Last weekend, while telling you all about the wonders of applesauce cake, I employed one of life’s greatest literary tools: foreshadowing. By speaking of apples and fall and gasp, even a passing mention of orchards, I left major hints as to what my weekend activity would be — namely, a visit to an apple orchard.
New York is known for its apples* and I found it problematic that I had yet to, in my adult life, visit one of the state’s many orchards. So I decided on a whim to go last week, hoped and prayed for days that it wouldn’t rain, practiced my best twisting and plucking moves, and actually successfully organized a trip (involving Metro North, no less) for the first time in my life. God, I am such a grown up.
My last trip to a farm (a visit to Stone Barns in January 2010, just before this blog was created) was extremely positive, so I was excited to get out of the city and “be one with nature.” A few friends and I went to Harvest Moon Farm and Orchard in Westchester County, sold by reports of its delicious cider doughnuts and free pumpkin cheesecake tastings.
Though the weather was more summer-like than autumnal, the orchard was a great way to experience a different side of obtaining food. It is liberating to be able to pluck fruit off of a tree, take a few bites and toss the rest of the fruit on the ground, where it creates an easy compost for the next batch of trees (or so we were told). Our game plan was to taste, and then if we liked the apple, pick a few from that tree. We have zero clue as to what kinds of apples the orchard offered, though my guesses based on taste are Macintosh, Golden Delicious and Pippin.
In an age where you can have an apple appear on your doorstep without even looking at it (coughFreshDirectcough), it’s extremely gratifying to go to a farm and literally choose your food yourself. I often think about how unnatural our food sourcing can be. Rather than buying food that was grown 100 miles away, we purchase food that was grown 3,000 miles away, coated in preservatives and chemicals and then shipped to us — more often than not, this is not even a conscious decision, one made by the supermarket instead of the consumer.
I’m not a rabid proponent of locavorism or even eating exclusively organic food, but visiting a farm, where food is sourced so naturally, really made me think twice about where I get my food from. While I try to buy local and visit farmer’s markets and Whole Foods and blah di blah, I simply don’t understand why food that is raised/grown nearby costs so much more than food that come from miles and miles away. At least I have access to it in the city — at home in Maryland, I wouldn’t even know where to look for local food, as I’m not even sure that there are farmer’s markets nearby.
I’d like to say that I spent my entire train ride home pondering this matter, but I think we all know that I mostly looked up apple recipes. Having just baked an apple-influenced cake, I didn’t necessarily want something sweet. Most savory applications of apples involved pork, but I didn’t feel like having a big meaty dinner for once. I wanted something that showcased the apple, but without being overly complicated or heavy.
Enter these apple cheddar scones. Found on my new blog obsession Leite’s Culinaria (I’m about 72,907 years late to the party, but still … ), they promised the savory–sweet combination that I love. Also, I love the pairing of apples and cheddar, and if I had enough counter space to actually roll out a pie dough, I would whip up an apple-cheddar pie in an instant. Oh the perils of an eensy-weensy kitchen.
Lacking an electric mixer, I made these by hand, and since I lack said counter space, these were more like “drop scones” than nicely shaped ones. Their ugliness in no way affected their taste, however, since these are easily the best scones I’ve ever had (clearly, I knew nothing when I said these buttermilk ones were perfect). They are slightly salty but mildly sweet, with chunks of softened apple and cheesy goodness in all the right places. I’ve been eating three a day, as if they’re vitamins. I mean it is technically an apple a day, right?
*I’ve always assumed that the New York City nickname “The Big Apple” was somehow linked to the fact that there are so many apples in upstate New York. Much to my surprise, that has nothing to do with it — the nickname was coined in the 1920s by John J. Fitz Gerald, a sports journalist for the New York Morning Telegraph, and just refers generically to a big city. The things you learn on Wikipedia!
Apple Cheddar Scones
Adapted from The Perfect Finish, by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark, by way of Leite’s Culinaria
– 2 firm, tart apples, about 1 pound total (they suggest Granny Smith, Macoun, or Pippin. I was unable to tell what I had, and ended up using what I think was Macintosh)
– 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for working with dough
– 1/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
– 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for egg wash
– 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), chilled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
– 1/2 cup sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (they very strongly recommend white — in fact, the scones are even called Apple and White Cheddar Scones — but since I only had yellow, that’s what I used. I assume it’s for visual purposes, since yellow Cheddar is basically white Cheddar with natural food dyes added in.)
– 1/4 cup heavy cream
– 2 large eggs, at room temperature
1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2) Peel, core, and slice each apple lengthwise into sixteenths (I did chunks, since I don’t possess the knife skills for slices). Place the pieces in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake until the apples take on a little color and feel dry to the touch, about 20 minutes. Transfer the apples to a bowl and cool (this works nicely in the fridge). Leave the oven on.
3) Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Add the cold butter cubes and using your hands, mix the butter with the flour mixture until it resembles a crumbly, mealy texture.
4) Add the apples, cheese, cream and one of the eggs. Using a wooden spoon, stir just until the dough comes together. Gently knead the dough to incorporate the ingredients if necessary, but do not overmix.
5) Using two spoons (or your hands), drop two-tablespoon-sized balls of dough two inches apart on lined baking sheets. Flatten them slightly using the heel of your hand. Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt, then using a pastry brush or a spoon, brush the scones with the egg mixture. Sprinkle sugar on top.
6) Bake the scones until golden and firm, about 25 minutes. Using a spatula, lift the scones off the baking sheet and serve.
Note: Scones are great for flash-freezing. Once you’ve dropped them into place on the baking tray, stick the tray in the freezer for 30-45 minutes, until the scones are hard. Then pop them in a freezer bag and freeze them for up to a month. Whenever you want fresh scones, take them out of the freezer, apply the egg wash, and pop them straight in the oven — there’s no need to defrost, simply up your baking time by 3-5 minutes.
If you store the baked scones in an airtight container, they’ll go soft after a day or two. This is easily remedied by sticking them in a toaster oven. Bonus: you get to experience that cheesy sweet aroma over and over and over again.