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The usual

I have this funny thing about recipes. When I find one that I like - for, oh, let’s say, lentil soup - I have a hard time trying others in the same genre. I will, of course, but in most cases, I would be just as happy to rest on my laurels and sit there, sipping that same lentil soup, until the end of time. This is not good behavior, I know, for someone who supposedly cares about cooking. I’m supposed to be some sort of happy mad scientist, a real free spirit, some sort of kitchen sprite with a spoon and a stand mixer and a relentless sense of curiosity. Sometimes I am. But most of the time, I’m not. I can’t help it. I’m loyal, and sentimental, and when something clicks with me, I want to keep it around. That goes not only for recipes, but also for beauty products, and men.

But about the recipes: take, for instance, my sister’s Scottish scones. I’ve written about them here before - twice, actually. In the whole wide, nubbly world of scones, they’re my very favorite. They’re the sort of thing that you’d eat, I imagine, before setting out for a brisk, rousing hike in the Scottish Highlands. Solid, tidy things, they have a dense, tight-woven crumb that tears apart into fat, flaky layers. They bear a close resemblance to a biscuit, but more delicate and dainty, with a flavor that’s more flour and less fat. Scones seem to run a spectrum these days: at one end sits the fluffy, muffinesque camp, and at the other, the sturdy, Old World, biscuit-like type. My sister’s rest delectably among the latter, which is just where I want them. Forever.

However, I do have a rather fat collection of cookbooks, not to mention an ever-growing accordion file of recipe clippings, and they demand my attention every now and then. They’re very annoying that way. You wouldn’t believe how pushy they are. They throw themselves at me. They lie next to my bed like flat, lazy dogs. They stretch and yawn all over my lap. And sometimes, like yesterday, they tell me about scone recipes that aren’t my sister’s. The nerve. I swear.

What’s worse is that I listened, and liked it.

This recipe isn’t replacing my sister’s quite yet, but that’s only because I’m very, very stubborn. If my sister’s scones are Scotland, these are Seattle - not only because they were developed nearby, at Macrina Bakery, but also because they’re decidedly New World, made for a city with a Space Needle. These craggy, homespun beauties have a thin, golden crust and a rich, cakey crumb that’s a little like a muffin, but with more moxie. A twist on the classic cream scone, they’re made without eggs or butter, getting their body, richness, and flavor from a generous dose of heavy cream instead. But what sets them apart from the standard cream scone is a pair of electric beaters. This recipe calls for cream that’s been whipped to the smallest of soft peaks, yielding a dough that feels wonderfully light and airy, like a cool, downy pillow. The dough rises and puffs as it bakes, making for an open, tender crumb and, I have to say, a totally bang-up scone.

And if you’re not yet sold, I have three more words for you: currants and fennel seeds. They’re in there too. It’s an unusual pairing, I know, but trust me: the winey, wintry currant has never had such a sweet, fresh-faced companion as the fennel seed. And with all that cream, and that lovely crumb? These scones feel like winter and spring baked together in a convenient, hand-held shape – one that may well become the usual around here.

Cream Scones with Currants and Fennel Seeds
Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook

I don’t know about you, but when I think of fennel seeds, my mind doesn’t naturally leap to scones – nor, for that matter, to anything remotely of the sweet genre. This recipe, however, has me singing a different tune. Local baker Leslie Mackie is really onto something.

Be sure to use good, fragrant fennel seeds for this – not that bottle of stale ones (ahem) that’s been sitting at the back of the spice drawer for years. I used some wild fennel seeds sent to me last fall by a certain cookiecrumb, and they were delicious.

1 cup dried currants
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 ½ cups heavy cream, plus 1-2 Tbsp. for glazing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Place the currants in a small bowl, and cover them with warm water. Set them aside to plump for ten minutes; then drain.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Pour the seeds into a small dish – if you leave them in the pan, they could burn – and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt until thoroughly blended. Add the drained currants and fennel seeds, and stir to incorporate.

Pour 2 ½ cups of the cream into a medium bowl, and beat just until it begins to hold small, soft peaks. It should not be stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half of the whipped cream into the dry ingredients, and then fold in the second half. When the dry ingredients are absorbed, turn the shaggy dough out onto a floured surface. Coat your hands well with flour, and gently work the dough – pressing and massaging and gathering, but not really kneading – into a rough ball. Do not overwork it: you want it to just come together. Press the dough into a large, thick round, and cut it in half. Form the halves into two smaller rounds, each about 1 inch thick – they need not be pretty, nor particularly even – and cut them into 6 triangles each. Gently transfer the scones onto the prepared baking sheets, and brush their tops with cream.

