Monthly Archives: November 2008

Pomegranate, fennel and toasted pinenut salad.

pomegranate-fennel-and-pinenut-salad

This is hardly a recipe.

But, it is a quite pleasing little number of a salad and one which certainly cheered me up no end yesterday, a day blighted by gloomy weather (where is mr blue sky when you need him), a pending cold and a serious case of Monday blues.

The stars of this salad are without a doubt the glistening, jewel like, deep, wine ruby- red flesh covered seeds of a pomegranate which never cease to amaze and delight me. I take equal delight in the mildly laborious and fiddly work required to separate and then eat the sweet, sharp, pleasingly astringent gems. I have heard you can peel and separate the seeds while the pomegranate is submerged under water to prevent unruly splatters – boh, what, make them all watery!, I for one like unruly splatters.

Alongside the gem like stars, the special guests- soft salad leaves (lambs lettuce would be top of my list but whatever looks nicest and freshest is your best bet) provide a comfortable bed for co-stars- slivers of fennel and a handful of pine nuts gently toasted in a heavy pan until golden and fragrant. All this is tossed in your favorite, simple oil and vinegar dressing.

Happy Tuesday to you.

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Tagliolini (tonnarelli) cacio e pepe or Tagliolini with pecorino and black pepper

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. As regards eating as the Romans do! Well, this suggestion It has presented me with no problems whatsoever and quite simply an extraordinary amount of pleasure. It was a habit embraced as enthusiasticlly as you would a long lost cousin who has just presented you wth a cheque for the family fortune and the key to a wine cellar full of 2005 Clos St Jean Chateauneuf-du-pape.  Adapting to he Roman way of life on the other hand! Well that has been slightly more problematic. But that’s another very long post, and one I will leave to someone else.

Back to the eating part. One of the things Romans do with unbridled enthusiasm is eat Tagliolini cacio and pepe.

cacio-e-pepe1

This is one of the stunningly simple, delicious ways the Romans enjoy their pasta. It’s about as simple as it gets, right up there with aglio, olio e peperoncino or burro e parmigiano. The name says it all, tagiolini ( also known as tonnarelli in Rome) tossed with cacio – which is simply another name for cheese, which in this case happens to be salty, piquant Pecorino Romano – and plenty of pepe, freshly ground black pepper. That’s it, nothing else, no butter, no oil, no lardo, nothing fancy or clever, just Tagliolini cacio e pepe.

Now, before you dismiss the above plate as boring or unimaginative, before you rush off to find some roasted vegetable, balsamic vinegar reduction, shaved parmesan carnival on a plate, I urge you to try this just once, you might just end up feeling rather Roman in your enthusiasm.

Not many ingredients for this, so they had better be top-notch. First up some good fresh tagliolini/tonnarelli.

tagliolini

Tagliare means cut in Italian so like tagliatelle, tagliolini (tonnarelli) is a particular cut of a sheet of fresh egg pasta which has been folded and cut to a specific width. As you can see tagliolini is a thinner cut than the ribbons of tagliatelle and just a little thicker than spaghetti. I bought this handsome little pile from the pasta shop in Testaccio this morning, they cut the sheets while I waited, content to admire the ravioli and tortellini and enjoy some menu planning for the week.

Next the pecorino romano, nothing else will do, get the nicest piece you can.

pecorino1

This distinctive sheep’s milk cheese with its black waxy casing is much-loved by the Romans. It is traditionally aged for 6 months to a year, and used as a grating cheese. Its strong salty flavour and piquancy go well with the robust local cuisine, dishes such as Buccatini al’amatriciana, Spaghetti alla carbonara, Trippa alla romana and of course this particular dish. When it’s young and less pungent it makes a good table cheese, accompanied a juicy, sweet, ripe pear or in rough chunks with the first tender spring broad beans of the year eaten straight from the pod.

Other ingredients, well, some good freshly, coarsely ground black pepper is key  – no old, I have been sitting in this grinder for a long time or talcum powder fine dusty stuff makes the grade – and water.

