Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vanilla Bean Scones and the Best Birthday Ever

I am exhausted.

Between the crazy heat that's hit the NoVA area, the loud energetic kids I'm working with, and the whirlwind of a birthday weekend I had, I am just plain wiped!

But ohhh was it ever worth it...

Quick backstory: my birthday is smack-dab in the middle of July, a.k.a. Vacation Season.  Growing up, most of my friends were naturally on vacation on my birthday, and when they weren't away I had something going on out of town that kept me from having an actual birthday celebration.  The vast majority of my birthdays have been spent with my parents and have involved minimal hoopla.

This year was different :)

Jon flew down from Buffalo Saturday morning, so I got to see my fiancĂ© for the first time in two months, which was nothing short of amazing.  Then, my family - complete with the "extended family" of my best friend Jenni and her mom - drove down to Staunton, VA for a weekend at a bed and breakfast.  After a lovely Italian dinner (and free tiramisu, complete with birthday candle), Jenni and Jon and I went out on the town so I could get my first drink at midnight.  Spending the night out with the two of them was everything I wanted!
The next day, after a delicious breakfast, a walk around the gorgeous little town, and gelato for lunch (I LOVE how anything goes on your birthday!), we went to the Blackfriars Theater, home of the American Shakespeare Center, to see The Importance of Being EarnestEarnest is my favorite play, and the production definitely did not disappoint - I laughed hysterically the whole time!  Then came dinner at a delicious farm-to-table restaurant, followed by the 2.5-hour drive home...through most of which I slept.  It was definitely the best birthday I've ever had, and overall an amazing, if exhausting, weekend.

Since being back at home, I haven't had much energy to get back in the kitchen, and being totally out of it, I forgot to take pictures of the zucchini fries I made (I'll try to make them again soon - they were fantastic!).  But before we left for Staunton on Saturday, I made these Vanilla Bean Scones as a treat for Jon to enjoy after his flight.

This makes three recipes I've posted from Alice's Tea Cup.  Since June.  Yeah.  I just can't get over how good everything from that cookbook is!  (And they have countless more amazing recipes that they didn't share, so you really have to drop by one of their locations next time you're in Manhattan.)
These scones are the perfect sweet treat to justify having for breakfast.  They're buttery, tender, chock full of gorgeous vanilla flavor, and perfectly sweet.  Serve them alongside some eggs and a fruit salad and you'll be oh so happy :)

Vanilla Bean Scones
Source: Alice's Tea Cup by Haley and Lauren Fox

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1-1/4 cups cold buttermilk (I used low-fat)
2 or 3 vanilla beans, seeds scraped out and pods reserved
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream (for brushing)
1/4 cup sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  With clean hands or a pastry blender (or both, if you're me and your butter was still frozen!), cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.  Combine the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds in the cup in which you measured the buttermilk.  Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour the buttermilk mixture into the well.  Combine the ingredients until the entire dry mixture is wet - but don't knead!
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.  Gather the dough together and lightly pat it out to a rectangle about 1-1/2 inches thick.  Using a dough cutter or a sharp knife, cut the dough into wedges measuring about 3-1/2 x 4 inches and lay them on a nonstick baking sheet.  If there is any remaining dough, lightly gather it together to cut out more scones - try not to knead too much!  Brush the tops of the scones liberally with cream and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the scones for 12-18 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Cool just until they can be handled.  Enjoy!

**NOTE: In my experience, the scones often take several minutes more than 12 to finish baking at 425˚.  I plan to experiment in the future with bumping the temperature up another 25 degrees to see if they puff up and brown better.  If you try it, let me know how they turn out!

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