There are a number of things about cooking that get me excited, but what really pumps me up is when I get the opportunity to play with ingredients I’ve never used before. Which is why I was thrilled when I received a box of “mystery ingredients” last week from Marx Food for their Ridiculously Delicious Challenge. The box arrived at Eric’s office in the middle of the work day, so he sent me a picture from his phone of the contents.
I was thrilled to see the variety of ingredients that were included… szechuan peppercorns, dill pollen, juniper berries. But what immediately jumped out at me were a bag of dried tart cherries and a tiny container of saffron threads.
Now, I’ve had many occasions to work with dried cherries (which I love), but saffron was a different story. So before cooking with it, I decided to do a little research.
Saffron threads come from the flower of the saffron crocus plant. Based on everything that I’ve read, it appears that the saffron crocus is very temperamental and does particularly well in the hot, dry climates of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean, hence its popularity in such places as Spain, Italy, and Turkey. They are cultivated by extracting the threads from the blossoms, which is an incredibly labor intensive process. Once the saffron plant has bloomed, the three threads are carefully removed from the center of the flower.
The pairing of saffron, with its slightly floral notes, along with chocolate and cherries seemed like a natural one. Now I could have done a number of things with this: a chocolate souffle with a cherry compote or some handmade truffles. But I was worried that if it wasn’t handled correctly, the saffron be overpowered by the other ingredients. Whatever I was going to make needed to have balance. And that’s when the idea of scones popped into my head.
Scones have always had a calming effect on me and I feel lost when a weekend goes by without a fresh batch in the oven. What I’ve always enjoyed about scones, even more so than muffins or any other breakfast pastry, is how they let the ingredients shine. A good scone isn’t overly sweet and it allows all of the components to have their moment. It’s all about balance.
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