Despite the simplicity of this dish you would not believe the amount of advice, the ‘my mamma makes the best tagliolini cacio e pepe in the world and her secret is this……..’ comments I have received. But then, I have chosen to live in Italy and I do invite advice so I can only blame myself for the information overload. Advice was duly noted and a fair bit of experimenting ensued. I think I have found the best way, for now, to interpret this pasta.

The key to the dish is: while you are cooking your pasta until al dente you make an emulsion in a warm serving dish of grated pecorino, pepper and a small ladleful of the water the pasta is cooking in. You will see a little bit of magic as the starchy water from the pasta and the cheese transform into a simple creamy sauce in which you can toss the pasta before serving it up sprinkled with yet more pecorino and another grinds of pepper.

Some people do add oil and butter to this dish, but I was advised the fat content prevents the joyful clinging of the emulsion and the grated pecorino to the tagliolini. If you would really like some good olive oil or even better a knob of butter I suggest you add it at the end on top of the grated pecorino and stir it in accordingly.

Tagliolini/Tonnarelli cacio e pepe or Tagliolini with pecorino and black pepper

serves 2

  • 200g fresh tagliolini/tonnerelli
  • 100g freshly grated pecorino romano
  • freshly, coarsely ground black pepper
  • more grated pecorino and pepper to serve.

Bring a large pan of fresh water to a fast boil and salt it generously.

Grate the pecorino and get a warm serving bowl ready. Tip the cheese in the bowl and grate over plenty of black pepper.

Drop the pasta in the boiling water and set your timer, my fresh pasta only takes about 3 and a half minutes. When the pasta is about a minute away from being ready, scoop out a small ladelful of cooking water and add it to the cheese and pepper, using a fork quickly whisk into a creamy emulsion.

Once the pasta has reached al dente perfection quickly drain it, then tip it into the serving bowl along with the creamy sauce, Toss everything together and divide between your serving bowls.

Sprinkle over the extra freshly grated pecorino and grind over more pepper.

Serve straight away


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Quince poached with cinnamon and black pepper

quince-11

There is an old gnarled quince tree in my parents garden, the house I grew up in, which gave us an abundant crop each year. I have to admit though, probably the greatest pleasure for the Roddy children came from hurling the rock hard windfalls at each other in our boisterous garden antics, I seem to remember mild concussion was the result of one particularly good aim. We also used to pursuade the uninitiated to take a bite of one, smug in our knowledge quinces need to be cooked, then collapse with laughter at the contorted face of the eater as they met with the hard, sour, astringent raw flesh.

Throughout my childhood I willingly helped consume the quince bounty, but I secretly harboured mixed feelings and a certain resentment towards our annual quince harvest. Everyone else had apple pie and strawberry jam, we too had pie and jam, only quince, which were delicious but quince nonetheless, aka weird fruit, read, weird family, what can I say, I was young, I still find it hard to talk about packed lunch embarrassment. One particularly humiliating experience involved my Mum shouting into the garden to offer my friends and I a treat, everyone ran open mouthed into the kitchen anticipating chocolate, biscuits, kit-kats, cake – no, the treat was squares of quince paste….my friends all refused, maybe, somebody even mumered yuck and I nearly died of humiliation. Now I think the fact my mum made and served quince squares is charming, quirky, wonderful even, but at the time, I assure you it was nothing less than devastating.

I harbour no mixed feeling about quince now, my feelings are quite unequivocally those of love.

Quince, the golden apple of Hesperides which was awarded to Aphrodite by Paris, the most exquisite of fruits for the most beautiful of deities. A few quinces in a bowl perfume the room, comfort ‘passions of the heart’ and can mitigate drunkenness according to Pisanelli and Mattioli. I am not sure about mitigating drunkenness ( not that I have ever been a drunk London girl!, what an appalling thought) but I can vouch for the exquisite aroma perfuming my kitchen and certainly comforting me and my cotton socks.

I am utterly spoiled for quince delights here in Italy where it is known as cotogna. In season the market overflows with crates of them and we are abundantly supplied with jams, pastes (cotognata), jellies and delicate relishes from friends and Vincenzo’s family in Sicily, I even have a piece of spanish membrillo hiding somewhere. I have to admit a certain amount of quince inactivity on my part, after all our flat is tiny and with all the generous gifts…ok, these are all excuses, I got lazy, but all that is about to change.

