.

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Make an extinct volcano with your dry ingredients (dig a crater, yo) and pour the wet stuff into the hole.

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Mix this into a soft dough with your hands while trying the whole time not to knead it.  Apparently in this recipe kneading is a no-no. Dump your doughy mass onto a floured surface and pat the sticky stuff down with your hands until you get a little square patty about 3/4″ thick.

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Then you cut it into about 15-20 pieces. I decided, for science, to do mine the same way I did with the previous recipe, to get a better idea of how each one cooks.  Sliced into thick wedges, yis b’y.

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Plop those onto your baking sheet and pop them into your oven for 10-14 minutes, or until they’re risen and a nice golden brown. Just remember that this time is for the smaller square scones. If you make them big fat wedges you’re going to need to bake them for about 20-25 minutes.

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This recipe says to let them cool on a wire rack, but I’m not sure I can wait that long.  Where’s my butter?

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AND THE WINNER IS

Okay well there is no winner.  They’re both amazing.  I loved the fluffiness and slow heat of the English Kitchen version, and the flaky rosemary-ness of Wanna Be’s was amazing.

I mean, if I make these again I’ll probably combine my favourite elements of the two, and come up with my own version.  I always thought scones were hard, but these ladies have certainly corrected that assumption for me!

Pumpkin Pie

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I get a lot of questions from readers I meet about my husband.  The main one is, “why is he called the Pie?”  Well, I’ll tell you why.  And this goes back about nine or ten years, back when we had first met, and long before we started dating.  It’s really a great story.  I’ll tell it to you here:

One day, he told me that he really liked pie.

Yep.  That’s the whole story.  That’s why he’s called the Pie.  And now you know.  I hope you aren’t too disappointed.

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Sometimes, the Pie’s favourite pie is blueberry.  Sometimes it’s apple.  I can’t keep track.  But I know that pumpkin pie, even though it doesn’t qualify as a “true pie”, is at the top of my husband’s list of favourite pies.  And now that I have sort of mastered the art of vodka pie crust, and especially considering the amount of pumpkin purée I have in my possession, it is a logical choice, and this recipe looks lovely.  So here it is, a pumpkin pie that is so from scratch with its home-made pastry crust and fresh pure pumpkin that it’s almost like I made it entirely by hand-stitching individual atoms together (I can do that, you know).

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So, now.  It’s been a while since I made that vodka pie crust from Smitten Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, so I think I’m going to lay it all out for you again, just so we both can get some practice.  If you like, you can take some more of Smitten Kitchen’s tips on better pastry from her second tutorial.  Like her, I’m not a fan of shortening, so I went with an all-butter version of the crust today.  And this dough recipe makes enough dough for two single crusts, so I guess that means I HAVE to make two pumpkin pies.  I will try to sneak one into the freezer so the Pie doesn’t eat it too fast.  That way later on when he grumbles about having no more pie I can dramatically reveal that he is wrong.  I like doing that.

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For the pastryyou need to make sure everything is cold.  If your kitchen is frigid, like mine, this is easy.  For everyone else, just keep chucking stuff in the refrigerator if need be.  Ingredients.  Tools.  Bowls.  You name it.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt.

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Cut 1 1/4 cup cold butter into cubes and make sure it’s cold (re-chill it after you cut it before adding it to the mix).

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Dump that into the flour and use a pastry blender to chop it into tiny buttery-floury pieces.  You want to keep going and going and going, using a knife to clean off your pastry blender occasionally, until you end up with a mixture that closely resembles cornmeal.

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Put a dishtowel under the bowl to keep it from sliding around on you.

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Here’s the right consistency. You still need whole chunks of butter in there but you want them small.

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Drizzle 1/4 cup cold vodka (keep that baby in the freezer) and 1/4 cup ice water over the mixture.

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Use a big rubber spatula and a folding motion to bring everything together.

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You don’t want to stir so much as squish and squash everything into one big blob.  It will be pretty tacky, but that stickiness will disappear when the vodka burns off in baking.  You can use your hands to gently squish the remainder together, but don’t work it too much. If you feel you need to add more liquid, drizzle a bit more vodka onto it, but just a little.

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Divide your blob into two even pieces and flatten them into disks.  Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap for at least 15 minutes, and for up to 2 days.

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When your dough is sufficiently chilled, lay a piece of plastic wrap out on your work surface.  Unwrap one of the disks (keep the other in the fridge) and place it in the centre of the plastic wrap. Place another sheet of wrap over top.

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Working from the inside and moving out, use a rolling pin to flatten your disk into a nice round piece of pastry.  You’ll need a rough circle of about 12″ in diameter to fit in a 9″ pie pan.  Most plastic wrap is about 12″ wide, so you can use that as a guide.

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Notice how you can see gobs of butter in my dough?  That means I will have some lovely flaky pastry.  As the butter melts it will leave a little open space, which will fill with steam from the vodka and water, which will in turn expand the empty space, making the proper pastry flake.

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Chill your flattened pastry again for a bit.  If you put it on a baking sheet and chuck it in the fridge you should be good.  When you’re plopping it in your pie pan, make sure to remove the bottom layer of plastic wrap before rolling it over a rolling pin or folding it into quarters to place it in the pan.  I’ve done both methods here, so you can see what I mean.

Rolling pin:

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Folding:

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Gently lift the edges of the dough to make it easier to press into the bottom of the pan without tearing.

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Trim off the excess pastry from the edges of the pan.

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I used a fork to press the edges more firmly down onto the glass.  Chuck those back in the fridge when you’re done.

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I had some scraps left over from trimming, so I cut up a small apple, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar, and rolled out the scraps again to form a small circle.

