Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kicking Off PENZEYS Week: Christmas Scones

A small part of my collection (note the Spanish anise,
top row of small jars, fourth from left)
Welcome to Mystery Lovers' Kitchen's special PENZEYS week!

So many holiday and winter-time recipes lean heavily on herbs and spices. The scents and flavors of piquant herbs, lush spices, and luscious extracts can conjure up loving memories with a single whiff, a single nibble. And good cooks know that our dishes are only as good as the ingredients that go into them. The Mystery Lovers' Kitchen bloggers are friends as well as blog-mates, and our food chats extend behind the scenes. We've discovered we love Penzeys spices almost as much as we love getting lost in a delicious mystery. We each have our favorites, of course, so we thought we would dedicate a special week to our favorite spice store. For those of you who haven't heard of them, Penzeys has stores all over the country, as well as a lovely catalog and an online ordering site.

Christmas Scones with a cup of Constant Comment
I'm kicking off the week with these Christmas scones, enriched with a flavor that is the very definition of the holidays to me: anise.

My Grandma Mary Ellen had a handful of recipes she pulled out every Christmas: her amazing lemon cookies, spritz cookies, jelly cake (which is basically layers of flaky pastry separated by thin layers of currant jelly), and panettone.

Panettone is a slightly sweet Italian bread studded with candied citrus and raisins. My grandma's panettone was perfumed with ground anise and had a healthy drizzle of powdered sugar icing.

In theory, it should have been delicious. In reality, it was kind of horrible. The bread is a complex concoction of scalded milk and eggs, and it tended to come out a little dry. Instead of candied citrus, Grandma used that weird citron stuff that is completely fake-looking. And fake-tasting.

Still, for me, that panettone is the flavor of Christmas morning. While we opened our presents, we'd nibble on slices of the bread and sip black tea--strong and sweet--from chipped Blue Willow tea cups.

My challenge was to create a dish that captured the flavors of panettone (the intriguing licorice of the anise, the tart burst of winter fruit, bright notes of citrus, and a subtle homey sweetness) without being, well, my grandma's panettone. I wanted to avoid the pitfalls of her dish and create something both simple and delicious.

These scones offer the flavors of the classic Italian dish in a simple-to-make form that is sure to brighten your Christmas morning. The Penzeys ground anise provides a solid punch of flavor, but be sure to use the full tablespoon to give the scones that "special occasion" zing.

Wishing you all a happy holiday and many delicious memories of your own!

Christmas Scones
Cooling, pre-glazing

2 c. flour
¼ c. sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. orange zest, chopped very small
1 c. chopped dried fruit (apricots, golden raisins, and cranberries)*
1 ¼ c. whipping cream
¾ c. powdered sugar
strained juice of one orange

Preheat oven to 425

Sift together dry ingredients (down to orange zest). Mix in dried fruit. Add cream and fold in gently until dough forms. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead ever-so-gently until the dough holds together. Form dough into a 1/2 inch thick square. Quarter the square, and then slice each square diagonally, to make a total of 8 triangles.

Dough patted out for cutting - see the glimpses of fruit!

Place triangles on baking sheet (lined with parchment paper or sil-pat, if you have it). Bake 15 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool. Meanwhile, mix enough juice to the powdered sugar to make a thin icing. Drizzle over the cooled scones and serve!

* I found a pre-mixed assortment in the dried fruit aisle: cranberries, golden raisins, apricots, peaches, and apples, already diced into tiny bits just perfect for baking.

What about you? What herb or spice says "holidays" to you?


Wendy is the author of the Mysteries a la Mode. Visit her on the web or on Facebook. She also writes the Pet Boutique Mysteries under the name Annie Knox; you can follow Annie on Facebook, too!


Christmas Cookie Contest!

Have you heard about our fantastic Christmas Cookie Contest? Here's how it works:

To enter, send your favorite recipe to Krista (KristaDavis at KristaDavis dot com).
We'll choose 10 finalists, recipes that we'll bake and post here on the blog.
Then you, our readers, will choose the overall winner!

