I loved writing my cookbook, Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories & Desserts and I'm currently co-authoring another cookbook with the working title, Transatlantic Tarts, Wee Tales & Recipes by Two Celtic Cake Queens. I've been creating new recipes and revising old ones. Below, I share a recipe I've altered and re-named, Sconookies! They are a lovely cross between a scone and a cookie.
I often find heart shapes in nature, especially when I need a boost of magic to remind me that I'm loved. I've collected heart-shaped stones, sea glass, and taken photos of mossy heart shapes on tree trunks. Sometimes I've looked up instead of down and the clouds have been heart-shaped. And because love is the most important ingredient I bake with, I adore creating heart-shaped cookies, cheesecake, and scones for Valentine's Day. I don't just bake these heart-shaped delectable sweets for Valentine's Day, but on any day I feel extra loving when I bake.
A chuisle mo chroi in Gaelic means my heart's beloved and my husband, Tim, and I have been married close to thirty-five years. We purposely married in February close to Valentine's Day. He's my heart's beloved! And as a writer, he's my first reader. As a baker, he's my first taster.
“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” (Song of Songs)
Is it possible, in flickering sensational moments, to time travel? I was at Applecrest Farm in North Hampton, New Hampshire and came upon crates of heirloom apples and one in particular was full of small, delicate, and picturesque apples. I swooned and instantly closed my eyes. I imagined myself wearing an open high-necked chemise with red sleeves tied on with ribbon points and a broad-brimmed hat with plumes. I stood in the Gardens of Versailles with formal gardens flourishing, ornamental trees, and pomme d'api trees laden with Lady Apples.
The Lady Apple is the oldest apple that is still being grown today (not to be confused with the Pink Lady Apple, which is full size). The Lady Apple was first documented during the French Renaissance and was the favorite of Louis XIV. It was hardy and flavorful, and was very popular with the Renaissance ladies who would keep one tucked away in their bosom and taken out to freshen their breath. Also known as the Christmas Apple, it was used for decorations. It has yellow-green skin and a pink blush and when I opened my eyes to return to reality, I was blushing with excitement. I had to buy some just to set on my counter in a pretty bowl and perhaps to bake with.
The flavor of a Lady Apple is sweet-tart with a succulent and subtle finish. Although French ladies sweetened their bosoms and breaths on these apples, most people today would not consider them as an eating apple with culinary virtues as other apple varieities. And they have the misfortune of being confused with the crab apple.
I then saw a crate of Calville Blanc d’Hiver apples and although I didn't swoon, I was enamored with these normal sized apples. These are also French apples dating back to the late 1500s. They are more lemony pear-like in taste and I learned that they are considered the best to cook with because of their texture and flavor. The shape of this apple is unique because of ridges that are said to resemble a crown. I bought a few of these apples, as well, but it was the Lady Apple that I was especially taken with.
Later on in the week, I ate a couple of Lady Apples, but kept the rest to display in a pink Depression-glass bowl. Each time I looked at them, I smiled. They made me feel lighthearted! The Calville Blanc apples went into my produce basket with the bananas and squash, but I knew they would soon be eaten in some form.
In my book, Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories & Desserts, I speak of baking as a Muse and when I take a break from research and writing, I go to the kitchen and stir up stories. "The ingredients in a story and a recipe can create a tantalizing conclusion...It is in my kitchen where I face the empty pages of the stories in my head and fill the empty tins, pans, and cookie sheets with delicious possibility."
And when the light grew dim and comfort waned from too much hard work, I remembered my apples and went to my kitchen. I made a French Apple Tart with my Lady Apples and Calville Blanc d'Hiver apples. I used the recipe in Pavlova in a Hat Box for the Rustic Pear Tart, eliminating the mascarpone and adding cinnamon to the spices. I also made an all butter crust with the European-style Plugra butter. I sliced and piled the Calville apples in layered circles and sliced the wee Lady Apples and piled them in the center of the tart. Ooh La La! Scrumptious! I was comforted with a Lady Apple Tart!
