Cream Scones with Fresh Figs, Cardamom and Black Pepper
Nine years ago this September, my parents and I set off in the early morning hours down the interstate. Minneapolis — grad school + dietetic internship — or bust. Suitcases, boxes, and bags filled with far too many belongings for my new garden-level studio were deftly organized into the two cars by my father, our packing engineer. Thoughtfully, he left enough room for myself, a very large coffee, and a parting gift from my mother: her extra copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
Being in the kitchen is more than a passion and reminder of loved ones who helped make it so, but, for me, also a stress reliever. And though my subterranean shoebox boasted nothing beyond the basics — refrigerator, sink, an appropriately tiny gas oven/stove, and literally zero counter space — cooking, along with walks and the best café miel, was my delicious escape from reality. My smart mum, she just knew that Marion Cunningham’s classic would keep me well fed. And sane.
Fannie and I got on instantly, and she remains an anchor cookbook to this day. I have made so many of her recipes, both as printed and as variations on a theme, with honestly not one failure. Or at least not a failure on her part — burning my palm almost to the third degree on a metal skillet handle and destroying its contents was not instructed. The signs of heavy use are plain to see in the cracked spine (apologies, lots of love), spattered pages (decoration), scribbled notes (words of praise), and the occasional small cloud of flour that falls when opened to certain pages (baking pixie dust).
Years later another of Marion’s masterful works, The Breakfast Book, came into my life. Delighted, I began dog-earing pages for later, and stopped on page 55. Now, I adore a good scone, but was admittedly dubious at her all-cream version — not even a sliver of butter? Nevertheless, into the oven they went. In Marion, I trust. Not too sweet, a soft, delicate crumb, and more cakey than flaky, her recipe immediately replaced my fussy default. Delicious experimentation ensued.
The recipe I’m sharing today is a (tiny bit) healthier adaptation of her classic. Cutting the white all-purpose flour in half with powdery Atta flour imparts a slight nuttiness, plus the nutritional benefits of wheat. Plump ripe figs straight from our tree replace dried currants, their sticky sweetness worked into and smashed atop the dough (which helps account for the 1 Tbsp less sugar). Cardamom adds a smoky floral component, and a few cracks of black peppercorn give the scones a mild bite. A small dose of big girl flavors — unusual for a baked good, I know, but trust me.
What’s in it for me?
Whichever wheat-based flour you use in this recipe, finely milled whole wheat Atta and whole wheat pastry offer roughly 4 grams each of protein and fiber per 1/4 cup (30 g). Both also provide a small amount of healthy oils, are virtually free of cholesterol and sodium, and provide minerals selenium and manganese with antioxidant properties and roles in fertility and bone health. In general, diets focusing on whole grain flours as opposed to refined grain flours may reduce risk of diabetes, and can potentially improve cholesterol levels to help prevent heart disease.
A member of the mulberry family, figs are a source of polyphenols and the flavanoid quercetin, both of which have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. At only 110 calories, with zero fat or cholesterol, and virtually no sodium, one serving of figs (about 3 small-medium, or 150 grams) provides almost 10% of your daily needs for calcium, potassium, and vitamins K and B6. Figs also have nearly 2 grams of fiber per fruit, keeping your blood sugar levels stable and digestive system happy.
Typically found in its powdery form, cardamom is made by grinding the tiny seeds extracted from small green or black pods. Cardamom imparts a strong, almost floral, spicy-sweet kick, has potent antioxidant properties to boost activity of our immune cells, and provides nearly 30% of your daily manganese in 1 tsp.
Heavy cream is key to making these scones very light with a fine, tender crumb. Naturally high in fat — predominantly saturated; though, there are some healthy unsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fats as well, heavy cream also contains nearly 20% of your daily vitamin A, a small amount of vitamin D, and just over 1 gram of complete protein. With roughly 50 calories per tablespoon, moderation is ultimately the best approach to heavy cream enjoyment. (Each scone contains less than 2 Tbsp cream.)
The fat from the cream enhances our body’s ability to absorb the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants discussed above. Furthermore, the main active compound in black pepper, called piperine, not only imparts the trademark spicy kick but also improves this enhanced absorption and utilization.