I am nearly ready to embark on a quince paste making session, for this year, the responsibility of the christmas supplies falls to me. I am not bringing coals to Newcastle, the harvest at my parents house was not to be this year, the old quince tree seems to have found the enormous and disruptive renovations at my parents house just too much and has stubbornly refused to produce any fruit. We can hardly blame him, all that rude excavation around his roots. So I will be battling with the joys of customs and cheap airlines to transport a very large quantity home.

I am not quite ready for the paste, I thought I would ease myself back into quince activity gently.  I am starting with this quite delightful recipe for quinces poached with cinnamon and black pepper.quince-21

This is one of my favorite ways to eat quince, gently poached in a light syrup with a stick of cinnamon and a couple of black pepper corns. I love the way quince retains its form and distinct grainy texture even after a nice long poach and the extraordinarily beautiful orange, rose, red colour the quinces take on after being cooked. I like them with a spoonful of thick creamy greek yogurt, a blob of ricotta or a couple of slices go beautifully with some nice cheese.

Like so many of the best recipes this is perfectly simple. You need a bit of clever hand and knife work to peel and core the little blighter, they are hard, and have a habit of shooting out of your hand as you try to get at the core. Once they are peeled, cored and cut into wedges the real work is over, you simply gently gently poach them in a light syrup.

I think they are best eaten the day after you have made them, so the flavours have time to mingle and intensify. You can keep them in the fridge, but let them cool completely before you put them in and remember to take them out and come back to room temperature before you enjoy them, the flavours are more pronounced. If you like, you can always reheat the quinces slightly and serve them warm.

Quinces poached with cinnamon and black pepper.

1 kg ripe yellow quinces (about 4 medium sized ones), 100g sugar, 1 small cinnamon stick, 2 black pepper corns, 1 litre water.

Using a rough cloth wipe away the fuzzy grey coat that cover the quinces.

Rinse the quinces thoroughly and wipe them dry.

Carefully peel and cut each quince into 4, cut away the very hard core and slice each quarter into wedges. Drop the wedges into a bowl of cold water with the juice of half a lemon to stop them discolouring.

In a heavy based pan bring the water and the sugar to a lively boil. Lower the heat and add the quince wedges, cinnamon and peppercorns to the pan.

Leave the pan, uncovered simmering for 1 hour and a quarter.

Check the quinces, they should still retain a distinct shape but be soft to the point of a knife and orange rose in colour, the syrup should be a deeper rose red colour. .

Tip the quinces and syrup into a serving bowl and allow to rest.

Note, if you feel the syrup is not thick enough but the quinces are ready, you can remove the quinces with a slotted spoon and set them aside while you put the syrup back on a lively flame and allow it to reduce a little more before pouring it over the quince wedges.

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Rabbit braised in cider.

rabbit-stew-bowlfulI really really like rabbit, eating rabbit that is. I have been feasting away since I arrived in Rome where Coniglio alla cacciatora (hunters style rabbit) graces almost every trattoria, osteria and restaurant menu. To my mind, it is a massively underrated meat which is not nearly as popular as it should be – but then I have absolutely no bunny sentiments whatsoever, Yes, they are cute, but no more than say, little lambs, which I also really like eating. When a good rabbit, preferably wild, is well cooked, the meat is simply superb. I shouldn’t damn it with faint praise by saying it is ‘a bit like chicken,’ but there is undoubtedly a similarity in the lean, white, tasty meat, only rabbit has a more pronounced depth of flavour and a subtle but distinct gameyness.

I am horribly squeamish about intensively, cruelly reared meat and get nauseous just thinking about it,  rabbit are no exception. Fortunately, I have my butcher who regularly obtains a few wild rabbits, he promises me they are from a trusted and honest source, I am not squeamish about hunting for food.

The wild rabbits I have been pertaining are generally between 6 months and a year old with short necks and legs. Despite their youth the flesh can be firm and tough in a ‘I ran around alot‘ kind of way, so I find braising and stewing brings out the tender quality in the meat. This is actually a excuse, because I have had only marginal success roasting and making the famous Coniglio alla cacciatora (hunters style rabbit)…..I am still trying, I will post as soon as I have real success.