Alter the following directions accordingly
1. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Add shortening and using two forks or a pastry blender, mix into coarse crumbs.
2. Mix vinegar, water, and egg in a small bowl and add to flour mixture.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a circle, approximately 12 to 14 inches diameter; place on large parchment paper lined cooking sheet
4. Preheat oven to 400.
5. Quarter pears, remove cores, and slice into 1/2-inch slices.
It is easy to halve the potato (scone) where there is love ~ Irish Proverb
I don’t eat scones here in the U.S. but my own. I’m a scone snob. I’ve created my own version of a scone, my American scone, and it is a cross between the Irish traditional scone and a cookie. In fact, I have two types of scones – Norah’s Dancing Dream Scones and Cynthia’s Cynsational Scones. Both of these scone recipes are included in my new dessert cookbook titled, Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories & Desserts. These scone recipes are held in high esteem by all those who partake of them!
That said, when I visit Ireland, I eat scones everywhere I ramble and eat them with lots of butter and jam or clotted cream and jam. I’m a coffee drinker more than a tea drinker, but when I eat scones, I must have good strong Irish tea to go along with them. On my recent visit to Ireland, I ate my share of scones in County Clare, County Kerry, and County Cork in cafes and tea rooms. There’s something really liberating devouring Irish scones with tea and friends in Ireland. They usually are eaten after a night of vigorous dancing or after a day of hiking. Every bite brings clarity and joy, and the conversation becomes lighthearted amongst friends.
One of the scones I ate was at the café at Moll’s Gap in County Kerry and it is a traditional white scone recipe that is from the Avoca Café Cookbook:
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Using your fingertips, lightly work in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. At this point, you can add the raisins if you choose to include them. Add the egg, cream and enough milk to moisten. Mix well until it has a soft doughy texture – but it shouldn’t be too moist.
Gather the dough into a ball and turn it out onto a floured surface, then roll lightly with a rolling pin to 1 inch/2.5cm thick. Cut out with a round cutter, transfer to a greased baking sheet and brush the tops with the egg glaze. Bake in the oven preheated to 350F/180c/Gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes or until well browned.
I ate a double sized one and didn’t share, as in the proverb says. It was delicious!
A week later, while in County Clare with a friend, I went to Nuala’s large farm kitchen near Knockcanes and made my American scones for the sixth annual redhead conference in Crosshaven, Cork. I was going to sell my books, including Pavlova in a Hat Box and I wanted to lure customers to my table with my scones.
As soon as I entered Nuala’s kitchen, I was greeted with a loving hug and a big plate of her traditional Irish scones. I think of Nuala as the quintessential Irish hospitality woman multiplied by ten! She always feeds and nourishes us with her excellent food and generous spirit. I wish I could bottle up this warmth emanating from Nuala’s country kitchen and take it home with me!
No offense to the delicious Avoca scone and others I had eaten around Ireland, but Nuala’s was the absolute best and the most satisfying and tasty. I can’t give you her recipe here because I don’t think Nuala has it written down. She makes these scones nearly every day and the recipe is inscribed on her heart more than in her head. Every bite with butter and jam made me feel as if all was right in my life and everything would be grand thereafter.
After eating Nuala’s scones, I wondered whether mine would hold a candle to her scones! But there was no competition here, for it was merely a sharing of our love of baking and Nuala’s insistence we needed sustenance before our baking marathon. Martha and Nora, my dancing and long time good friends, assisted me in the making of these scones, and Nuala was at the ready with pans, a hot oven, and her help. Of course, we had to test them to make sure they were festival ready and I was delighted that the good Irish butter and buttermilk I used had made them as tantalizing as I had hoped. And what pleased me most of all was that Nuala gave her, “They’re gorgeous, my dear!” approval.
This recent visit to Ireland filled me with so many memories, including getting sconed in Ireland, and I will never forget this treasured time in Nuala’s Country Kitchen making my scones for the redhead conference, which by the way, did bring customers to my table who also said, “these scones are brilliant!”
Cynthia’s Cynsational Scones (Cherry-Lemon)