Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pumpkin Scones

You see that thing there? Well, you probably weren’t aware of it, but that honest pumpkin is an item of almost unbearable beauty. Why, I hear you ask, am I so engrossed with a pumpkin that’s technically a squash? (Which I’m going to deliberately, albeit mistakenly refer to as pumpkin for the rest of this post.) Because I’m living in Germany, where pumpkin is strictly seasonal. Coming from Australia, where pumpkin is available year-round (and lasts, uncut, for longer than I’d care to admit to keeping a pumpkin for), I was in for a surprise when I moved here. The inexpensive, sweet and humble vegetable that made it into almost every dinner I ate was suddenly off the menu.

But thankfully, I have cause for celebration. Summer squash is in season, which means that pumpkin will soon follow. In the meantime, a lovely golden Hokkaido is all that I need to tide me over. The skin is thin enough to eat, much like other Summer squashes, but it’s near enough to a Butternut to be used instead. So what’s an Australian woman to do, when faced with the return of a loved vegetable? Pumpkin scones, of course.

Anyone else think that the melty deliciousness makes it look like one scone is eating the other? It's a bit like pacman. But they really are that good!

I won’t pretend that I didn’t get stuck into the roasted pieces. I have to confess, it’s my favourite way to enjoy these vegetables, and they need nothing more than a sprinkling of salt. Melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

I’ll also confess that I haven’t taken Mrs Bjelke-Peterson’s famed recipe here. Partly I’m not too convinced about that husband of hers, and partly I’m a lazy baker. Yep, you heard it right. My recipe is simpler, easier, and lazier. What more could you ask for? You don’t even have to own scone cutters… because mine are still back in Adelaide. I used a floured knife to make square scones. If you have a little extra that you can’t nicely shape, just roll it into balls. Or you could do that for all of them, but that goes against the grain of laziness here…

Pumpkin is the easiest vegetable to prepare. You can toss it with your oil of choice (I love olive oil, but if you have a better idea, go right ahead) and bake it until it’s soft and browning. Or you can steam it in the microwave, lamenting that you don’t have any microwave-safe dishes, and accept that it’ll come out looking like alien babies:

Oh, and you’ll probably only need half of Hokkaido, if that’s what you’re using. The moisture level of your mash will dictate how much flour you need to add – my mash was quite dry, because I let the pumpkin cool before I mashed it. If you mash it before it cools, and then have it covered in your fridge, it’ll retain a lot more moisture. You can drain any condensation before you use it. You only want two cups of mash.

Feel free to eat the rest as is. Not that I did that, or anything…

This method of making scones is unconventional because you don’t need to rub any butter into the flour. In fact, it’s even more unconventional because I chose to use olive oil instead of butter. You’re going to have to trust me that it’s delicious, and that it made perfectly moist and fluffy scones with a comfortingly soft pumpkin flavour. You simply mix the wet ingredients, then add them to the dry. A few kneads to bring it together, and you’ll be slathering them with the spread of your choice in no time at all.

Pumpkin Scones

2 cups cold mashed pumpkin (steamed or roasted)
3 cups (approx) all-purpose flour (plus 1/2 to 1 cup extra for kneading)
3 tsp baking powder*
½ tsp bicarb soda
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup milk or soymilk
½ cup sugar*
flour, to use whilst kneading
milk or soymilk, for glazing

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius (200 degrees for a fan-forced oven).
Mix wet ingredients together in a bowl.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl and form a well in the centre.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring slowly to incorporate. You’ll need to use your hands as the mixture becomes stiffer, but don’t hesitate to add the extra flour if you need it. Add it gradually – it’s much better to have a sticky dough to work with than a dry, tough one. You can always add more flour, but you don't want to need to add more liquid.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board (be liberal with your extra flour, here) and give it a few minutes kneading, until it comes together as a smooth ball. If your dough is too sticky, add more flour to the board as you knead, and the dough will gradually incorporate it.
Using scone cutters, or a knife, cut the scones into the shape of your choice.
Place your scones 3cm apart on a baking tray and brush the top with milk or soymilk.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until nicely golden. Your scones should sound a little hollow when you tap them.
Eat them immediately, with the spread of your choice. (I’ll post a recipe for apple butter soon, so you can try them together for the perfect Autumn snack!)
I prefer hot scones with a spread of margarine (or butter if you eat milk products), but of course you could let them cool and eat them in the traditional manner, with jam and cream.

*A note on baking powder: I’m using the European product, which isn’t nearly as strong as the Australian/American brands. Use self-raising flour instead of plain flour if you can find it, and omit both baking powder and bicarb soda.
*A note on sugar: I use raw sugar, simply because I don’t like the amount of processing it takes to get white sugar. Raw sugar tastes delicious, but if you want a slightly stronger, more caramel flavour, brown sugar will also work a treat. Likewise, if you only have plain white sugar, by all means, use it.
*A note on your mashed pumpkin: let the pumpkin cool before you mash it, so that it retains less moisture. Hokkaido is good because if you let it cool completely, you get an incredibly solid, thick mash.

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