If your freezer isn’t lined with frozen figs and fresh aren’t readily available, the original recipe calls on dried currants. Chopped dried figs or dates would also be marvelous, as would black or golden raisins, cherries, or, my favorite for scones, thin strips of dried apricots (with pistachios). Any other fresh fruit will also do. If you can’t wrap your brain around the cardamom + pepper combo, try other warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or anise seed + a calmer “kick” from naturally potent ginger or turmeric.
One final note: playing around with the liquid, don’t. Lacking the oft traditional butter, buttermilk, or egg, heavy cream is the sole source of fat, and the key here to tender, moist scones. Fortunately, (for your waistline) this recipe works out to less than 2 Tbsp cream per scone, and (for your baking prowess peace of mind) there’s basically no chance of overworking the dough, which is a huge concern for buttery versions. If you can stir, you can make these.
Bursting with smashed fig, these pretty little scones are filling yet light, and the cardamom and pepper gives them a subtle, interesting kick. Guaranteed to perk up even the greyest evening. Or morning or afternoon, if you prefer them for a faintly sweet breakfast or an afternoon snack. To Marion!
Tell me… How do you scone?
- 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (96 grams) whole wheat pastry or Atta flour
- 3 Tbsp Turbinado or granulated white sugar
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper, to your taste
- 1/2 cup halved or quartered fresh figs, plus more for topping, if desired
- 1 cup + 4 Tbsp heavy cream, divided, plus 1 Tbsp for brushing
- Preheat oven to 425° F with a rack in the middle. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper or a Silpat mat; set aside.
- Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, salt and pepper in a large bowl; mix well with a fork. Add the 1/2 cup fig pieces; toss to coat. Drizzle in the cream, working in with the fork, continuing only until a soft, shaggy and somewhat sticky dough is formed. There may be some dry bits at the bottom -- this is fine for now.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using floured hands, very gently knead 5 to 6 times until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky; pat into a circle 3/4-to 1-inch thick. Using a 1 1/2- to 2-inch fluted biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out rounds (press straight down and do not twist the cutter) and place 1 inch apart on the prepared tray. Gently gather up scraps into similar thickness (do not knead), and cut out 1 or 2 more scones, transferring to the tray with the others. Brush only the tops of the scones lightly with the remaining heavy cream, if desired, being careful to avoid dripping down the sides (this could inhibit the rise).
- Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown, springy when lightly pressed with a finger, and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and cool 1 minute on the tray before transferring to a cooling rack.
- Store any leftover scones in a tightly sealing container or zipper-top bag: for up to 2 days at room temperature; up to 1 week in the refrigerator; or up to 6 weeks in the freezer (first wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil).
+ If you can’t find whole wheat atta flour (at Asian or Indian markets), whole wheat pastry flour, spelt flour, brown rice flour, or even sorghum flours would be suitable substitutions; regular whole wheat flour might be too heavy in this instance. You could also try teff or rye flours, though they're a little heavier.
+ Currants are Marion's choice for fruit in this recipe, and can be subbed in equal amounts to the figs. Other ideas are chopped dried figs or dates, black or golden raisins, cherries, or thin strips of dried apricots.
+ Heavy cream is key to keeping these scones moist and tender -- there is simply not enough fat in buttermilk, half-and-half, yogurt, sour cream, or regular dairy or plant-based milks. That doesn't mean you can't experiment, though... perhaps with full fat coconut milk?
+ If you can’t get past the cardamom + pepper combo, try other warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or anise seed + a calmer “kick” from naturally potent ginger or turmeric.
+ Add a little crunch by mixing 1/4 cup of your favorite seeds or chopped nuts.
+ Or add a little punch of flavor with fresh zest of lemon, lime or orange, a sprinkling of espresso powder or toasted vanilla bean powder (http://buff.ly/2djBQ2t), cocoa nibs or chopped dark chocolate, toasted unsweetened coconut, or even chopped fresh herbs.
Recipe adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham.
+ + + +
p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.
And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing. Thanks!