This is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe from his brilliant River cottage meat book. I met him once, he was really mean to me, however, that is by the by and I forgive him because I like his books as much as I like rabbit. This is the kind of recipe I like to make, its makes me feel hardy and hearty in the kitchen. Pancetta or bacon is fried and then the jointed rabbit browned in the glorious bacon fat. The rabbit and crispy nuggets of bacon are transferred to your big, heaviest, heart warming casserole pan. The frying pan is deglazed with cider, at once filling the kitchen with the most intoxicating smells before being poured over the meat. Onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves and a teaspoon of honey (if you are using very dry cider) are added. Everything is simmered away very very gently for about and hour and a half.rabbit-stew-before-simmeringrabbit-stew-in-pan

The resulting stew is stunningly simple and delicious, a blob of creamy mashed potato makes a good side kick, soaking up some of the thin but rich tasting sauce.

Rabbit is fiddly and if you like your meat chicken breast simple you may well get a little frustrated at the work and picking required to capture all the little gems of meat hidden amongst the tiny ribs. I have no problem fiddling and am happy to use my hands and get stuck in.

I have not mastered the art of gutting or skinning a rabbit yet, although I fully intend to. For now my butcher does that and joints it into 8 pieces while he is at it.

Rabbit braised in cider

Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in The river cottage meat book.

Serves 6

2 wild rabbits skinned and each jointed into 8 pieces, 200g piece of pancetta or bacon cut into chunky cubes, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 large onion sliced thickly, 3 stalks of celery and 3 large carrots cut into chunky strips and then 4cm lenghs, 500ml cider, 150ml water, 2 bay leaves, sprig of rosemary, I tsp honey if your cider is very dry, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a large frying pan warm the olive oil, add the chunks of bacon or pancetta. Gently fry the chunks until they are golden and the fat is running free,

Using a slotted spoon transfer the bacon or pancetta chunks to the large casserole pan. Back in the frying pan brown the pieces of rabbit in batches and transfer them to the casserole when they are done.

Still in the frying pan sweat the onion until it is soft and translucent, but not brown. Tip the soft onion on top of the rabbit in the casserole.

Tuck the carrots, celery, bay leaves and rosemary amongst the rabbit pieces.Push everything around, the pan should be fairly tightly packed.

Back with the frying pan, pour in the cider and over a low flame using a wooden spoon deglaze- scrape away the little peices of bacon, rabbit and onion stuck to the pan.

Pour the cider and 150ml of water over the contents of the casserole pan, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add the honey if you are using it.

Over a modest flame bring the pan to a lively simmer and then turn down the heat and leave it gently simmering for 1 and a half hours.

Serve with mashed potato and plenty of the juice spooned over.

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Gateau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie

chocolate-cake-hit

Ok, I am in shock, really in chocolate gateau shock.

I knew this recipe would be good as it has pretty top notch origins, namely Trish Deseine whose recipe was made by Kate (don’t know her, but would like to be her friend) for Molly aka Orangette. I found it whilst doing some task avoiding blog browsing in Molly’s archive.

I saw it and before you can say house cleaning chronically overdue I made it.

I don’t know why I am so happy with myself, it wasn’t exactly difficult and the credit is due to others, but I am. Before you disappear wincing at my smugness, let me explain. I haven’t made something so very very good for quite some time. Yes, I know, I am always bleating on about delicious this and divine that but this is another thing entirely.choc-hit-2

This gateau is - supercalifrag-ilisticexpialidocious (is that how you spell it, answers on a post card please.) It is rather like a rich, dark, sublime, perfectly executed, egg heavy chocolate mouse which had been lent just a waft of cakeness by the scarce 1 tablespoon of flour. It slices like soft butter into almost quivering slices, each mouthful is rich, moist and indulgent yet light and dissolves creamily in your mouth.

I will not be putting this recipe in the low fat category because I don’t have one, but if I did, I would, just because it would make me laugh.

If you eat two slices, as I just did for lunch with a cup of tea, does that constitute a balanced meal? – answers on the same post card as the Mary Poppins trivia please.

