Friday, December 23, 2011
Candied Orange & Anise Scones
Have you ever spent Christmas away from home? M.F.K. Fisher did in 1929. This was long before she was the famed food writer who composed evocative prose about the exquisite pleasures of the table. Then, she was a young bride who had just moved to Dijon, France with her new husband, Al.
The two traveled South for Christmas, to a little town on the Mediterranean Coast called Cassis. On Christmas Eve, the couple drank rum punch and waited sleepily to go to Midnight Mass at a little church on the top of a high hill.
Fisher would describe it as an evening that rang like crystal in her memory: “Midnight mass, with fishermen playing wild sad songs on oddly shaped hautbois and windy flutes, over the bleating of two sheep by the alter glittering with candles; a new human baby wailing in its modern cradle trimmed with blue satin bows, and filled with Christmas straw; all the short square women dressed in black, with shawls over their heads.”
When Mass ended, instead of going to sleep, Mary Frances and Al joined a crowd of village revelers for a traditional French holiday celebration. She was handed a plate piled with an anise flavored bread, a piece of sweet nougat, and a glass of pale pink wine.
The seemingly random selection was, in fact, thoughtful. It was a few of the Thirteen Desserts, an array of sweets -- fresh and dried fruits, nuts, bread, nougat, and candies -- that are traditionally served after Midnight Mass and signify the 13 participants in the Last Supper.
An essential part of the 13 Desserts is a sweet bread made from olive oil and flavored with anise, orange water, and candied citrus. Similar to an Italian panettone, the bread -- called gibassier (or pompe à l’huile) -- must be torn with the hands when served to insure good luck in the new year.
That night, she and Al were strangers at the holiday feast. She was far from home and family, but the gift of food and wine soothed her soul.
I prefer my 13 desserts to be of the chocolate variety and like to have gibassier for breakfast. When I wrote this piece for The Kitchn, I made "real" gibassier (you can find the original essay that recipe here). But I also wanted to share an easier version of gibassier, something that could be easily made up on a busy pre-holiday morning, but that still shared the same lovely flavors of anise and candied oranges. These scones are very easy but, like the original gibassier, are best warm, smothered with butter and honey, beside a mug of bitter black coffee.
Happy Holidays, one and all!
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
1 tsp anise seeds
1/2 - 1 tsp orange flower water
1 Tbsp melted butter for brushing the tops
sugar for sprinkling the tops
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, lemon peel and anise seeds in a mixing bowl. Add the cream and orange flower water and stir gently with a fork. Stop mixing when it starts to come together and the cream seems fairly absorbed. Be careful not to overmix. The dough will look loose and lumpy and not like a finished dough.
Pour the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a very light touch, begin to gather and gently pat into a 9” circle, taking care to press the edges into a solid border. It will come together just enough to look like it might work. Do not handle very much to achieve maximum tenderness!
Using a lightly dusted bench scraper or sharp knife, cut into 8 scones. Use the bench scraper or a metal spatula to lift the scones gently onto the baking sheet. Be careful as they are very soft and delicate to handle. Brush the tops with a bit of melted butter and a sprinkle of sugar.
Bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes or until they are golden. Serve immediately. These scones are best warm.
This recipe was adapted from one found on the blog Bread Baby.