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Baking Beauties 

Lovely things from ugly apples

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Cosmetically challenged," read the politically correct sign on a case of apples I saw at a farmers market a few years ago. I applaud the farmer for promoting the blemished or not-perfect-enough, but I would like to propose something bolder: I hereby launch the campaign to focus on those apples' virtues, labeling them with names like "Best Baking Apples," "Tender Tart Apples" or "Sizzling Cider Apples."

Those homely Best Baking Apples are perfect for the large quantities of roasted applesauce I make, an intensely flavored version that's naturally sweet and delightfully dense and creamy. You can eat it as-is, spoonful after spoonful, to savor its concentrated apple flavor (move over, Nutella), or as a topping for pancakes, French toast or even vegetarian burgers.

And you can use the applesauce as an ingredient in baked goods, like the scones here. I tasted my first scone in the U.K. I loved its crumbly texture and delicate sweetness. Since I started baking my own, I've made them with berries and pears, and also vegetables, like roasted carrots and roasted beets. Scones are perfect for breakfast or brunch — once you have the ingredients ready, the dough comes together in the time it takes for the oven to preheat, and the scones bake in the time it takes to set the table and prepare something to drink. I like scones for appetizers, too, with chèvre or another creamy cheese or a spread. They even travel and freeze beautifully.

In this recipe, roasted applesauce contributes its creaminess and natural sweetness. I pair the applesauce with cheddar cheese to create scones that walk a fine line between sweet and savory.

Roasted Applesauce

Inspired by a recipe by the late Judy Rodgers, chef of San Francisco's Zuni Café: For a balanced flavor, combine tart and sweet apples, crisp and softer ones, preferably organic or pesticide-free. Also, mix small and large apples to even out the proportion of skin vs pulp.

Ingredients and method:

3 pounds apples

1 generous pinch of fine sea salt

½ teaspoon sugar

Sterilized glass jars and lids

Preheat the oven to 500 F. Wash the apples with extra care, carving out inedible parts before coring and quartering. Cut very large apples into eighths. (Depending on the amount you discard, you might need to add an extra apple to the initial batch.) Place cut apples in a 3-quart or 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle with the salt and sugar, stir briefly, then spread the apples evenly. Cover them with aluminum foil, sealing around the edges. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the apples are quite soft.

Transfer the apples to a bowl and purée until fairly smooth using an immersion blender. Transfer the applesauce to the prepared jars and seal and store them in the refrigerator. You can also freeze the sauce in a freezer-safe container for longer storage.

Cheese and Applesauce Scones

Ingredients and method:

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour

½ tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) cold unsalted butter

1 ½ ounce cheddar cheese, freshly grated

1/4 cup roasted applesauce (see above recipe)

½ cup well-stirred buttermilk or kefir

1/4 to ½ apple, julienned

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or a piece of parchment paper and lightly dust the surface with flour.

Place the dry ingredients into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Cut butter into pieces and add it into the food processor, pulsing for 3 seconds at a time until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese.

In a small bowl, blend the applesauce and buttermilk or kefir with a fork. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined.

Turn the dough onto the lined baking sheet. Lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour and gently shape the dough into a 7-inch-wide square. Distribute the julienned apple on top of the dough, pressing lightly to make it adhere. With a bench scraper, cut the dough into four strips lengthwise and then crosswise to get 16 small squares. Use the scraper to separate the pieces so they are an inch apart. If the corner pieces are much smaller than the others, join them together for 14-16 scones of comparable size.

Bake the scones for 15 minutes, then check the bottom of one scone to see if it's golden brown. If not, bake for two more minutes and check again. When they're done, move the scones onto a rack and serve them warm or at room temperature.

Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog,

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Simona Carini

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