Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Boo! Spooky Pumpkin Ale Scones

Happy Halloween!

Now, before I’m hit with a chorus of ‘WHATAREWEAMERICANOW??’, let me say a couple of things on the subject of Halloween…

1. It is not an American holiday. Sure, the US has embraced it more than most, but we all know this is an old pagan festival right? Okay, maybe not in the form it exists now, but it has links to the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest and therefore scary shit happens. Or something.

2. I can show you faded old photos from my childhood of carved pumpkins. Sure, they are good old Queensland Blue pumpkins, not the fancy orange ones you can get now. Some of us have been celebrating this day for a while, and the rest of society is just catching up. It’s not my fault if my upbringing was more awesome than yours.

3. Celebrating Halloween slows the onslaught of Christmas. The shelves that currently contain Halloween stuff would be full of Christmas stuff. Yes, I know there is already Christmas stuff…but there would be more of it.

 4. I like spooky, scary, creepy stuff, so of course I like Halloween.

If you really feel the need to have a whinge, at least make it a good reason. For example, Halloween and it’s origins are seasonally inappropriate here in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an Autumn festival. Really we should all the dancing around the May pole and burning the Wickerman right about now, and the pumpkin worship should take place in May. Of course, that’s if you want to take your pagan beliefs seriously. Me, I just want an excuse to watch scary movies.

Something that is fairly American is Pumpkin Ale. A couple of years ago we good folk down under had probably not heard of, let alone partaken in, beer made of the pumpkin. Or anything made from pumpkin really, certainly not something sweet like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin donuts or pumpkin coffee. Americans seem to put pumpkin in everything at this time of year. Including beer. It’s my understanding that pretty much every brewery in the US will put out a pumpkin beer in the Autumn. It’s also my understanding that what is important in a pumpkin beer is not just pumpkin, but the pumpkin spices that are evocative of the flavours used in the pumpkin pie/bread/cake/donut/coffee etc.

In the same way that Australia seems to be catching on to the concept of celebrating Halloween, it seems that some Australian breweries have caught on to the idea of making a seasonal Pumpkin Ale (even though it’s the wrong season). A couple of years ago I tasted my first pumpkin beer at a Halloween party in a now defunct craft beer bar. It was a one-off brew made just for the party, so only available on draft on the night. Last year I heard that a couple of NSW breweries had made pumpkin beers. This year it seems there are a few more – HopDog, Murray’s, Illawarra, and even one by Gage Roads which you can pick up in Woolworths. There will also be bottles of the Moondog Artisan Poser out in a few weeks. The times they are a changing.

Once I knew I could get my hands on bottled pumpkin beers at long last, I knew I wanted to bake with one. Here’s another random childhood factoid about me – my Mum did make pumpkin pie and it was good. I have no idea if it was like the American version, but I loved the use of pumpkin in a sweet pie. I had planned on trying my hand at Pumpkin Ale Bread, but had a change of heart. Maybe it was that faded old photo of the Queensland Blue jack o’lantern that spoke to me. See, I am from Queensland. Not only that, but I’m old enough to remember Sir Jo Bjelke-Petersen and his wife Flo….famous for her pumpkin scones. Anyone else old enough to remember Jo & Flo will understand that they are pretty Halloween appropriate. It was a dark, scary time for the Sunshine State.

The beer used is the Saranac Pumpkin Ale, which is the one American pumpkin beer that has appeared on the shelves of a large national chain of bottle shops . It goes against my preference for using fresher local brews, but seeing as they are the experts when it comes to Pumpkin ale I figured it was the logical choice.

Gather to ye…

2 cups of self raising flour
(+ extra for kneading)
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
½ teaspoon of mixed spice
60g unsalted butter – cubed and softened
2/3 cup of pumpkin puree (pumpkin, boiled or steamed, then pureed.)
½ cup Pumpkin Ale

As the clock strikes midnight…

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Sift your dry ingredients together into a bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine crumbs. Make a well and add the beer and the pumpkin puree. Mix into the dry ingredients with a spatula or a knife. 

When fairly well combined, tip out onto a very well floured surface. Knead until smooth. I found the mix super sticky, so make sure you have plenty of flour on hand to cover the surface, your hands and anything else the dough may touch. Roll out to about 2cm thick. At this point it’s up to you how to cut them. I favour the traditional round scone shape. If you don’t have a round cutter, you could just use a knife and make squares. Or, you could even shape the dough into a circle and cut into wedges.

 Place on a baking tray with baking paper on it, and put them in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes. They should just be starting to brown on top.

You could probably enjoy these with either a sweet topping, such as honey or golden syrup, or make a herbed butter to compliment the pumpkin. Goes down well with the leftover Pumpkin Ale, or tea, coffee, Bonox…pretty much anything.

I found the flavor of these a little too subtle. I was hoping for a little more. More pumpkin, or more spice. Just more. They’re a very nice scone without a doubt – not too heavy or dry – just not what I expected. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t taste the beer before using it. I was fairly conservative with the amount of spice added, as I expected a lot to come from the beer. I may up the spice next time.

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