Wednesday, October 10

Date and Pistachio Scones Without Apple Sauce

I once made a half dozen low-fat cranberry muffins. It was during the no-fat craze of the early '90's. Snackwell cookies dominated grocery store shelves. Back then any time a recipe called for butter you were supposed to substitute apple sauce. I dutifully used apple sauce in my low-fat cranberry muffins. "Rubbery" was probably the best thing I could say about them.

"Rubbery" is never a good thing to say about muffins.

This was not to be my last baking difficulty. Baking requires precision; forgetting one ingredient such as baking soda can completely ruin a dish. Trust me.

My mom, unlike me, has managed to become an extraordinary baker. She even modified her recipes to accommodate the no-fat days of the '90s and the no-carb days of this century without ever sacrificing flavor.

When Joanna of Joanna's Foods announced low-fat baked goods as this month's topic for Heart of the Matter, a wonderful heart healthy food event which she co-hosts with Ilva of Lucullian Delights, I thought I'd give low-fat baking another try. But first, I called my mom. I asked her if she had a recipe for a baked good that had no butter or cream and very little margarine, oil, and egg yolks; she suggested scones.

I noted it did not include apple sauce. Instead, non-fat cottage cheese and buttermilk (which is lower in fat than regular milk) keep the scones moist. I told her I had some fresh, sweet medjool dates I wanted to use. We started brainstorming and came up with a dynamic combination of flavors: dates, fennel seeds, pistachios, and orange zest.

Mom assured me that scones are about “the easiest things you can bake.” They really were easy; the hardest part was having to refer to the recipe 27 times to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I heeded her warnings, most especially the one about not over mixing the batter or it’ll become "like lead."

When I served one of the freshly baked scones to Jeff on Sunday morning, I didn't tell him it was a low-fat recipe. (He remains scarred from an unfortunate incident with an Entemann's fat-free pineapple cheese dessert in 1991.) Not only did he love them, but he also never guessed that they were low fat, well, that is until he read this post.

The savoriness of the pistachios and toasted fennel seeds pair beautifully with chunks of sweet, sticky dates; they are also delicious served with blood orange marmalade (from Mom). Feel free though to choose your own heart-healthy add ins. It's an easy, versatile recipe that I will certainly make again. They were moist and light and helped revive my faith in low-fat baking.

Heart Healthy Date, Fennel, and Pistachio Scones
Print this recipe here.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp Smart Balance, chilled (butter substitute)
1/4 cup non-fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh Medjool dates, coarsely chopped (about 10-12)
1 Tbsp fennel seeds, toasted
1/4 cup pistachios

Optional egg wash for top of scones:
1 egg, lightly beaten OR 1 egg mixed with 1 tsp low-fat milk, lightly beaten

Simply brush on top of scones before baking for a shinier, softer finish.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. To toast the fennel seeds, add to a dry skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk cottage cheese, buttermilk, and vanilla; set aside.

In another bowl, mix dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add chilled butter (in small pieces), and mix with a pastry blender or fork, until a coarse meal forms with tiny pea-sized butter pieces. Mix in orange zest, dates, fennel seeds, and pistachios. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and, using a fork, mix until just combined. Do not over mix or the dough will become leaden.

Using a floured surface, shape the dough into a disk, about 1/2-inch thick. With a wet knife (to make slicing easier) cut the dough into 8 triangular shaped scones. Place scones on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet leaving about 2 inches between them.

If using, then brush egg wash over the tops of the scones before baking. Otherwise, place in oven.

Bake scones 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Once baked, transfer to a rack to cool.

For another easy and tasty low-fat dessert, check out these Warm Citrus and Banana Cups. In fact, I made these the other night and substituted fresh pineapple and mango for the oranges.

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T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Ah, I'm in heaven! Fennel, dates, pistachio, and orange zest??? What an amazing combination of flavors. I used to be an afternoon tea addict, and would seek out scones of all kinds, I haven't done it in so long, so you've inspired me to try an old favorite with some new ingredients!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Susan, this is an incredible array of ingredients with lip-smacking flavors! I love dates and pistachios - both on my list of stuff to bring back from Dubai when I visit my parents. Then I will be making these!

Anh said...

Susan, what a scone! All the ingredients listed are my fav! Excellent recipe!

Wendy said...

I'm still recovering from a low-fat cream cheese experience. Don't know what I was thinking of.
These scones look amazingly moist! Will most definitely be trying these out very very soon. Thank you!

Nabeela said...

you guys are amazing coming up with low fat baking recipes....I'd have such a hard time finding those in my cookbooks!
The scones sound wonderful with the interesting flavor combination!

Joanna said...

I've just chucked out the low-fat baking book ... there's nothing in it half so good as what bloggers are coming up with. I really like the idea of using cottage cheese, it opens up a lot of possibilities. This recipe has the most wonderful array of flavours, and that's what you need to put in when you take the fat out.


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Love the combination of Mediterranean flavors in these scones. I saw some dates in our local Middle East market last week and was thinking about what to do with them. Now I'll have to make a return trip for dates, and some fennel seed....