Gateau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie

Recipe adapted from Trish Deseine by Kate (don’t know her, but would like to be her friend) for Molly aka Orangette.

200g good butter, 200g very good quality dark chocolate, 250g granulated sugar, 5 eggs, 1tbsp plain flour.

Set the oven to 190°c/375f. Line a 8 inch round cake tin with baking parchment and butter the parchment.

Cut the butter into cubes and break the chocolate into small pieces, melt them together in a small bowl balanced over a pan of hot (not boiling) water. Keep an eye on them while they melt and keep stirring very regularly.

Once the butter and chocolate are melted remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Scrape the butter and chocolate into a larger bowl and stir in the sugar.

In separate small bowl lightly beat one egg and then add it to the other ingredients and stir thoroughly. Again in the separate bowl beat another egg, add it to the mixture and stir in. Repeat until you have added all five eggs.

Stir in the flour.

Your mixture will be batter like in its consistency and gloriously gloopy and shiny.

Scrape the mixture into the lined tin.

Bake for about 25 mins. Set your timer for 20 and then keep a careful eye during the last five minutes while the mixture turns from being very wobbly and raw looking into a just set. The gateau will still wobble a little but the top will be cooked, dry and cracking.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for about 2 hours otherwise, unless you are very skilled it will crack.

When the cake is totally cool, gently invert it on to a wire tray and then revert it on to the serving plate.

The cake is best after some hours or the next day so morning or day before baking is recommended.

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Puntarelle alla Romana

This unusual salad is a Roman speciality and a pretty splendid one at that: crispy, deliciously bitter curls of tender young puntarelle shoots tossed with a dressing of anchovies, garlic, vinegar and olive oil. Now is the season and its lasts until February. Personally, I will be making the most of it.

puntarelle-salad

I had never encountered puntarelle or catalogna -a member of the chicory family sometimes known as asparagus chicory – until I moved to Rome. It is a distinctive loose leafed variety of chicory which originated in Italy with long white, pale green stalks/shoots and feathery leaves similar to those of dandelions.

puntarelle-whole-raw

I had already spied the splendid vast heads piled up in the market and the vats of iced cold water filled with bobbing curls to be sold ready prepared, but it wasn’t until one of our Wednesday lunches at Da Augusto in Trastevere that Alice and I first ate this salad: crisp, clean and delightfully bitter curls in a sharp, anchovy spiked dressing.

Back at the market, puntarelle in hand I pondered as to how this vast head of vibrantly green feathery shoots was to be transformed into the aforementioned salad. My trusty fruttivendolo Vincenzo must have seen the confusion in my eyes because he smiled and pointed at the curls bobbing away in the iced water he had prepared earlier. It took some time to convince him that I wanted to try and prepare it myself, he just shook his head and looked very concerned. Clearly he had little faith in my ability and kept pointing at the vat.

Finally and after some misunderstanding Vincenzo agreed to give me a lesson on the condition I took some of his prepared curls as well, the man knows how to strike a deal. Essentially preparation is simple, a little fiddly, but worth it. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes and set it aside. Pull the hollow bulbs from the head of puntarelle and stip away the other leaves, then, using a sharp knife cut each bulb lenghways into thin slices and drop each slice in the iced water. Leave the slices soaking for about an hour during which time they curl up and become beautifully crisp.

puntarell-raw-soaking

Once the punatelle is ready, it is drained and carefully dried before being tossed with a punchy and delicious dressing of anchovies, garlic, vinegar, salt, olive oil and twists of black pepper. It is then left to rest and the flavours mingle and settle before being served and devoured with bread to mop up the dressing.

I like this salad as I first ate it in Da Augusto, a contorno after a plate of Pollo alla Romana It also makes a palate stimulating starter with some good bread

Puntarelle alla Romana

serves 4

A head of Puntarelle prepared as described, a large bowl of iced water, 2 cloves of garlic, 5 good quality salted anchovy fillets, 2 tbs of good red wine or balsamic vinegar, 5 tbsp good olive oil, a good pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper.

Prepare the puntarelle as described above and leave in soaking in the iced water for a good hour until crisped and curly,

In a pestle and mortar crush the garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt.

