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Make Christmas brunch easy with these make-ahead scones

In today's "Home with the Lost Italian," Sarah Nasello shares her recipe for a scone that is easy to make, even in advance, and combines citrus and cranberry for a festive flavor.

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Sarah's Festive Cranberry Orange Scones are the perfect make-ahead breakfast pastry for the upcoming holiday weekend. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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Christmas breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the holiday, and over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to make it even more enjoyable. The secret is to set your menu plan early and pick dishes that can be prepared in advance and finished just before serving.

Breakfast or brunch is an easy meal for this to happen, as you can make a variety of dishes ahead of time, including these Festive Cranberry Orange Scones.

Scones are my favorite breakfast pastry to bake, and I love how versatile they are. They are easy to make, wonderfully versatile and can be made sweet, like this recipe, or savory, like my Bacon Blue Cheese Scones.

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A mix of simple ingredients is combined to make these scones, including fresh, whole cranberries, orange zest, pure vanilla, heavy cream, unsalted butter, flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

And they freeze beautifully, especially when they are not baked. In fact, I don’t even sell baked scones at SarahBakes (my home bakery business), because this flaky breakfast pastry is at its best when served straight from the oven.

You can make the scones this week, pop them in the freezer and forget about them until Christmas weekend. You don’t even need to thaw them before baking — just pull the scones from the freezer, preheat the oven and let the scones thaw slightly on a baking sheet as the oven warms up. In fact, cold is king when it comes to scones, and the key to achieving the tender flakiness that is the signature of a good scone.

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Sarah uses a food processor to combine the dry ingredients and orange zest with very cold butter, and blitzes until the mixture resembles coarse grain. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I developed this recipe about five years ago when I had a surplus of fresh cranberries on hand (they were on sale and just too pretty to pass by without purchasing). They sat in my fridge for a week, just begging me to do something special with them.

It was a couple weeks before Christmas and I decided to get ahead on my menu plan, so I whipped up my master scone recipe and tossed in a bit of orange zest and a heaping cup of fresh cranberries. Then I cut the unbaked scones into 16 wedges, wrapped them in plastic, popped them in the freezer and crossed my fingers that they would rise to the occasion on Christmas morning.

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Using a fork to mix the cranberries and liquids into the flour mixture helps to prevent overhandling the dough. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I confess, I was a tad nervous about these scones. I had made scones with dried cranberries before (which can also be used in this recipe), but never fresh. I kept the cranberries whole when mixing them in, and I didn’t know how they would respond to the high heat of the oven.

Would they burst open, like when I make cranberry sauce? Would they turn to mush? Or worse — would they taste terrible? Cranberries have a hard shell and a specifically tart flavor, and I had no idea if this would translate well when baked inside a pastry.

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The dough should be mixed until it forms large clumps with few crumbs remaining. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I needn’t have worried, as the cranberries baked beautifully inside my scones. The whole cranberries held their shape and gave the scones the festive and colorful holiday flourish I was seeking. Even better, they tasted amazing.

The cranberries were tender but not mushy, with the perfect blend of sweet and sour, and the scones’ flaky pastry rose high once again. These Festive Cranberry Orange Scones have been on my Christmas brunch table every year since and are now a feature on my SarahBakes holiday menu. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. Happy holiday baking!

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To give the scones the flakiest texture, Sarah turns the dough out into a square pan lined with plastic, and uses her hands and the plastic to gently press the dough into the pan. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Festive Cranberry Orange Scones

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes and chilled
1 cup fresh or dried cranberries
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

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For the egg wash, beat together:
1 egg
2 teaspoons milk

For the icing, mix together:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons milk (adjust to desired consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl or food processor and use a whisk to mix, or pulse 10 times.

Add the butter and cut in with 2 forks or a pastry blender if making by hand, or pulse in the food processor about 12 to 15 times until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add the orange zest and dried cranberries and pulse again just to incorporate — if using fresh cranberries, proceed to the next step.

If using a food processor, transfer the dough to a large bowl. Add the fresh cranberries now and stir them into the dough mixture.

Mix the cream and vanilla together and gently stir into the flour-butter mixture, using a fork for best results, until a dough begins to form. Keep mixing until the dough forms large clumps and the small, crumbly bits are worked into the dough.

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Line a square baking pan with a large piece of plastic wrap and pour the dough into the pan. Cover the top with the plastic wrap and use your hands to gently press the dough into the pan in a smooth, even layer. Flip the pan over and turn the dough out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Use a sharp knife to cut it into 8, 16 or 32 wedges, and space them out along the sheet, 2 inches apart. For best results, place the sheet in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes before baking. To freeze for later baking, leave the scones in the freezer for an hour and then transfer them to a plastic freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 to 4 months.

Remove scones from the freezer and brush the top of each scone with the egg wash, then bake in the oven for 15 to 17 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool. Once cooled completely, drizzle icing glaze over tops if desired.

To store: Scones can be kept fresh for up to 2 days if stored in a metal container or covered with aluminum foil.

To freeze unbaked scones, freeze them first on a baking sheet for 1 hour, then transfer to a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Bake without thawing (amount of time to preheat oven is just fine), adding 2 to 3 minutes to baking time if needed.

To freeze baked scones, wrap each individually in plastic, transfer to a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw at room temperature before unwrapping and, for best results, warm in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until warm.

Recipe Time Capsule:

This week in...
2020: Gingerbread Boys and Girls
2019: Grandma Sunny's Perfect Divinity
2018: Norwegian Rosettes
2017: How to Make the Best Caesar Salad
2016: Last-Minute Holiday Appetizers: Chicken Coconut Curry Cheeseball & Hot Artichoke Dip
2015: Festive Hors d'Oeuvres: Pomegranate Salsa, Caprese Skewers, and Hot Chipped Beef Dip
2014: Homemade Crescent Rolls
2013: Apple Sausage Breakfast Ring
2012: Norwegian Gravlax
Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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