Berry Cheesecake Muffins

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Diary excerpts:

17/5: vegan magnums are terrific// the gravity of writing my thesis has not fully weighed down on me yet

18/5: so glad to have found a fitness routine that doesn’t require a gym (more walking, running)

23/5: honestly rather sad that I’ve become addicted to the temporary pleasure of something crunchy, something sweet.

2/6: Brown adipose tissue has uncoupling proteins that allow protons to travel form the outside to inside, effectively creating its own energy? A study in mice found that during periods of overeating, the TRIP gene is activated and causes massive inflammation, triggering fat storage.

3/6: fliesen= tiles

4/6: ventouse= suction device applied to baby’s head in childbirth, to assist birth. Wow.

When efforts to bake are stymied, say due to travel or the fear of people who are at your house smelling something even mildly burnt, the itch later on comes on hard. Hard. I’ll try and write an essay or put something into Excel and then I have to physically get up and go to the kitchen to play. This muffin experiment, one extrapolated from a previous one, was borne out of one of those impulsive childish outbursts, and possesses that exact childlike quality. Such a relentless need to do something with my hands is almost childish, and perhaps it would be wise to use my hands for something else, yet this is all I want to do with them, with my time.

It has nothing of the mature notes of dark chocolate somethings, but all of the decadence. It’s much welcome in light of the past week, when a few disappointments came through, but of which were also softened by a recent trip to Vienna, Austria.

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And it’s simply beautiful there. I stayed in the suburbs with a beloved family, away from the bustle of the more touristy centre. There, a different light hits the streets, a soft one which seems to imbue all its residents with the same attitude towards life. It enables a brisk but more serene walk, or perhaps a cycle, to take in the details between cement tiles or patches of grass. It enables you to observe, feel and be. Very unlike what it feels like here, where it seems rather uncommon for people to walk not for the sake of enjoying it, and mealtimes are for sustenance, never pleasure. That light, that feel, has made me want to drown in the impossible (‘unmöglich’ in their language) beauty of everyday life. From our sun-drenched brunches pregnant with pretzels (bretzeln), to cuddling near a thermal bath, to reading (The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf) and swallowing it up easily because my phone notifications are now, permanently, off.

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A soft and gossamer muffin studded with tangy berries and sweet cream cheese.

These berries are like a dense piquant forest, pleasantly tart and just slightly biting, uprooted and plunged into new beige territory. To sleep. To rest without dying, their inborn qualities of tart and fresh and zing there, always there. A cream cheese river cutting through the forest, right in the middle, breaking up the forest and letting it lie nonchalantly on either side.

Quote of the day: “Feelings are important. But they’re important not for the reasons we think they are. We think they’re important because they say something about us, about the world, and about our relationship with it. But they say none of these things. There’s no meaning attached to feelings. Sometimes you hurt for good feelings. Sometimes for a bad reason. And sometimes no reason at all. The hurt itself is neutral. The reason is separate.”

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Berry Cheesecake Muffins (makes 12 medium muffins)

*=vegan substitution

Ingredients

For the muffins:

250g (2 cups) plain flour

2 eggs (*3 vegan eggs, made by mixing 3 tbsp ground flaxseed with 6 tbsp water in a bowl and letting set aside for the timebeing)

210g (slightly less than a cup) sugar

113g (0.5 cup) melted butter (*vegan butter or margarine)

1 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

240ml (1 cup) yoghurt or sour cream (*any plant-based yoghurt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

0.5 tsp salt (leave out if you used salted butter)

around 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries (I used frozen since I always have frozen berries stuffed in my freezer)

 

For the cream cheese filling:

110g cream cheese (*vegan cream cheese)

2.5 tbsp sugar (you can also use icing sugar)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Spray your 12-muffin pan with cooking spray or grease it with some butter, going all over the insides of the pan, including the whole surface on top. This is because the batter will rise and then fall to create the signature muffin top look, so greasing the surface will help you easily get the muffins out. Line your pan with paper liners.

First, in a bowl, make the cream cheese filling by mixing together the cream cheese and sugar. Put this in the fridge while you make the muffin batter. Using a whisk or electrical mixer, whisk the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, vanilla, and salt and mix until everything is frothy and well combined. In a separate bowl, briefly mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda, then tip this into your egg mixture. Lastly, fold in your berries. Make sure your berries are not too big– cut large raspberries or blackberries in half before mixing them in.

