My farm had sugar pie pumpkins this week, and I just had to get one. I’m always so excited about pumpkins and winter squashes in early Autumn. I think it’s partly because the weather is finally cooling off (a bit) and I’m ready to start baking again. Or, at least, we’re getting more cool days here and there. This point between seasons is always one of great interest to me. We’re still getting tomatoes and other summery fruits and vegetables from the garden, but not as many as we did back in August.
I’ve made a couple of batches of really quite delicious pumpkins scones, using a recipe I found on the Joy of Baking website. They’re moist, light, and have a nice pumpkin flavor without being overly sweet or spicy. I’ve modified the recipe a bit here and there, and will probably continue to tinker with it when I make it again.
I can imagine that cooking a pumpkin for baking could be a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it. And, sure the pumpkin in a can is always a good option for folks short on time or energy. But if you know me, you know I actually enjoy the entire process of cooking, and I have the time and energy to indulge myself. Plus, we get so many winter squashes and pumpkins from the farm, I’m an old hand at processing them swiftly and relatively easily. If you don’t want to bother with the pumpkin part, feel free to use canned pumpkin. No judgement from me!
If you’re going to cook the pumpkin yourself, be sure to pick out a nice round, relatively heavy pumpkin.
First, break off the stem. It should come off pretty cleanly and easily, but if not, don’t worry. Then, using a sharp knife, carefully cut the pumpkin in half. I like to start in the middle, slide the knife in all the way down through the bottom and then gently but firmly bring the knife down one side so that it stays relatively in the same place. Then I turn the pumpkin and insert my knife again, trying to keep my line as true to half as possible.
It helps to have a sharp chefs knife without any serration. I have some knives that tend to cut to one side or the other, and that can make it a bit more difficult to cut it evenly.
But even with a sharp knife and years of practice, my halves are rarely perfect. C’est la vie. It’s not terribly important in this case, so don’t sweat it if your halves are truly half.
Since my baking pan of choice is a small square pan, I have to cut my pumpkin into quarters. If you have a large enough pan you can leave them as halves. I do think that quarters also makes it easier to get the seeds and pulp out, but you mileage may vary.
To scrap the seeds and pulp out, I just use a metal soup spoon. I’ve also been known to use a metal ice cream scoop, and I’ve heard of folks using a melon baller. The pulp should come out pretty easily on these guys. Just scrap along the inside of the harder flesh. And there’s no need to be perfect here either. Little strings left on won’t cause any problems later.
I like to save the seeds for roasting, so I just toss everything into a collander or strainer, for cleaning later.
Then I arrange my quarters in my pan and then cover it with aluminum foil. If you’re roasting halves, make sure you put them flesh side down.
Place the pan in the middle of the oven and roast the pumpkin at about 350 degrees F for about an hour. Depending on your oven, your pan, your pumpkin and your other cooking needs, you can adjust the temperature and cooking time a bit. These actually got roasted about a 400 and for only about 45 minutes, because I was cooking other items that needed a hotter temperature. As long as you’re paying attention to the state of the pumpkin, it’s pretty forgiving. You just want it to come out soft and still a bit moist, with the skin starting to peel away from the flesh.
Let it cool. You can process it as soon as it’s cool enough to handle, or you can leave it for later. I’ve been known to roast several squashes and pumpkins at once to save on oven time, but not skin and process them all right away. It’ll keep in the fridge for a day or so.
When you’re ready, just pull the skin away from the flesh. I will often use a spoon to scoop the flesh out of the skin, or a small knife to peel the skin. But sometimes it’s easy to just pull it off using your fingers. I collect the pumpkin flesh in a bowl, and then smash it up with a fork or potato masher. I always get more pumpkin than I need for the scones (the recipe only calls for 1/2 cup), so I keep the extra mash in the freezer to use in another recipe later.