Bake the scones for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until pale golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: These scones - and all scones, for that matter - freeze beautifully in an airtight container or bag. Allow them to thaw to room temperature before reheating in a low oven.

Yield: 12 scones


Anonymous Tim said...

I have exactly the same problem --- er not with recipes but with restaurant meals... Yes please, I will have the risotto followed by the duck with the Pinot Noir... but that is exactly what you have every time we come here... yes it is and until I try something better this is what I will be ordering.

11:38 PM, January 29, 2007  
Anonymous Alanna said...

My "only" scone recipe dates back to my junior year at university: we ALL got fat that year when the cook baked scones three days a week. It includes raisins but I always substitute currants. And the next time I make them, I'm going to add fennel seeds: am much intrigued.

Lovely post, Molly. I'll never look at that pile of cookbooks and food magazines on my desk the same again!

5:18 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Susan said...

What a fabulous imagerial post! I wish I had one for breakfast this morning.

I often cook with fennel seeds, and my 98-year-old grandmother always used them in her Italian biscuits, which never failed to please.

Thanks for the delicious recipe!

5:19 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Maria said...

Your scones look and sound delicious! I have made scones with cranberries and pistachios, and cocoa and chocolate chips, but fennel and currants- sounds like an excellent idea!

5:21 AM, January 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Fennel seeds and currants are a fantastic combo - my absolute favorite variation on a classic Irish Soda Bread, and on that note, anise seeds are fantastic as well! I love the Macrina cookbook, and think I'll commit myself and try this recipe. There are so many scone variations - all consisting of only a handful of ingredients - out there, I find myself paralyzed, and unable to choose a recipe. It seems like these simple recipes are often the most complicated, if you know what I mean. :)

- Jessica G.

5:45 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

man...I've had a bear of a time finding currants 'round my neck of the woods!

6:54 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

oh me too, me too! i am with you and tim. i so get stuck in comfortable ruts. i do with cd's too. what is wrong with me?? this however looks just like the kick in the pants i need.

6:59 AM, January 30, 2007  
Anonymous Paulinka said...

Bring on the heavy cream! Yeah! I am SO making these babies as soon as I have finished my essay! Gorgeous photography, Molly, as always!

7:13 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Both Fex said...

fennel seeds and currants? Hmmmm... Seems like a rif on traditional soda bread. Yum!

7:22 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger tammy said...

For someone who doesn't usually cook with cream, you've been making me very, very happy of late.

7:28 AM, January 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, my pulse always quickens with joy when you've posted something new. Yippee!


8:30 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Anali said...

I love scones and like you, I have my own standby recipe. It's here if you'd like to take a look. http://www.boomergirl.com/blogs/and-razzleberry-dressing/2006/dec/28/something-about-a-scone/

I can imagine the scent of fennel and currants in my head and it smells pretty good. Unfortunately, I'm one of those people with some very old fennel seeds, so I guess it's time to buy some new ones! Thanks for the recipe!

8:43 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Patty said...

I totally sympathize with wanting to stick with classic, sacred recipes. I have been obsessed for years with an Irish scone recipe from a local tea room here in New Jersey. I haven't wanted to betray that loyal scone. Poor thing. But the thought of fennel seeds and yummy currants is making me rethink my stubborness. Maybe it's time to make room for some new friends in my recipe box. Thanks for this one.

10:26 AM, January 30, 2007  
Anonymous veron said...

never tried currants and fennel together, interesting. I would love to add to my tea pastry collection, this sounds like a lovely recipe.

11:23 AM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Homesick Texan said...

That's interesting there's no butter. I reckon there's so much cream you don't need any extra fat!

12:26 PM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Mary Jane said...

"They lie next to my bed like flat lazy dogs."!!!! I love it, thank you. Oh yeah, I had the chick peas today. Yum.

2:28 PM, January 30, 2007  
Anonymous Max said...

I had the same reaction to the fennel seeds as you did. It's not my favorite flavor, but I can see how it would be nice in this recipe.

2:34 PM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger Natalia said...

Nothing in the world comes close to the deliciousness of a scone. It's the best and I could never, ever give them up. But I'm the opposite when it comes to recipes. Each time I try a new recipe, I declare it the best one and say my search for the perfect scone is over. Then I find a new one online or in another cookbook and I just have to try it. I'll have to do these next. That fennel sounds especially interesting. And no messy cutting butter in. I better go hit the kitchen!