Fill each muffin cup halfway with the batter. Then take your cream cheese filling out from the fridge and put teaspoons of this filling into the centre of the muffin tins. Repeat until you’re done with all 12. Finally, fill the muffin cups until the top (or three-quarters full) with the rest of the batter. As a final touch, sprinkle the tops of your muffins with Maldon salt and granulated sugar. Don’t be too liberal though, since the muffins themselves are already rather sweet by themselves.

Bake for 20-22 minutes in your preheated oven. Check with a wooden skewer or knife after 20 minutes– if there are moist crumbs clinging to it, take it out. If the skewer/knife is still obviously wet, leave the muffins in there for another 3-5 minutes. These are best enjoyed warm with some vanilla ice cream or yoghurt, or plain, but can be kept in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

 

Brownie Sharing Pudding

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Experimenting with writing from home this time. The familiar hum of the washing machine, occasional opening and closing of the café doors, and lack of ambient buzz typically isn’t conducive to any good writing from my own experience, but let’s see how this goes.

Last exam done, and I’m sat here wondering if this truly may be the last exam I ever will have. The past few days have been a blur, and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. Now back to proper weekly experimentation recipes now that all that is over! Feels unreal. Taking a few snippets from the past week’s diary entries, and I’m wondering if anyone can empathise with any of these, even if not in a totally literal sense:

  • Monday, 9.23am: Gail’s chocolate sourdough is to die for
  • Monday, 12.13pm: Omotesando‘s little kashi cakes are also to die for. I appreciate good company here and the cold brew. I should come here at least once more, again.
  • Tues: Things that made me feel good: reading, exercising, food, going to the cinema alone, watching certain things with certain people, massages (oh my god)
  • Thurs: Everyone should go to Bancone here in London for their silk handkerchief pasta, and there’s also a delicious vegan options for you vegans
  • Fri, 7.07pm: Once the brain and blood gets pumping, a little cycle, a little heel kick, an easing of the joints.. everything else seems to fall into place.

And finally, does anyone else hate it when a face or thought can’t seem to escape your brain… ever? Please hit me up with any possible solution. A solution for dissolution.

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In short, the most versatile, the best, the fudgiest and chewiest-edged, brownie. I curated this recipe as a ‘sharing pudding’, which is just my way of saying I underbaked this during the experiment and it turned out still to be a very beautiful thing. It’s very reminiscent of a molten lava cake, except this time it’s meant for sharing.

Brownies are pretty close to my heart, which explains why one of my very first recipes was a brownie with some raspberry jam rippled through because I tried to be cool like that. A brownie may be less versatile than a cookie, but there is something so indulgently satisfying about preparing a disgustingly easy tray bake in less than 10 minutes and have something too moreish for your own good a little while later. It’s incentive enough to do something productive, like read two chapters of a book or call up an old friend or do your nails (if you can do that sort of thing, because I can but then realise it looks terrible), in those 20 minutes of waiting. Who doesn’t want a good, classic brownie recipe. The wonderful thing about this brownie is that it’s a brownie, normal and fudgy and satisfying, and also a sharing unit, something to bring you and family or friends together over whatever else may be occupying your night on any occasion.

If you would rather have this individually you can still split the batter into a muffin tin and cook it at the same temperature for 10-12 minutes. I had some extra batter left the first time I played around, so did that, and it turned out beautifully.

It’s muddy, gooey and all-round chocolatey. It takes 10 minutes tops to put together, 20 to bake. You can prep the batter before guests come round for dinner, then put it in the oven just when dinner is about to wrap up. Then. Then you serve this quick and easy babe of a dessert piping hot and ooey-gooey from the oven when dessert time calls. Hand everyone around the table a spoon and you just dig in. No waiting, no cutting, no fretting about when to cut or how big to cut it. You just do. Vanilla ice cream, or cream, or yoghurt on the side for everyone to help themselves.

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That stretch.