In a small bowl mash the anchovies with the vinegar and stir until the anchovies have disintegrated.

Add the anchovy and vinegar to the garlic and add the oil. Stir well and allow to sit for 10minutes.

Drain the puntarelle and dry or spin it dry carefully.

Stir the dressing again before pouring it into the serving bowl. Tip in the puntarelle curls, grind over some black pepper and toss everything together.

Allow the salad to sit for a few minutes before tossing again and then serving with good bread

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Parmesan, mustard and garlic scones

Are baking away in the oven while I sit typing, the kitchen and whole flat are filled with most glorious smells – which, I should add is no great odour achievement considering our flat is really the size of a very very large wardrobe. I am however just a little nervous about the final results and my heart is heavy at the thought they are not rising as they should. I can’t help wondering if I forgot to add the baking powder, I did get it out, I remember, I nearly upturned the whole stupid, ugly this has to go when we finally get around to some kitchen renovation shelf, I put it beside the mustard on the this is another thing that has to go work-surface, but did I add those two crucial teaspoons. I am off to have a peep, everything is already crossed for OBAMA so I will just squeeze the crossed things a little tighter.scones-11

Ok, huge sigh of relief, they are not bad, not perfect, but hey I gave trying to achieve that that a long time ago as it often ends in tears. It seems, I did remember the baking powder but the little ones are looking a little flat so maybe it was not enough, my mind was clearly in another place at that rather crucial moment. They have however passed the taste test with a very acceptable grade, room for improvement yes, but a good pass nonetheless. Despite their height and a leaning towards the biscuit characteristics of the scone family they are suitably moist, deliciously cheesy with a subtle lingering twang of garlic, the mustard lends heat and depth and a nice peppery bite hits the back of the throat.

I have made these scones quite alot and I promise you I have produced a batches I would be proud to serve Dorie Greenspan her very self. When all goes well and your don’t let election fever effect your measuring hand they are really really good, all the above (deliciously cheesy with that subtle lingering twang of garlic, the mustard lends heat and depth and a nice peppery bite hits the back of the throat) but a little less height disadvantaged and leaning just a little nearer the cakey, bready side of the scone family. The addition of little lumps of cheese as well as grated cheese means some of the cheese ozzes out while they cook creating little toasted nuggets of parmesan and inside you encounter tiny nuggets of melted bliss.

Pause to eat another one but this time with some butter……

I have just upgraded them from a b to a b+ which is largely due to the addition of some very nice unsalted butter, after all scones in my book are mightily improved with a generous swipe of the butter knife.

We will eat these tonight spread with butter alongside some roasted pumpkin soup and a very nice bottle of something red while we await the US election results.

Parmesan, mustard and garlic scones

makes about 15 small scones

200g plain flour, 2 tsp baking powder, a quarter of a tsp of cayenne pepper, good pinch of salt, 1tps strong english mustard powder, a good grind of black pepper, 75g butter, 2 cloves of garlic peeled and mashed, 120g parmesan cheese (60g broken into small gravel sized pieces, 60g finely grated ), 1 large egg, 4tbsp plain yogurt.

Preheat the oven to 210°c

Sieve the dry ingredients (flour, BAKING POWDER,salt, mustard powder and cayenne) into a large bowl and add a couple of generous grinds of black pepper.

Cut the butter into cubes and then rub it into the sieved ingredients until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.

Add the little gravel sized pieces and grated parmesan to the bowl and toss everything together,

In a small bowl beat together the egg and the yogurt and then stir in the mashed garlic carefully so it is evenly distributed.

Add the egg, garlic and yogurt mixture to the other ingredients and mix everything together until it comes together in a lumpy mass. If it seems a little dry add a little milk, if it seems to wet a little more sifted flour.

Turn the dough on a floured work surface and using your hand pat and squash it into a circle about 2cm thick.

Using a cutter or small liqueur glass cut out your scones and then transfer them to a baking tray lined with baking parchment.

Bake the scones for 25 minutes.

Once they are cooked transfer them to a wire cooling rack but don’t leave them to long as they are delicious eaten still warm with some good butter.scones-12

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