5:55 PM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger SF Money Musings said...

oh my! you keep me drooling! and i've been trying to stay on this detox diet (the fat smash diet) and cutting down on my carb intake.

im going to definitely try this one but i must find currants at the store first.

how do you get your baked goods to look so beautiful? do you use a special oven? the meyer lemon cookies i made expanded way too much in the oven therefore they didn't have that same shape.

12:19 AM, January 31, 2007  
Anonymous kristin said...

I am going to try this with fresh fennel seed harvested from my garden this year. Had two beautiful plants that yielded a bumper crop of seeds.

12:57 AM, January 31, 2007  
Anonymous ila said...

Well, since I read your tomato provencale soup recipe I can't stop cooking it, I must have it at least once a week. I even had to freeze a stash of organic orange peel for summer... not the same thing, but what can one girl do? I have it with fregola sarda, but cold with no pasta in summer it is a lovely variation.

1:04 AM, January 31, 2007  
Anonymous kirsten said...

Molly, I can't wait to try this recipe. It reminds me of the Seattle Scone Girl mix (just add cream - so much better than the other local Fair Scones). I have been in mourning as the first was purchased by the latter, and is now impossible to find. This seems like a recipe I can handle and will be of that creamy crumb that I love!

10:37 AM, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Shira said...

perhaps i've read this somewhere before, but a bit of saffron with currants and fennel strikes me as an interesting idea. in that case, though, a plainer backdrop would probably make sense--perhaps dinner rolls?
i've never had fennel in scones, but a bakery here in london does a fennel and fig bread (also rosemary and raisin) that is quite good. i think one of the recipes is on epicurious.

11:05 AM, January 31, 2007  
Anonymous mandira said...

I love scones, but am yet to try it at home. Yours looks delicious, nudging me to another baking session!

1:56 PM, January 31, 2007  
Anonymous e said...

i don't consider this a problem. think of it this way: that you have found your holy grail banana cake recipe, or you have found the absolute lemon cupcake recipe. why try anything else? you've reached the pinnacle, the search for absoluteness, for prefection is over. so that when you want a banana cake, or a lemon cupcake (or whatever) you can reach with confidence for the one recipe that will satisfy you. and then that dish becomes your faithful -- indeed, your signature dish that you are loyal to. i think there is nothign wrong with approaching certain dishes like this!

8:07 PM, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

I hear you, Tim. I'm the same way in restaurants sometimes - especially Thai and Indian restaurants. I'm SO boring. But hey, you know, at least we know what we like, right?

Oh Alanna, I have similar memories from college! Except mine involved the frozen yogurt machine in the dining hall (my freshman year) and pre-portioned balls of Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip cookie dough stolen from the cook's freezer (my sophomore and junior years, when I lived in theme houses). Ooh, I miss that. Sort of.

Thank you for your sweet words, Susan! Your grandmother's Italian biscuits sound wonderful. Might you post the recipe, or have you already? Hmm?

Thank you, Maria!

I know exactly what you mean, Jessica. Scones are so simple, but there are a gazillion ways of making them! It's overwhelming. But yes, if you can manage to commit, do give these a go. They're really lovely. And, re: Irish soda bread, how interesting - I've never heard of making it with fennel seeds! That sounds really, really good.

Wheresmymind, get out there and pound that pavement! What is this world coming to? There's got to be a box of currants somewhere in the Boston area...

Hannah, I do the very same thing with music too - currently, it's almost 100% Bruce Springsteen (the older stuff) and Elvis around here. A little variety? Oh - no, thank you.

Have you finished that essay yet, Paulinka? And made some scones? Hop to it!

Thank you for the tip, Both Fex. It looks like I need to do a little research where Irish soda bread is concerned, huh? Sounds good to me...

Tammy, I know - all of a sudden, I'm going crazy with the cream over here. It's like the flood gates have opened...

Aw, Lisa, you're so nice to me. Thank you.

Thanks for the recommendation of that scone recipe, Anali. And as for the fennel seeds, I'm right there with you: my "regular" fennel seeds (as opposed to the wild ones that I used here) are embarrassingly old. I think I've had them since I lived in France, which means that they probably date from late 2001. Yikes. They'll be heading for the trash can soon.

Patty, might you be willing to share that favorite scone recipe of yours? Please? I'll bet I'm not the only one who'd like to see it...

This recipe really is lovely, veron. But you should also try my sister's recipe - see the links above - which feels more traditionally "tea time-ish" to me...

You've got it, Homesick Texan. The cream really works wonders. No butter needed!

Aw, thanks, Mary Jane. And so glad you liked the chickpeas!

Trust me, Max - it really works well. In fact, the next time I make these, I might even use more fennel seeds. They only pop up every couple of bites, and I'd like to taste them a little more often. Mmm.