Asha said...

What a beauty, loved the first photo. I made mixed fruit scones once, I must try with dates. Thanks Susan. Don't go back to "diet" food again!!:P

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

They look wonderful! Rich scones are always scrumptious!



MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Geeze, dates and pistachios! These scones look fantastic Susan! I must make these when my Dad visits later this month! I need something this good for heart of the matter!

Mishmash ! said...

I am bookmarking this....the way you introduced the recipe itself was enough to make one hit the kitchen...i need to get some dates and fat free cheese....let me see how it comes out :)


Katie Zeller said...

I love scones! I didn't realize that they were low fat or 'lower' in the ones I've made. These do sound good - but they would be good served with some nice homemade applesauce, too - on the side....
and OMG, those dates are gorgeous!

sra said...

Susan, your intro reminded me of the stuff I once bought in a healthfood chain in the US, they were meant for people on low-carb diets, quite awful and stinky. Your dates are gleaming, is it natural or did you oil/butter them before photographing?

Patricia Scarpin said...

My goodness, Susan! These look absolutely delicious! And to know they're healthy makes me want to eat a lot more. :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

T.W.-These are really love for an afternoon tea since they are both sweet and savory.

Meeta-Ooh, I'd love to have some dates from Dubai! I hope you give them a try!

Anh-Oh, that's wonderful to hear!

Wendy-I was surprised at how moist they came, actually. And I agree-- stay away from the low-fat cream cheese. ;)

Nabeela-I know what you mean. I'm not sure where my mom found this one or if she kind of created it through trial and error.

Joanna-It's true about the flavors; these flavors are bold without being overpowering. I hope you give them a try! And thanks for inspiring me to make them!

Lydia-I was surprised at just how vibrant a pair fennel seeds and dates make. The pistachios just put it over the top for me!

Asha-No diet food ever again. EVER.:)

Rosa-They were scrumptious! Thanks!

Tanna-You could always ask my mom for some suggestions. :)

Shn-I hope it works well for you! Thanks so much!

Katiez-I just bought a huge bag of apples for homemade apple sauce; thanks for suggesting to have it with the scones. It would be lovely.

Sra-It's all natural. They are so fresh (grown only a couple of hours away) that they glisten with moistness. Some were drier, but of course I selected the best ones for the pic. When you bite into one it's like a melted caramel. Truly luscious!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Patricia-Oops! Looks like we were commenting at the same time! So glad you're back from vacation! They are really delicious for low-fat scones, so say good-bye to guilt and eat up! :)

Anonymous said...

Susan--These sound delicious and easy enough for baking-challenged me to make. I'm curious, though--do the cottage cheese curds melt or otherwise vanish into the baked scones?

Toni said...

Susan, you've managed to get me interested in baking again. Like you, I've never included that at the top of my list of skills. Too much detail! But dates, fennel and pistachios? Gotta love that!

Truffle said...

These looks and sound beautiful! What a wonderful combination of ingredients.

Gattina Cheung said...

Susan... a horrible thing (to me), your link left at my blog's comment column, for no reason, always broken! I have been missing quite many of your wonderful recipes *banging my head on the wall*
The ingredients' combination is bellisimo! Although I doubt if I have enough will powder, not to finish all the Medjool dates before baking :)

Anonymous said...

I adore the ingredients in this scones. Must bake them!

Jo-Ann said...

The scones look great. I hope your Mom makes them first and sends me one. I have also used low fat yogurt in scones and that seems to work out well too. Looks like I'll be baking this weekend!

Rebecca/CUpS said...

You had me on the second flavorful ingredient (wow! dates and fennel!), but then my taste buds began to tingle with the thought of pistachios and orange zest added to the mix as well. I know what I'm doing this weekend! Thanks, Susan.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Terry B-Yup. They just melt right into the batter; no lumps or curds to speak of. It just helps provide moisture.

Toni-And it's low maintenance. I swear!

Truffle-Well, thank you so much!

Gattina- Not finishing the dates is a challenge. Believe me!

Veronica-Hope you do!

Jo-Ann-Ha! That's a plan. Get my mom to bake some first. Why didn't I think of that? :)

Rebecca-I know, the pistachios and orange zest really put me over the top!

Anonymous said...

LOL, I remember the days of tossing applesauce into everything, though I'm pretty sure I (thankfully) never put any in scones. I'm a serious sconehead, and these sound fantastic. I love the idea of the cottage cheese in there; I definitely have to try that. Years ago I created a savory scone recipe that calls for cream cheese in place of butter, but that was only because we didn't have any butter when the scone craving hit. ; )

Elly said...

This looks SO delicious. I have some dried figs, so I might make this with figs instead of dates. Yum!

Anonymous said...

Those are some terrific looking dates. Where did you get them? The ones at my grocery store are all dried up. Since my doctor suggested I lose some weight, my wife and I have been looking for some low fat recipes. This one sounds great.

KellytheCulinarian said...

