I’m always looking for ways to pawn off the older ingredients in my pantry. I haven’t lived in my apartment for very long, but you might never know this by looking in the cupboard. I don’t know how I do it. I’ve always been a very good collector, as evidenced by things like the pretty tins of Piment d’espellette, cans of duck confit, ad hoc sweeteners, delicate vinegars and nut oils, and lots of preserves gifted to me from friends or people on the road (see proof in the entry below!). I come home sometimes from tour with more jam in my suitcase than clothing!
If you’re a pack rat, too, then you probably know too well the chaos that comes with it. All of that stuff has to go somewhere, and if it’s permitted to go unchecked, my pantry turns into a hurricane of sea salts, wacky spice blends, etc. Since there’s less fresh ingredients in season to play with right now, I’ve been trying to use this time to clean out the cupboard a little. It’s not all hard work. Sometimes, I find buried beneath the za’atar and blackstrap molasses a forgotten treasure.
Case in point: dried mission figs. I don’t know how long they had been back there—maybe two or three months now. They were hiding behind the buckwheat flour. I opened the jar and sampled one, and unlike a lot of dried figs, it was still perfectly soft and slightly sticky. I knew I had to seize the opportunity immediately, while they were still this perfect and chewy. In my fridge, there was a little over a cup’s worth of heavy cream a few days past its expiration date* (I won’t tell if you don’t…) and quickly it all began to come together. My first thought was how much I loved vanilla and figs together. I tugged at the jar of vanilla sugar I’d begun back in the fall and stuck way back on the top shelf. I remembered reading this recipe a few days ago. Scones would be perfect. Fig scones! Something that would play with the figs’ rich flavor, and stand up well to a morning cup of coffee. I usually work off the same recipe--mostly due to laziness, and this is the one I've had memorized for a few years now. I love buttermilk in baking, too, but I just never have any lying around. I threw everything into a bowl, turned it out for a quick knead before I glazed the dough with some melted butter and vanilla sugar.
The scones only need 15 minutes in the oven, and they’re nice and light when they emerge piping hot, perhaps slathered with a little butter or jam. The figs remain nutty and chewy, and the vanilla sugar gives it a welcome sweetness without being cloying. No one will know you were just trying to clean out your pantry.
VANILLA FIG SCONESMake sure to use dried figs that are still soft and fleshy, this way they won't dry out while the scones are baking. If your figs seem wizened and dry, soak them in a bit of hot water to reconstitute them. You could even throw a tablespoon of brandy or rum in with the hot water, to give it even more complexity of flavor.INGREDIENTS:2 cups flour1 Tbs. baking powder1/2 t. fine sea salt1/4 cup sugar3/4 cup very fresh dried mission figs, chopped1 1/4 cup heavy cream2-3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted2 Tbs. vanilla sugar **DIRECTIONS:1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar with a fork. Add the chopped figs and mix again.3. Add the heavy cream to the flour mixture, and stir with the fork just until a shaggy dough forms.4. Turn the dough out on to a flat floured surface, and knead it gently over itself 3 or 4 times. Don’t over-work it, the dough should stay pretty pliant and sticky.5. Pat the dough out into a 10 inch circle. Glaze the circle with the melted butter, then sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the top.6. Using a sharp knife, divide the dough into 12 triangles. Place each triangle about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.7. Bake the scones for 15 minutes until they are just slightly golden, and let cool on a rack. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep for 2 days.MAKES 12 SCONES.*I am not encouraging you to use cream past its expiration date, but my rule is that if I’m going to bake with it and the cream doesn’t smell off—game’s on. To each their own. I know, it’s chancy, but I’ve eaten three scones on my own and I’m still living to tell the tale. Also, it should be noted that I used a local cream which hadn’t been pasteurized into oblivion, thus retaining the enzymes that help to ward off spoilage.**Vanilla Sugar is incredibly easy to make. Take a split vanilla bean (fresh, or washed if it’s leftover from another recipe), and place inside a jar of finely granulated sugar. Let it rest for at least a week, it keeps indefinitely and can be used for all sorts of things: cinnamon toast, crème brulee, sprinkling on fresh grapefruit etc.