Everybody has a pile of favorite recipes that they come back to time and time again, and I am no different. Contrary to that very basic feeling of comfortable familiarity, however, what I find myself doing more and more often these days is using my standard recipes as less of a focal point, and more of a jumping off point.
I have been using the same recipe to make scones for the better part of a decade. I like the ratio of wet ingredients to dry ingredients, I like the delicate rise of the scones, and I like their flaky, yet sturdy texture. The original scone recipe was meant to produce orange currant scones, but, and I am almost embarrassed to admit this, I have yet to actually make those exact scones. Using the original recipe as a base from which to explore, I have made lemon scones, clementine scones, pecan cherry scones, whole wheat walnut scones—the list goes on and on. Up until now, I never considered the recipe my own. I always thought that, since I found the basic bones of the recipe in a cookbook, the fact that I was simply adding a handful of varying citrus notes, dried fruits, or nuts hardly constituted an original creation on my part.
Until now, that is. Inspired by a slightly bursting-at-the-seams fruit bowl that was threatening to take over my kitchen, I had the notion last week to whip up a batch of pear scones. Not being in the habit of knowing when to leave well enough alone, pear scones soon begat pear ginger scones which, soon enough, begat pear, ginger, and brown butter scones. Once I conjured up all the elements I wanted this dream scone to possess, I quickly began the process of deconstructing the recipe to fit the elements. After a great deal of adding things here and substituting things there, it started to become clear to me that what I once considered one of my favorite go-to recipes had just become my recipe.
I am not the first person to change up a combination of ingredients enough times to eventually end up with an original product, and I will most certainly not be the last. When you think about it, my recipe was grown from seeds planted by another cook, but, as it goes with the evolution of food and cooking, that cook gathered inspiration that was no doubt planted by another.
This is one of the things I love the most about cooking. Ingenuity and creativity are at the very heart of imagining a recipe into existence. When you are at work in the kitchen, you are constantly learning new things and changing ideas at the same time. If you tinker with something enough, your mark will eventually come to seem indelible, but if you are truly lucky, someone else’s tinkering might actually spark enough imagination to slowly but surely erase your mark to nothing more than a trace.
Pear, Ginger, and Brown Butter Scones
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
juice of 1 medium-sized lemon
scant 2/3 cup of milk
½ teaspoon finely grated or minced lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 medium-sized pears (not too ripe, as super ripe and juicy pears will make your dough unworkably sticky and wet), peeled, cored, and cut into a ¼-inch dice
In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the butter begins to turn brown and emit a nutty aroma. The butter will first foam, then appear to do nothing for several minutes, then begin to form small brown specks in the bottom of the pan. When the brown specks begin to turn dark brown, remove butter from heat and pour into a small bowl. Place browned butter in the refrigerator and chill until it has firmed up again, about 1 hour. Alternately, you can put the browned butter in the freezer for about 20 minutes and it will firm up much more quickly.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease a baking sheet, and set aside.
In a liquid measuring cup, squeeze in the juice of the lemon. Top off the lemon juice with milk until the total liquid amount of the two ingredients equals 2/3 of a cup. (The desired end result is to make 2/3 of a cup of soured milk.) Stir in the lemon zest. Set the milk mixture aside and allow it to thicken, about 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the freshly grated ginger with the sugar and mix well to incorporate. Set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients.
In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine, or, if using a food processor, pulse the ingredients a few times to aerate. Add the ginger sugar and mix or pulse to combine.
Add in the chilled and firmed brown butter. Using a pastry cutter, or with the blades of the food processor, cut in the brown butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Pour the soured milk mixture over the flour and brown butter mixture, and stir until just combined. If using a food processor, slowly add the soured milk through the feed tube and pulse just until the dough begins to come together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and add the pear chunks. Gently knead the dough until the pears are incorporated and the dough comes together, about 20 seconds or half a dozen turns and folds. Pat the dough into a circle approximately ½-inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the circle into 6 or 8 wedges, depending on how large you want each scone to be. I cut this batch into 6 wedges, and the scones were ridiculously huge. Next time, I will be going for a much more reasonable 8 wedges.
Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet, leaving space between each scone. Bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack until ready to eat.