I never thought I’d be one of those expats who pines for tastes of home and can be found looking shifty around the security gates at airports, nervously anticipating the moment they are forced to unveil to the bemused staff their suitcase, tightly packed with jars of Marmite and cylinders of Digestive biscuits. Then again, I don’t like Marmite, I haven’t eaten a Digestive biscuit in years, and the usual suspects hardly register on my radar of desire either: baked beans I consider an atrocity, Yorkshire tea is unpleasantly bitter, and Branston pickle is a surefire way to ruin almost any food.
For the first two weeks in Aarhus, though, my body seemed to be playing some cruel joke on me. I felt nauseous at regular intervals throughout the day, particularly after eating. My packed lunches caused my stomach to contract sickeningly with revulsion, and even the prospect of green tea made me feel mildly queasy. A few mouthfuls into nearly every meal, I realised yet again that whatever I was eating was clearly not what my appetite desired. With the sickness (and no, I’m not pregnant, but thanks to all the Facebook antagonists who proffered that calming suggestion) came cravings so ridiculous that I had to see the funny side.
Black tea with milk. Buttery crumpets. These were, literally, the only two things I found myself wanting to consume for those turbulent first few days. Perhaps it was the stress of the move, and the uncertainty that accompanied it. Perhaps the water is different here, and performs some kind of bizarre realignment of one’s tastebuds. Perhaps homesickness is in fact a somatic malady, rather than a figment of the mind (which, actually, has been proven true). Either way, I found myself frustrated on a daily basis by the simple fact that you cannot buy crumpets in Denmark. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve eaten crumpets in the UK over the last decade; I love them, but find them so dangerously moreish that I avoid buying them, for fear of consuming the entire pack in one sitting. Yet here I was, now in a crumpet-less land, animated with ferocious cravings for these spongy, chewy little griddle cakes that I could have picked up at almost any corner shop for pennies back home in England.
The tea, obviously, was easier to address. Denmark has every tea you can imagine, which has been an unexpected delight.
You will be pleased to hear that my crumpet lust was eventually allayed by the best possible manifestation of those peculiarly British circular vehicles for butter: the homemade variety. But expat gastro-longings come in cycles, it seems, and for the past couple of weeks I’ve been fantasising about fresh-from-the-oven scones, slathered with raspberry jam and clouds of clotted cream. They sell ‘scones’ here in Denmark, but the blasphemous creations that masquerade under this sacrosanct title are not worth bothering with. I don’t blame the Danes: when you have cinnamon buns, who needs scones?
I do. So I made some.
These are the happy result of four overripe, gelatinous persimmons hanging around in my fridge causing me anxiety. When very ripe, almost the consistency of a water balloon, persimmons can be used in baking in a similar way to ripe mashed banana. Here, they give a lovely golden colour and a subtle sweet flavour to a nutty spelt scone dough, which is also punctuated by toasted walnuts and caramel sweet pieces of date. A few autumnal spices, a hint of vanilla and orange and the butterscotch warmth of dark brown sugar complete the picture. These beauties rise wonderfully and develop a golden crust that demands to be prised apart and the fluffy insides spread with salted butter
(Which, fortunately, one can get in abundance in Denmark).
Persimmon, walnut and date scones (makes around 12):
- 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 150g spelt flour
- 1 tbsp golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 2 tbsp dark brown or molasses sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 75g cold butter, cubed
- 4 very ripe persimmons (or 3 ripe bananas, mashed)
- 75ml buttermilk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp orange extract, or zest of 1 orange
- 50g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- 6 large, sweet dates, de-stoned and roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp milk
Pre-heat the oven to 210C.
Put the flours, caster sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt and spices in a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse a few times until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs and the butter is in tiny pieces – don’t overmix. You can also do this by hand, rubbing the butter into the mixture with your fingers.
Transfer the flour mixture to a bowl. Remove the stalk of the persimmons and roughly chop them, then put in the food processor with the buttermilk, vanilla and orange. Blitz to a rough puree (if you don’t have a food processor, chop the persimmons finely and mix with the other ingredients).
Add the walnuts and dates to the flour mixture and stir in until evenly distributed – this also helps to de-clump the date pieces by coating them in flour. Add the persimmon puree to the flour and mix briefly until you have a rough dough – it will be slightly sticky but it should be manageable. Add a little more flour if not. Knead until it just comes together, then transfer it to a floured work surface.
Pat the dough down to a 1-inch circle and cut shapes out using a scone cutter (I used a 3-inch cutter). Transfer to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
Brush the tops of the scones with milk and sprinkle with a little extra caster sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until risen and golden on top. Serve warm, with butter.