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Joni Woolf: Breakfast breads, new and improved

Recently I received by email a recipe for Buttermilk Lemon-Apricot Scones, courtesy of the Americus Times-Recorder editor and publisher, Elizabeth Alston. She had sent me a recipe for Buttermilk Lemon-Apricot Scones that she had found on the internet — and with an interesting side story. Seems there is another Elizabeth Alston who is known in the food world through her many cookbooks, and her fame as an expert on breads, muffins, and cakes. She was formerly food editor for two major U.S. women’s magazines (Redbook and Woman’s Day). The family of the British Elizabeth Alston (her mother went by the name Beth Alston) owned a vast amount of land in Bedfordshire, England, that was leased to the Allied Forces during World War II for the construction of airfields. The father of our Beth Alston, American, was based near their home at Thurleigh, while in service with the U.S. Air Corps. Later, he and Beth’s mother had the opportunity to meet the cookbook author through the 8th Air Force Historical Society, both in England and the U.S. Which proves, once again, that we are all connected!
Beth Alston (of Americus) sent the recipe for these delicious scones and I promised to write about them, and take her a sample. She agrees with me: they are very, very good. Easy to assemble and bake, they are a treat any morning. So, make some soon. You and whomever shares your table will be glad. (EDITOR’S NOTE: These are perfect scones — light and fluffy and heavenly tasting!)

Buttermilk Lemon-Apricot Scones
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (or White Lily All-Purpose Flour)
4 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
grated zest of one lemon
1 cup chopped or slivered dried apricots
½ cup butter
1 large egg
½ teaspoon lemon oil (I used lemon flavoring)
¾ cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, lemon zest and dried apricots. Work the butter into the dry ingredients, using your fingers, a pastry fork or pastry blender. (Note: I have found that grating a stick of cold butter on a cheese grater creates the right size pieces of butter for mixing.) Mix until the butter is fairly well combined with the flour. A few remaining lumps are OK. Whisk together the egg, lemon oil, and buttermilk. Add this to the dry ingredients, stirring gently until everything is well moistened and just combined. To make drop scones, drop ¼ cup dough onto a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined pan, spacing them about 1 ½ inches apart. Or, do what I did and make wedge-shaped scones as follows: Divide the dough into four pieces, and place on a well-floured work surface. Pat each piece into a 4 ¾ inch circle about ¾ inches thick. Transfer to two parchment-lined pans, two rounds to each sheet. Bake drop scones 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown. For rounds, bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cut each round into 6 pieces. I dusted the scones with slight amount of confectioners’ sugar. Will last unrefrigerated 3 days. But they won’t last that long!
On Christmas morning, my daughter up the hill invited me for late breakfast, and presented us with a new breakfast recipe from the December issue of Southern Living. It was delicious, and since an ingredient was day-old croissants, there was no need to serve bread. It was a fine breakfast casserole for anytime, but especially nice on Christmas morning, since she prepared it the night before and just popped in the oven. Try it, you’ll like it.

Croissant Breakfast Casserole Recipe
2 (5 oz.) country ham steaks trimmed, bone discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 ½ pounds Vidalia onions or other sweet onions (about 4 cups)
3 oz. baby spinach, roughly chopped (3 cups)
6 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
6 oz. fontina cheese, shredded (about 1 ½ cups, divided)
1 pound (about 15) day-old mini-croissants
Coarsely chop ham. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium. Add ham; cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ham to a large bowl, reserving drippings in skillet. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet; stir in onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned, about 30 minutes. Add spinach; cook, stirring often, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer onion mixture to bowl with ham; let cool 10 minutes. Whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper. Add egg mixture and 1 cup of the cheese to bowl with onion mixture and stir to combine. Arrange croissants, slightly overlapping, in 2 rows in a lightly greased 11- x 7-inch baking dish. Pour mixture over croissants. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and chill 8 hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Uncover casserole, and place on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown and center is set, about 1 hour. Shield with foil after 25 minutes, if needed, to prevent excess browning.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net