As is no secret to our barista, Aaron and I have an addiction to vanilla scones. More correctly, I have an addiction to scones, period. They are, in essence, a sweet biscuit and as I love both sweets and biscuits I find myself perpetually wanting to throw caution to the winds and luxuriate in creamy, buttery, crumbliness with reckless abandon. It just so happens that one of my favorite pairings for said exquisite crumbliness is vanilla.
Poor vanilla is used as an unfortunate synonym for the bland and humdrum, when it can be nuanced and exotic. Naming it by variety: Bourbon, Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian, and West Indian, for example, evokes far more expansive horizons.
It also helps, I think, to remind oneself that vanilla is the only edible product of the orchid plant and the second most expensive spice in the world by weight.
What we take for granted in frosting and candles is the result of difficult hand-pollinating, hand-harvesting, and careful curing to develop all the notes of deep, woodsy, floral, creamy vanilla. Bourbon and Madagascar, in fact different names for the same strain, are touted as the best.
So I enlisted a hefty helping of Madagascar vanilla to make this recipe. The aroma is heady, complex and intense, perfect for standing up against rich sweetness and heavy cream. The reason to never buy artificial vanilla flavoring is because it is typically nothing more than synthesized vanillin.
As the name suggests, this is the primary aromatic compound that imparts vanilla with its flavor, but that’s sort of like handing someone a cup of flour and calling it a cake. Real vanilla backs up the vanillin with a full supporting cast of other volatiles, instead of leaving a singular note to waft in artificial harshness. When it comes to cooking, the good stuff is almost invariably worth the extra mile.
While they are comparatively expensive, whole vanilla beans make up the difference in character and re-usability.
The target when working with a whole vanilla pod actually is the hundreds of tiny seeds within. Use a small, sharp knife to slice the pod lengthwise down the center, then gently work the blade into the incision at one end and scrape down to the other, forcing the pod open and plowing up glistening, darkly brown granules of aromatic wonder.
The leftover pod is inedible, but hardly worthless, just keep them in a small bottle of vodka to infuse your own vanilla extract, or reserve them in a jar of sugar to permeate it with vanilla fragrance.
If vanilla is still just too tame for you, try sneaking a tablespoon of orange zest, a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, or both into scones and icing alike. Heavenly.
Very Vanilla Bean Scones
These were supposed to be mini scones. I laughed at the idea of them quaking before my magnificent, titanic scones, but I think the result may be a bit more than a single person can safely tackle on a plate. You may want to slice each triangle in half one more time before baking for smaller scones, or just find someone to share with. Pair these with strong tea, lots of coffee, or freshly squeezed orange juice.
Adapted from the Pioneer Woman
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 vanilla beans
3 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, chilled and diced
1 large egg
For the vanilla cream icing:
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted, plus more if needed
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Measure out the heavy cream, then split the first two vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the cream. Stir to mix and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Sift the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Scatter the cold diced butter onto the dry mix and use the heaviest duty pastry cutter you can find to mix until the dough begins to form pea-sized crumbs. Keep in reserve.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg, then whisk it into the vanilla cream. Pour the vanilla egg mixture into the dough and mix gently with a fork, like fluffy clouds, just until it comes together.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and firmly press it together until it forms a rough rectangle. The dough will be very crumbly and sticky (cold, dry, lightly floured hands help with this).
Use a rolling pin to smooth into a rectangle about 12×7 inches and roughly 1/2 inch thick. Use your hands to help with the forming if necessary.
Slice the rectangle into 6 squares for large scones, 12 for small scones, then slice each of the squares diagonally into triangles. Transfer to cookie sheets lined with baking mats and bake for 18 minutes, removing from the oven just before they start to turn golden. Cool 15 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, stirring them into the cream. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Mix the powdered sugar and salt with the vanilla cream, adding more powdered sugar or cream if necessary to get the right consistency. Stir or whisk until completely smooth.
Use an icing spatula to spread a thin layer on top of each scone–go sparingly, this icing is extremely sweet–and serve immediately. Leftover scones will keep chilled for several days. Makes 12 large or 24 small scones.
Who we are
Since we first met in 2005, Aaron Peterson and I have enjoyed cooking, entertaining and sharing recipes together.
Inspired and edified by family history, cookbook collections and our travels (and the meals we’ve eaten on them), our blog, GourmetGents, launched in October 2011 as an extension of our love for all things epicurean.
Through semi-weekly updates, we feature family recipes, unfamiliar ingredients, baking experiments, cooking tips and lots of food photography, all with the occasional snarky aside.
To check out more recipes, visit gourmetgents.blogspot.com.