Bing Cherry Scones
One of the most phenomenal desserts I've ever had was served recently at the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla, Washington for the annual Wine Bloggers Conference. The conference organizers did an amazing job of pulling together sponsors which gave us far more than our registration fees alone would have afforded. The big gala dinner was sponsored by the Washington Beef Commission. Since the braised beef cheeks and grilled flank steak were provided by the Washington Beef Commission, I suspect the kitchen had more of a budget to work with on other fronts. All the stops were pulled out.
The whole meal was the nicest I've ever had in a convention banquet setting. I could go into great detail about the freshness of the salad and the perfectly al dente baby vegetables, and the absence of gloppy sauces and gravies made from mixes, but I really want to share with you the dessert.
Simple, sheer genious. A shiny platter of perfect whole, ripe Bing cherries atop a bed of their own leaves was first passed. Then, a platter with bowls of smooth, rich, creamy dark chocolate ganache and softly whipped cream was passed. Then, a platter with buttery, cherry-leaf shaped shortbreads came around. Purity. Sophistication in the way of Alice Waters.
I've always liked cherries, but this dessert reinvigorated me. It affirmed my sensibilities. It is unnecessary to doll up something as flawless as a cherry. I remembered this when I made scones the other day, resisting the temptation to add chocolate or white chocolate or almonds. I just let the cherries speak.
Bing Cherry Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup demerara sugar (brown sugar works too)
1/3 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 cup fresh Bing cherries, pitted, cut into 1/8ths (kitchen shears do a great job of snipping the 1/8ths)
1 cup cold sour cream
1 egg yolk
2 drops almond extract**
Preheat oven to 400˚. Line large baking sheet with parchment.
Mix all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
Toss the butter into the bowl of dry ingredients. Rub butter between fingertips, picking up a little flower often, until the butter is the size of small peas or less. This can be done with a pastry cutter or two knives, but there's magic in those fingertips.
Toss in the cut cherries, literally tossing them a bit in the dry ingredients. This will keep them from sinking to the bottom.
Whisk sour cream, egg yolk and almond extract. Make a depression in the center of your dry ingredients and add the sour cream mixture. Using a rubber spatula, stir together just until the ingredients are barely moist. As a matter of fact, there will most likely be some small bit of flour in the bottom of your bowl. The dough will look very shaggy. Handle the dough as little as possible.
Flour your work surface (but not too much; remember that there's some unincorporated flour in your bowl that will also serve this purpose, and too much flour makes a tough scone) and your hands. Dump the dough out and firmly press it into a 1" thick round or square. Don't knead; just press. Cut into 8 wedge/pieces.
Place pieces on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
Glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and the juice of two cherries (cut into 1/8ths and pressed through a fine-mesh sieve, for a little natural pink color which I love), and a little milk to a glaze consistency. Brush or drizzle onto cooled scones.
**This may be a slight understatement, but I find almond extract to overwhelm many recipes and I really wanted the pure cherry to shine through. Use no more, and I'm serious, than 1/4 teaspoon. Try hard for only 2 drops.
Cherry Scones Cooling, Before Glazing
Happy Birthday today to my new Sister-in-Law and Friend. I love you, Nancy!