Winter has arrived in all of its cold, damp glory. November is a wet month, a dark and soggy month of moody skies and westerly squalls. The crimson leaves of Autumn have all but gone and now a colourless mulch chokes the kerbside. The gloom is ever-present and, at times, oppressive, but there are pleasures to be found in our penultimate month. It is on crisp November mornings that I can venture out early and relish the scent of wood smoke as it curls through the mist. Those fortunate enough to have an open fireplace can warm their homes the old-fashion way as they listen to the soft crackle of burning logs. The rest of us can appreciate the delicate, smoky trace upon the air and nestle a little deeper into our coats. Bonfire night allows us all a chance to bask in the glow of open flames, to stand, pink cheeked and child-like, as we roast marshmallows and gaze at the glittering skies.
In my kitchen it’s soup season. I take great pleasure in roasting and blending earthy vegetables and exotic flavours into all manner of silken delicacies; pumpkins, parsnips, and potatoes meet chilli, coconut milk and fresh ginger. The result is not far short of a health tonic. Alongside soups I crave crusty breads, crackers and cheeses. A smorgasbord of winter fayre is a regular feature of my November weekends; I like to pile freshly backed oatcakes, spiced chutneys, cured meats and fish, pickles, cheeses and salted butter onto my plate and wash it down with a deep glass of dry, berry-red wine. Festive spices are also back in the game and I embrace them with enthusiasm, adding cinnamon sticks to my hot chocolate and fresh nutmeg to my porridge.
Stir-up Sunday is on the 26th and, for those Christmas Pudding fiends among you, now is the time to stock up on dried fruit, candied peel and mixed spice. The flavours of the festive season are unique, rendering mince pies and mulled wine rich and laced with a comforting nostalgia. My winter-spiced scones were concocted with cold nights and cosy evenings in mind. Spread with a little clementine-infused butter and served with pot of Earl Grey, they taste like Christmas morning; perfect for festive get-togethers or a lazy, late November brunch. Any left-over clementine butter makes a beautiful addition to cookie dough, or an indulgent topping for toasted crumpets.
Winter-spice scones with clementine butter
350g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
25g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground ginger
90g unsalted butter (cold)
150ml buttermilk (or milk with 1tsp lemon juice)
40g chopped dates
For the clementine butter
150g unsalted butter (room temperature)
Finely grated zest of 2 clementines (an orange or tangerines would also work)
2 tsp icing sugar
- Preheat the oven (220°C/200°Fan/ Gas marl 7) and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and spiced and mix well.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and butter milk together. Put 2 tbsp. of the mixture aside for later.
- Cut the cold butter into small cubes and combine it with the dry ingredients. Use your finger tips to gently rub the butter into the flour until the mixture has a damp, ‘breadcrumb’ texture.
- Add the raisins and chopped dates to the butter and flour mixture.
- Add the wet ingredients to the butter and flour mixture and use a fork to bring it into a rough dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead together just a couple of times. Don’t overwork the dough or it will become tough.
- Roll or flatten the dough out to approximately 2.5m thick.
- Cut out 8-10 scones using a 6cm cutter. You may need to rework the dough briefly to cut out a second lot.
- Place the scones on the baking sheet and brush the tops with the remaining egg and buttermilk mixture.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown.
- To make the clementine butter add the clementine zest and icing sugar to the butter and beat to combine.
- Place the butter onto a sheet of cling film and roll into a rough sausage. Refrigerate until needed.
- Serve the warm scones with a little clementine butter and a cup of tea.