I thought this week’s recipe should reflect the fact that most of us, the lucky ones, are packing their suitcases and heading off on holiday.
After months of hard work and long hours, it’s a relief to get off to somewhere new, hopefully sunny and warm, and decompress. Open the mind, expand the waistband and devour a few good books.
And so this week, our recipe is taking a holiday. The classic British scone has packed its bags and is taking a holiday to Tuscany.
I’ve been wanting to make a savoury scone for a long time, and this idea came to me whilst watering the herb garden the other day, marvelling at how well the rosemary is growing.
I love the sweet, heady aroma of this herb, whether it’s baked into springy focaccia bread, tucked into a juicy leg of lamb or used to scent a panful of dark, sweet stewed plums. The smell seems to transport me instantly to warm Mediterranean climes, where huge rosemary bushes grow wild in the dusty pine woods, filling the coastal air with a deeply aromatic scent.
Immediately, I knew the sort of dish I was after, and after a few minutes sketching and editing, I had my recipe.
The cheese scone is made with the traditional cream base, then flavoured with hard ricotta or any strongly-flavoured cheese, along with a good amount of that sweet perfumed rosemary.
When sliced, we’re going to smear it with plenty of cool, creamy mascarpone cheese, replacing the traditional clotted cream, and then add some extra flavours. I have always loved the Italian concept of ‘agrodolce’, the unison of sweet and savoury that can excite the palate and really make a dish sing with flavour.
With this in mind, I wanted to try adding the intensity of cured ham, in this case the famous Prosciutto di Parma, along with the classic accompaniment of fresh figs. They’re pretty much at their peak now, so it’d be a shame not to indulge in their perfumed gorgeousness.
All these flavours combine to fill the mouth with an explosion of flavours and textures. I still needed a little extra crunch, so decided to add a few deeply-roasted hazelnuts, and the whole dish is sweetened with a drop or two of rich, sweet honey.
All the flavours of a warm summer in Italy, tucked into the quintessentially British scone. Now, the bakers among you will know how temperamental brer scone can be. It seems that you either have it or you don’t when it comes to making and baking these chaps, and I often struggle with getting them right.
My wife Tracy makes some of the best scones I’ve ever eaten, and she keeps her cards close to her chest with both recipe and technique.
We share a lot of our recipes with interested customers at the café, but the notes for our scones remain a closely-guarded secret. The key is to work fast and not faff about too much. These scones, because of the high fat content, won’t inflate as much as a classic sweet scone, but they do rise satisfactorily, and cut open in a cloud of sweet cheese and rosemary steam, ready for all those luscious fillings.
By all means play about with the recipe, and do leave the prosciutto out if you’re not in carnivorous mood.
Just make sure you get those lovely ripe figs, crunchy nuts and sweet honey in there, for this delightful Tuscan-influenced bake. Happy holidays!
FOR THE SCONES:
300g self-raising flour
1⁄2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp Maldon salt
75g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
200-240ml double cream
75g hard ricotta (salata) or other firm cheese, finely grated
2 large sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
FOR THE FILLING:
50g whole blanched hazelnuts
1 x 250g tub mascarpone
4 large ripe black figs
A little local honey
8 slices Prosciutto di Parma (optional)
Baking sheet / baking parchment
Preheat the oven to 190oC / Gas 5. Place the hazelnuts in a baking dish and heat in the oven, tossing frequently, until they are deeply golden and fragrant.
Chop roughly and set to one side while you make the scones; combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor.
Add the cubes of butter and whizz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the cheese, rosemary and zest, and blend again for about 10-20 seconds, then add the cream in small amounts until a soft but not sloppy dough forms. You may not need it all.
Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface.
Roll the dough out to about 5 or 6cm thickness and cut scones with the pastry cutter, placing them on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
Bake the scones for 15-20 minutes until they are risen and have taken on a turn a deep golden brown colour.
Cool for a few minutes, then allow to cool fully on a wire rack.
To serve, split the scones - you can warm them again in the oven, wrapped in foil, for a few minutes – and spread mascarpone thickly on the bottom half.
Sprinkle a few pieces of chopped hazelnut onto the cheese, and curl a couple of slices of prosciutto (if using) over the top. Slice the figs and layer on top of the
ham, then drizzle with a little honey and a grind or two of black pepper. Pop the lids back on and serve immediately.