Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Date and Pistachio Scones Without Apple Sauce

I once made a half dozen low-fat cranberry muffins. It was during the no-fat craze of the early '90's. Snackwell cookies dominated grocery store shelves. Back then any time a recipe called for butter you were supposed to substitute apple sauce. I dutifully used apple sauce in my low-fat cranberry muffins. "Rubbery" was probably the best thing I could say about them.

"Rubbery" is never a good thing to say about muffins.

This was not to be my last baking difficulty. Baking requires precision; forgetting one ingredient such as baking soda can completely ruin a dish. Trust me.

My mom, unlike me, has managed to become an extraordinary baker. She even modified her recipes to accommodate the no-fat days of the '90s and the no-carb days of this century without ever sacrificing flavor.

When Joanna of Joanna's Foods announced low-fat baked goods as this month's topic for Heart of the Matter, a wonderful heart healthy food event which she co-hosts with Ilva of Lucullian Delights, I thought I'd give low-fat baking another try. But first, I called my mom. I asked her if she had a recipe for a baked good that had no butter or cream and very little margarine, oil, and egg yolks; she suggested scones.

I noted it did not include apple sauce. Instead, non-fat cottage cheese and buttermilk (which is lower in fat than regular milk) keep the scones moist. I told her I had some fresh, sweet medjool dates I wanted to use. We started brainstorming and came up with a dynamic combination of flavors: dates, fennel seeds, pistachios, and orange zest.

Mom assured me that scones are about “the easiest things you can bake.” They really were easy; the hardest part was having to refer to the recipe 27 times to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I heeded her warnings, most especially the one about not over mixing the batter or it’ll become "like lead."

When I served one of the freshly baked scones to Jeff on Sunday morning, I didn't tell him it was a low-fat recipe. (He remains scarred from an unfortunate incident with an Entemann's fat-free pineapple cheese dessert in 1991.) Not only did he love them, but he also never guessed that they were low fat, well, that is until he read this post.

The savoriness of the pistachios and toasted fennel seeds pair beautifully with chunks of sweet, sticky dates; they are also delicious served with blood orange marmalade (from Mom). Feel free though to choose your own heart-healthy add ins. It's an easy, versatile recipe that I will certainly make again. They were moist and light and helped revive my faith in low-fat baking.

Heart Healthy Date, Fennel, and Pistachio Scones
Print this recipe here.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp Smart Balance, chilled (butter substitute)
1/4 cup non-fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh Medjool dates, coarsely chopped (about 10-12)
1 Tbsp fennel seeds, toasted
1/4 cup pistachios

Optional egg wash for top of scones:
1 egg, lightly beaten OR 1 egg mixed with 1 tsp low-fat milk, lightly beaten

Simply brush on top of scones before baking for a shinier, softer finish.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. To toast the fennel seeds, add to a dry skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk cottage cheese, buttermilk, and vanilla; set aside.

In another bowl, mix dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add chilled butter (in small pieces), and mix with a pastry blender or fork, until a coarse meal forms with tiny pea-sized butter pieces. Mix in orange zest, dates, fennel seeds, and pistachios. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and, using a fork, mix until just combined. Do not over mix or the dough will become leaden.

Using a floured surface, shape the dough into a disk, about 1/2-inch thick. With a wet knife (to make slicing easier) cut the dough into 8 triangular shaped scones. Place scones on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet leaving about 2 inches between them.

If using, then brush egg wash over the tops of the scones before baking. Otherwise, place in oven.

Bake scones 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Once baked, transfer to a rack to cool.

For another easy and tasty low-fat dessert, check out these Warm Citrus and Banana Cups. In fact, I made these the other night and substituted fresh pineapple and mango for the oranges.

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