I can't believe those are low fat. They look delicious.

Amy said...

I love this combination! It sounds absolutely amazing! Steven loves dates, I wonder why I never bake with them. :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Farmgirl Susan-Yeah, the cottage cheese is new to me too, and it worked really well.

Elly-Oh, yes, figs would be delectable!

Ted-At our farmers' market. They're so fresh looking cause they were just picked. The date groves are only a couple of hours away. I hope you and your wife like the recipe.

Kelly Mahoney-Believe it! :)

Amy-They're really great in baking. They add natural sweetness and moisture.

Stella said...

Hmm scones? Love them:)
Never tried them with dates but it sure make them sound uber delicious:)

Anonymous said...

What an interesting combo of flavours...especially the fennel, which must really make it special? And I remember my mom's warnings so well; "Don't overmix, don't overmix!" I didn't believe her until late in my life, when I hardly touched the dough and I then had the most beautiful, light scones!

Aria said...

what delicious flavors! fennel seed, orange and dates sounds delicious!

dates are one of the things i love but forget to eat, oh how i wish i had one of these scones now. i'd ruin it with butter i'm sure ;)

Chris said...

OOOOH! I love these! Scones...dates....pistachios and fennel? You had me at hello. Scones are actually one of my favorite things to make. Although, I don't know why they've missed the radar lately. I am all about these - thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is clearly a recipe to keep. I am also a sucker for new scone recipes!

Anonymous said...

This look like a really fabulous recipe. I can't believe that this is low fat! They look so good! I love medjool dates, the flavour is so much better than regular dates - and the sweetness!

Abby said...

That is a really cool ingredient list - so gourmet! (But I expect nothing less of you!) I love anything with pistachios, and I've never thought of putting them in scones, but it makes perfect sense! What a great breakfast.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Valentina-"Uber delicious." I like that; I must say they were! :)

Ronnell-The toasted fennel really goes beautifully with the sweet dates and the citrus flavor. Moms do know best. :)

Aria-They have fabulous ones at the farmers' market.

Chris-Now that I've made them, they may become a favorite thing of mine to make too!

Bea-It's those Medjool dates; they're irresistible.

Helen-Yup, low-fat and delicious. It's hard to believe, but it's true. :)

Abby-Thank you! I love pistachios in baked goods and in granola too.

Pip said...

Low fat scones?! I must try them, and I love dates and pistachios! This is a great recipe, thank you!

Lisa Johnson said...

I love scones! These look and sound wonderful. And I adore the name. I never heard a scone described by what's NOT in it. Nice! ; )

Kajal@aapplemint said...

i've never used smart balance. Is it as good as butter ?? though i am ok with using butter , God knows i love my butter :)..Just curious. the scones look fab !

Susan G said...

Wonderful to be close to the source for Medjools. Then maybe I'd feel free to bake with them. Here on the east coast they're pricy but available -- only buy them from refrigeration, not on the grocery shelf. Health food stores should have them (mine did!).

Anonymous said...

Wow, you totally just sent me on a trip down memory lane with that Snackwell cookies reference. I remember my mom would buy the Chocolate and marshmallow covered ones. Time flies. This recipe looks really great.

Rachael Narins said...

Rubbery - bad.
Fennel - good.

Lovely recipe! So glad it worked out!

Julie said...

I found your blog from your NPR story on dates. I love them, and growing up in Souther CA, I loved when we were on road trips and could stop at Hadley Orchards for date shakes. I also write a food blog, and I love scones! These look great. I'm glad I found your blog!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Pip-You're so welcome!

Anali-Cool. ;)

Kate-You know, I really like the taste, which to me is just like butter. Since I was aiming for low fat and cholesterol, I used it instead of butter, and I couldn't tell a difference. Give it a try. If you don't like it, then you can blame me. ;)

Susan G-I hope you find some soft, fresh ones; they are markedly better. Good luck!

Hillary-I don't think I ever had the marshmallow ones!


Julie-Welcome! I'm so pleased you liked the NPR article and decided to stop by for a visit. Hadley's is quite famous in this neck of the woods, isn't it?

delilah said...

These looks so good. I can't wait to try them. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I think my RSSOwl is off somehow, only got this entry today?! Anyway... I love your recipe, a very refreshing take on a classic.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Delilah-You're so welcome!

Linda-Really? Oh, no. I hope that doesn't keep happening. Glad you like it!

s.j.simon said...

did you know how cheese was invented? It wasnt necessity, it was an accident, read this

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Sunshinemom said...

This looks so appetizing! doesn't have eggs - I could miss the egg wash - so its right up my alley! Thanks for the delicious recipe, Susan:)

Anonymous said...

My mom and I made your scones and forgot the sugar.....and the vanilla (it is not listed anywhere in the directions). They were still pretty good, but we will try them again.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

anonymous-Thanks for the comment. The sugar was in the recipe. You must have just overlooked it. But I had forgotten to mention when to add the vanilla. I just corrected it. So thanks for alerting me.

Tammy said...


thanks for this delicious recipe!