What does that winner win? A fabulous collection of cookie decorating supplies, that's what!

Pastel Sanding Sugar
Primary Sanding Sugar

Powdered Food Colors
Cute Flower Cookie Stencils


  1. Hey Wendy... SPices! Great company, just love roaming the aisles (we are lucky enough to have a store front in KC).

    Christmas always seems to be a savory holiday... Sage, Rosemary... Maybe some nutmeg and Cinnamon.

    But, me... Cajun and garlic!!!

  2. Your spice shelf looks a lot like my spice drawer! But what is Epazote?

    I love this recipe and your memories, Wendy. Germans make Stollen, which is also studded with dried fruit and can be a little bit dry. It's so much better with real dried fruit than with candied pieces!

    What a great way to kick off the holidays and Penzey's week. I want one of your scones for breakfast!

  3. Thanks, Dave and Krista!

    Krista - Epazote is an herb used in Mexican cuisine, especially to season beans. It smells really strange on its own, but in beans it simply adds a certain je ne sais quoi ... and it allegedly makes them easier to digest. We use it in our black beans and often when making chili.

  4. Now I'm truly in the Christmas spirit after reading your post!I'll be making the scones for sure. And I'm excited to learn of Penzey's. Their website is my next "stop" online. For me the smell of sage with onion is Christmas Day. Mom uses it in her cornbread dressing which she only makes twice a year (Thanksgiving & Christmas).

  5. Mmm. Cornbread dressing. Yum!

    Linda, you have to try Penzeys. Seriously good seasonings. We use a lot of their blends, too (Arizona Dreamin' is a salt-free southwestern blend that makes the most amazing sweet potato fries, and Mural of Flavor is a fabulous salt substitute -- I don't even know what's in it, it's just good!!). And their extracts are more intense than any others I've found (double Madagascar vanilla!!!).

    Can you tell I'm a fan?

  6. Scone recipe looks good. I cant wait to try it.

    I never heard of Penzeys before. I have a ton of spices and of differnet brands but this is a new one to me.

  7. My mom always made Christmas coffee cakes with cardamom in then--that taste is always Christmas to me.

  8. I absolutely love scones and will definitely be trying this recipe. I like using spices, however, don't have much opportunity to cook anymore. The spices that say holidays to me are nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. I haven't heard of Penzeys either, but will check them out.

  9. Mmm. Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon ... I love all the "c" spices. :)

  10. I love Penzys! Not too long ago they opened a store in Buffalo, NY-so when I'm back in my hometown (it's only an hour away) I can visit! Cinnamon and cloves remind me of Christmas!

  11. Oooh, anise. I love anise and never would have thought to add to scones. Love it!


  12. I love scones! And I never really use anise (and wasn't really sure what to use it for!) Thanks for sharing this excellent option.

  13. Cardamon is my spice choice for Christmas. It's what tangs up the Swedish coffee bread my Mom used to back & which I now tackle. The missing ingredient, unfortunately, is her touch.
    Your scones sound wonderful.

  14. Wendy, your scones look just wonderful, & thanks for the helpful tip about the fruit mix! I use anise frequently, esp. in my spaghetti sauce (aka red gravy in my family)and to flavor meat dishes like ground pork (ok, sorry, look away all vegetarians)& occasionally when I make biscotti.

    It also tickled me to read that you had a similar unpleasant history with pannetone. What was it with the older Italian cooks who used that awful stuff in place of real dried citrus? That's why I never liked fruitcake either, blech. I did have some great store-bought pannetone sent to me by my own Sicilian-American mother a few years ago, and made a tasty pumpkin trifle out of most of it. (Giada d.L. inspired me)

    Oh, besides Northwoods, I think lately Arizona Dreamin' is the Penzeys spice blend I've used most often in just about everything--it's great on popcorn, and to spice up party mixes and good on those homemade Rooster Crackers, yum! I'm making myself hungry for a snack.

    Oh, I love lots of different herbs and spicey smells of Christmas--the "C"s as above and orange, vanilla & almond. Also the savory like Dave above stated--bay, rosemary & sage, the woodsy ones! Great post.