Break becomes breakaway

Comfort: The ritual of the coffee break can make you feel significantly better, especially when it's accompanied by homey treats like scones, biscotti and miniature cheesecakes.

May 31, 2000|By Marcy Goldman | Marcy Goldman,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Most people approach coffee or tea and an accompanying treat in one of a few ways. Either you are a sip-and-nibble sort, a bite-and-gulp variety, or an eat-first, wash-it-all-down-later type.

Where we all converge is in the agreement that the ritual of a coffee break or tea time makes the mundane marvelous.

There is nothing like the blahs that can make the average coffee or tea break - always a welcome pause - a virtual oasis. Sure, we count on that caffeine hit when we reach for coffee or a pot of tea; it is just as true that either hot, fragrant brew - along with a little something modestly sweet - is sheer respite, producing a separate and undeniable buzz of well-being without a prescription.

OK, therapy it's not, but a coffee break is definitely sociable and civilized, the "breaking bread of the millennium" that can make even a dull day bearable. Best of all, it is a ritual that calls for the best in homey - not decadent - treats that celebrate the coffee and tea hour.

Perfect-for-dipping bis-cotti, delicately crumbed scones and miniature cheesecakes are just some delights that are sure to chase any blues away. They're all easy to make, none is cloyingly sweet or heavily frosted, and they're wonderful just warm from the oven or sublime even a day or two later.

This is the type of baking that is the tandem component to a tea and coffee break, and it is baking that is warmly rooted in the home kitchen.

These sweets are perfect to share with a neighbor or the office kaffeeklatsch, or simply to enjoy once the supper dishes are a memory and the day's end waits to be treasured.

So bake a batch of delicacies and brew a pot, then sit back and anticipate that small endorphin rush. Second cup is on the house.

Sour Cherry and Vanilla Cream Scones

Makes 12

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading dough

1 cup cake and pastry flour (or use all all-purpose flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely minced orange zest

3/4 cup (6 ounces) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 cup dried sour cherries (see note)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted coarse or regular sugar

In a large bowl, mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and zest. Cut in butter until you have a grainy, coarse mixture. (Alternatively, in bowl of large food processor, place flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and zest. Place butter chunks on top. Pulse processor to break butter into flour mixture. Then remove mixture to large bowl.)

Make well in center and stir in egg, vanilla and buttermilk. With fork, lightly bring mixture in toward center to combine wet and dry ingredients. When slightly combined, fold in cherries. Blend to form soft, shaggy mass. (For extra-flaky scones, allow butter-flour mixture to chill overnight or place in freezer 30 minutes before continuing with recipe.)

Turn out onto lightly floured work surface and knead very gently to make soft dough. Pat or shape dough into 10-inch circle. Cut into 4 equal portions. Cut each portion into 3, making a total of 12 wedges.

Line baking sheet with baking parchment. Place scones on sheet. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with a little coarse sugar. Bake at 425 degrees until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

Note: You can substitute coarsely chopped frozen cranberries for dried cherries.

Butterscotch Heath Bar Biscotti

Makes about 2 dozen

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed golden or light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon butterscotch extract,

3 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

dash salt

1 1/2 cups coarsely cut-up Heath Bars (see note)

1/2 cup whole pecans

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars together until well blended. Stir in vanilla and butterscotch extract. Blend in eggs. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together and fold into batter. Fold in candy-bar pieces and pecans.

Place batter on baking sheet (batter will be thick and a little sticky) and form into 2 logs about 8 inches long, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches across, wetting hands if necessary to shape batter.

Bake at 350 degrees until set, about 25 minutes. Cool thoroughly. Slice into diagonal strips about 3/4 inch wide and place, cut side down, on baking sheet. Bake on one side about 12 minutes. Turn pieces over and bake other side about 5 minutes. Cool well.

Note: You can use any brand of chocolate-covered brittle toffee bars. Coarse pieces work better than Heath Bar Chips, which are too small.

Miniature Cheesecakes

Makes 12

CRUST:

12 small graham cracker squares

3 tablespoons (about) brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and kept warm

FILLING: 1 pound cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon flour

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

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