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I put the fruit on one half, folded it over, and pinched the edges shut.  Then I put it in a sprayed pan and baked it with the pie.

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It looks a little demented, but we’re not going for high quality here, just a snack.

For the pie filling, you need some pumpkin purée.  You can be lazy and buy the stuff that already has the eggs and spices in it and whatever and just dump that in your pre-bought frozen pie shell but that’s just not cool here at Ali Does It.  Make sure if you’re using canned pumpkin that it’s pure pumpkin, without the sugar and salt and all things spicy.

Now, you American folks are likely working from the 14 oz can of Libby’s or whatever it is you have.  Fourteen ounces is about 1 3/4 cups of pumpkin goodness.  Here in the FAR NORTH of Canada we have E.D. Smith pumpkin, which comes in 28 oz cans (~3 1/2 cups), so we generally use half a can for one pie, a whole can for two.  And of course I’m working from a I-have-way-too-much-pumpkin-purée-in-my-fridge perspective.  So I will be using that instead of the canned stuff.

Preheat your oven now, to 425°F and position a rack in the centre of the oven.

Beat up 4 eggs in a large bowl.  Whisk in 3 1/2 cups pumpkin purée, 2 cans (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk (I believe some countries sell condensed milk in 400 mL cans — I would just use the whole can anyway for a slightly sweeter pie), 1 cup packed brown sugar, and 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

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Take your pie shells out of the fridge and divide the mixture between them.  You may end up with extra filling (lord knows I always do).  I emptied it into a smaller pie pan and baked it as-is, for a sort of pumpkin pudding.

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Chuck the pies (and whatever else you now have on the go) in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce the heat to 375°F and keep baking for about 35 more minutes, until the pastry is all golden and lovely and you can stick a knife in the centre of the pie and bring it out clean again (i.e. the filling has set).  You can see that our crustless pie and the turnover turned out equally well, though with them in the oven everything took an extra 15 minutes or so to cook. Let the pie cool completely on a rack and refrigerate until ready to serve.  You can heat it up again if you like.  We enjoy ours with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.  Yum!

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Walnut Cheesecake Squares

These were another creation for a research participant, and I like them because they’re not too sweet.  And because the base is the same as the topping the whole thing is incredibly easy.  This recipe is from Esther Brody’s 250 Best Brownies, Bars & Squares.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9×13″ pan and line it with parchment paper — then butter the parchment paper as well.

Mix together in a bowl 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, and 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

You’re looking for crumbs here, so if you have walnut pieces, pop them in the food processor (slightly more than the cup measure as it will settle) for a spell.

Using a pastry blender:

Or two knives:

Cut in 2/3 cup cold cubed butter until the mixture is entirely coarse crumbs.

This may take a while, so be patient.  Too large pieces of butter will result in holes in your base.

Pour half the mixture into your prepared pan and press it to the bottom.  Set the other half aside.  

Bake the mixture in the pan for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool slightly.

In another bowl, beat 1lb (500g) softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until smooth.

Beat in 2 eggs and 1/4 cup milk, then add in 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over that nice warm base.

Sprinkle the reserved base stuff evenly over the top.

Bake the whole shebang for 20-25 minutes more, or until everything is just set, and then remove the pan to a rack and let it cool completely.

Use the parchment paper to lift the cooled squares out of the pan and cut them into squares.

If you have any left, store them covered in your refrigerator.

Fix This Recipe! (Gooey Caramel Pecan Squares)

When I’m arriving at an interview for my research, I like to bring the participant a little something that I made as a thanks for their time.  It’s kind of a rule for me.  I made the following recipe for a family I interviewed a couple of weekends ago and I was disappointed at how it turned out — I’d appreciate your views on what you think went wrong and how we could make this a super awesome dessert.  In light of this being Groundhog Day, I would say this recipe saw its shadow and needs a do-over.

I pulled this out of Esther Brody’s The 250 Best Brownies Bars & Squares, which has also yielded the no-bake peanut butter crunchy squares and the extreme comfort brownies.  So I figured this would be another excellent concoction.  I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of adding salt, which I never do anyway.  And I doubled the recipe, of course.  Something, however, went horribly, horribly wrong …

Preheat your oven to 425°F and line an 8″ square cake pan with foil, then spray the foil with cooking spray or grease with butter.  I used spray.

For the Base:

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Using your handy-dandy pastry blender (or two knives), cut 6 tablespoons cold butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture, mixing lightly after each addition.  The dough should be just moist enough to hold together at this point.

I found I had to add more water in order to get the dough to stick together, probably about double the amount.

Press the dough evenly into your prepared pan.

Bake it in your oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, then place on a rack to cool completely.  When I pulled mine out of the oven it was bubbling with butter and not golden at all.  I think I would perhaps use less butter.  Suggestions?

For the Filling:

In a saucepan over high heat, melt together 3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup whipping cream, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar.  Bring the goo to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla until the bubbling stops (bet you didn’t know it would bubble when you added vanilla, did you?)

Pour the filling over the cooled base (I let the filling cool a bit first, as it was rather molten).

Sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup toasted pecans and set aside to cool.

For the Topping:

In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate and stir until smooth.  Let cool very slightly and then drizzle over the pecans.  Chill until the chocolate is set.

Using the foil as a handle, transfer your chilled squares to a cutting board and cut into squares.  My problem here?  The darned caramel didn’t set.  It got thicker, sure, but still remained steadfastly liquid.  What did I do wrong?

The bottom was pretty rubbery, too, which made eating this sweet confection impossible without a jackhammer, but it is definitely worth trying again, because while it didn’t work out the way I had anticipated, at least it wasn’t floor pizza.