Now you’re ready to bake. Assemble the dry ingredients. If I’m trying a new recipe or something a bit complex, I like to measure out all my ingredients into separate little bowls and have them all at the ready when I start to cook. But that is somewhat time consuming, and makes for a lot more dirty dishes in the end. For something relatively simple like these scones, I just measure and add the dry ingredients into one bowl, and the wet into another.
It’s important to incorporate all the ingredients. In this case, the key ingredients are the buttermilk and baking powder, which work together to make the scones nice and light and fluffy. So you want to make sure you’ve spread the baking powder around evenly. It’s easy to do using a whisk or pastry cutter and give the dry ingredients a good couple of stirs.
Adding the butter is probably the most complicated part of this whole procedure. It’s important to mix in the butter evenly without melting it. You don’t want the water from the butter to interact with the flour and make gluten. The easiest way to do this is to cut the butter into small cubes and keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to start mixing. Then, using two knives or a pastry cutter (seriously, I love mine), just start cutting the butter into smaller and smaller pieces, while mixing it into the flour. I like to use a slight downward movement along the edges of the bowl, mixing everything into the center, while slowly turning the bowl.
Keep cutting the butter into the flour until it looks like coarse corn meal. This may take a few minutes and your arm will likely get tired. But you’ll agree it’s worth it when you bite into a flaky, tender, evenly moist scone later, I promise!
Now it’s time to work on the wet ingredients. I don’t always keep buttermilk in the house. I used to let that stop me from making recipes that call for buttermilk, until I learned how to make my own buttermilk using regular milk and white vinegar! Oh my! Now I’m cooking with buttermilk all the time! For this recipe, I needed about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of buttermilk. So I poured myself just under 1/2 cup of milk (in this case, it was milk + heavy whipping cream that I had on hand, making sure the total amount was still less than 1/2 cup) and then added a splash of vinegar, and let it sit while I worked on the dry ingredients.
Once the milk had turned thick and buttermilk-y, I added the pumpkin mash and vanilla.
It’s important to mix it up to incorporate the vanilla evenly and break up any lumps of pumpkin. I just used a fork and gave it a good stirring. Nothing fancy.
Now it’s times to add the wet ingredients to the dry. It’s really just as simple as pouring and stirring.
Using my fork, and maybe a wooden spoon, just mix everything together until it’s evenly wet, and all the flour has been incorporated into the batter. It’s important not to over stir. You don’t want the flour to get doughy and tough. You just want everything to be evenly moist.
Turn the batter out onto a floured surface. I have a teeny tiny little cutting board that I use for this, but if you don’t have a good work space, you can lay out a piece of wax paper and use that. I seem to remember my Granny also using a tea towel that was heavily floured. Basically, you want a clean, dry, relatively smooth surface to work.
Knead the dough lightly. You’re not making bread or pizza dough, so you don’t need to do much more than mix in a bit of the flour from the surface into the dough to make it easy enough to handle and cut. I’d say I didn’t knead more than four of five times before it was ready to pat out into a circle about half an inch thick.
Cut the circle into eight wedges and place them on a cookie sheet. I used parchment paper which made it easy to work with. You don’t have to. If you don’t have it, it won’t be the end of the world. Your scones may stick a bit to the cookie sheet, but if you remove them carefully when they’ve cooled a bit, it should be OK.
Once you have your scones laid out on your cookie sheet, you’re ready to make the egg wash. It’s a simple matter of one egg plus about a table spoon of milk or cream, mixed together.
Using a pastry brush if you have one, or a corner of a kitchen towel if you don’t, lightly coat the tops of each scone with the mixed egg and milk wash. This will help the tops get a nice golden color.
I like to sprinkle a bit of sugar on top as well. In this case I just used white sugar, but you can also try brown sugar or even raw sugar.
Bake in the oven until they’re golden brown!
These scone are pretty tasty on their own. I’ve also been known to reheat them in the oven with a bit of butter. But my favorite way to eat them these days is with some of my yummy homemade ginger-pear preserves. (Yes, I know I keep promising a blog post about making that. It’s coming.)