Natalia, you're so funny, you fickle scone baker, you! And you're right on about the butter - using cream instead eliminates that messy step, although there is still the (very messy) kneading to contend with...

SF Money Musings, you're a strong woman to do that diet! I love my carbs - in moderation or not. But as for my "beautiful" - (thank you!) - baked goods, I'm not sure what to tell you. My oven is as plain and simple as they come - just a cheap-o electric number that came with our apartment. I don't know what could be going wrong with your Meyer lemon cookies. Harumph! Are you chilling the dough fully before you slice it? That's crucial to the shape of the final cookies.

Kristin, that sounds wonderful. Brandon and I have got to start thinking about what we'll plant this year. Fennel sounds awfully good.

Ila, I'm so glad you like the soup! I love that one. Come to think of it, maybe I'll make it next week, for easy lunches to pull from the fridge. Mmm.

Kirsten, I've never heard of Seattle Scone Girl! Was there an actual bakery or shop by that name, or only a mix?

Shira, I love the idea of combining saffron, fennel seeds, and currants! If you do try it - in a scone, roll, or otherwise - please report back.

Mandira, scones are a breeze to make at home. You'll love it. The only key, in my opinion, is to not overknead them. Knead only until the dough just comes together, and not a second more.

e, I completely agree with you. Completely. I love the idea of having signature dishes and "old faithfuls," even though I may branch out every now and then to try new versions. Brandon, however, thinks I'm crazy - for him, cooking is not cooking unless he's trying new things, or playing with flavors, creating as he goes. He's a good influence on me that way, I think - so long as I can keep trotting out my old favorites every now and then.

1:21 PM, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Kristel said...

Long time lurker and big fan here, I just had to drop you a line and let you know that I laughed aloud at your post. I am totally the same way -- I've been making the same oatmeal cookie recipe since I was twelve. I discovered the recipe in Joy of Cooking, modified it, loved it, and never looked back. You've inspired me to try the next good looking oatmeal cookie recipe I run across. Thanks!



9:21 PM, February 01, 2007  
Blogger Wendi said...

I LOVE fennel with sweets and I can't wait to try this. My favorite sausage recipe uses a ton of fennel seeds and lots of maple syrup.

8:33 AM, February 02, 2007  
Blogger Scorpio said...

Your sister's recipe looked so easy that I now have a load of cranberry orange scones in the oven.

10:46 AM, February 03, 2007  
Blogger Scott at Real Epicurean said...

It certainly is a perculiar combination of ingredients - but that doesn't make it any less delicious!

7:44 PM, February 04, 2007  
Blogger Sarah said...

The new recipe sounds delicious - as does the old. I'm a nostaligic and loyal baker too. I find subcategorizing helps - I'd never prepare your sister's recipe with fennel seeds and currants or the scones nouveau with crystalized ginger or one of her other specialties.

6:38 AM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Kirsten said...

Molly, as far as I know there was only Seattle Scone Girl mix available. It was produced by a local woman, using her family recipe. I used to find it at Met Market (then Thriftway) and occasionally QFC. They sold the company to Fisher Fair Scones, and I haven't seen it on the shelves since. I bought my last batch at the space needle gift shop, if you can beleive it, when I had out of towners here.

This link tells the story, but the links to the company no longer work. http://www.therecipereader.com/sg-scones.htm

10:41 AM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger Julie said...

God, I love scones. Really, they're my favorite baked sweet item. Thing is, I don't have one recipe that I think is the ultimate platonic example of a scone. I wish I did, but I actually like most types, except the very sweet, leaden ones. I'd like to try the macrina recipe for sure, and I'll go look up your sister's as well.

11:01 AM, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Duncan said...

If only they allow your scones to be savioured by travellers on airline flights, how bliss would that be?

Nope, not for your life since they think that they have given you all the cheap airfares on your ticket.

5:48 AM, May 07, 2007  
Blogger Mommy of three said...

Molly, I know you wrote this post 3 years ago, but I always go to you first when looking for a recipe. This was a great one, as usual.
I know you get hundreds of comments on every blog post, but I just wanted you to know how much your blog has meant to me. I am not overstating things when i say that it has changed my life. Yours was the first blog I ever read, about a year and a half ago. I loved it. I was inspired to start my own and began a journey that has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. So thanks.

I linked to the recipe on my blog, Picnics in the Park, but gave you full credit, of course. Probably that marmalade cake will be next!
Thanks again, Molly for following your heart and dreams.

8:26 AM, February 18, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

Oh! Thank you, Greta! Your comment makes me incredibly happy.

10:50 AM, February 24, 2010  

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