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Brownie Sharing Pudding (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

115g salted butter (normal/vegan), melted (add 1 tsp of fine salt to the wet mixture if you only have unsalted butter)

100g brown sugar

100g white sugar

2 eggs or flax eggs (make the flax eggs by combining 2 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a bowl, then set that aside for a while to set)

1 tsp vanilla extract

60g plain flour

55g cocoa powder

90-100g roughly chopped dark chocolate, or you can use a mixture of chocolates (e.g. dark and white)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a standard 9×5-inch loaf tin with a loaf tin liner or parchment paper. Alternatively, simply grease the pan with butter or vegetable oil. If you’re making individual molten cakes, split the batter in a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a bowl, mix the melted salted butter, two sugars and vanilla. Then add the eggs and whisk well. Finally, add the cocoa powder, flour and chocolate, and fold until everything is just incorporated. Pour the batter into your loaf tin/muffin cups and place in the preheated oven to bake for 22-25 minutes (11 minutes if you’re doing the individual molten cakes– check to see if the top and edges have set at the 11-minute mark and leave them in for another minute if it doesn’t look quite dry on top yet). I found that the perfect time for these brownies is 22-23 minutes if you want them extra fudgy, but cook for 2-3 more minutes if you want them slightly more set. A wooden skewer inserted into the middle will reveal a still-wet batter at the 22-minute mark, but that’s what you want, and it will continue to set a little more once you take the tin out of the oven.

Let the brownie sharing pudding cool for at least 5 minutes before serving with ice cream or cold yoghurt. Just let everyone have a spoon for digging in immediately. Perfect.

Banana Bread Oatmeal and Little Lessons

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Having just finished Buddha Brain by Rick Hanson, it’s come to my attention how disengaged and out of focus we tend to be in our stimulated environments, especially in fast-paced cities such as London. Somehow we are always trying to do more in less and less time, and this has potentially devastating lifelong consequences. It’s blind attention. Some days we go through the motions and feel rewarded or successful upon ticking off multiple checkboxes. But life isn’t a checklist, and isn’t supposed to be. How crazy are we to think we can be both productive and happy going about life in this robotic, stress-fuelled way?

This audiobook sort of links to the one I’m reading now– Whole, by one of my idols T. Colin Campbell. All this stress increases risk of certain diseases and accelerates ageing. Food of all things is so underrated in its effects on our mental and physical health, as well as the way we behave towards and learn from others. How could we use food to help us live better lives?

There are a few strategies about both food and lifestyle that I have included in the past few years, each starting at different points in my life, but all practiced towards the same degree. For example, I have done yoga and meditation for 2 years now, but only started mindful eating a few months ago. Naturally I am a rather indecisive person (4-5 delicious Gail’s vegan muffins or a manicure kit? Help??), but these techniques put the minute decisions into the broader context of life better, helping me achieve a better, more logical state of mind.

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The most incredible vegan sorbets and ice cream (coconut, deep and rich dark chocolate, raspberry and lemon basil) at Ballabeni in Munich!

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  • Make eating a meditation. Eat slowly, and savour every mealtime. Put your fork down between each bite, don’t have blazing screens on for at least 2 out of 3 of your meals, talk to a friend or loved one. Think about where each ingredient on your plate came from. This process clears your head, refreshes the mind. You know you are putting good things into your body. The pictures above are from my recent trip to Munich to see my boyfriend and his family. Every morning welcomed me with fresh bread and jam. Each bite was more alluring than the last, a chunk of fresh hope and energy for the day’s next few steps. Even if it’s a slice of cake, remember where that cake came from, each sweet mouthful airing your body with life and energy. It may not be the slow sustained energy you get from your daily bowl of oatmeal, but it’s food to savour and enjoy all the same, and by practicing mindfulness, you’ll get used to treating your body better, and crave cake a few times a week, not twice a day. And on that note…
  • Include some source of protein and fat at at least 2 of your meals. This way, you are satiated and don’t mindlessly snack on sugary foods throughout the day (I have had enough experience with this, ugh). I bake once a week and indulge in whatever experiment that day holds, but my diet is primarily a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) one, and I testify to moderation as salvation  Having had a turbulent relationship with food in the past, particularly my early and mid-teens, WFPB has healed me from the inside-out. Nothing else is more satisfying, refreshing and nurturing. Best part? You can be incredibly creative with any WFPB food! Flax in your baking, carrots in your cake, rich cocoa in your hot chocolate… go mad.
  • Immerse yourself in nature once in a while, and move your body. This is especially important if you live in an urban area like London. In Munich, the forest and her sharp air was particularly surreal despite the stroll’s brevity.  Sometimes, there is nothing more beautiful or necessary. Exercise is equally as important to keep the mind fresh and strong.

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So here is a little breakfast bowl that I made last week. It’s not your traditional bowl of oatmeal, but it’s just as wholesome and only a tad more fancy. It’s the perfect way to start a mindful day. This was further jazzed up with a matcha bar bite I bought at a café, but that;s optional. The focus here is the natural sweetness of the banana and the thick, almost rich flavour it lends to the oatmeal. Watery business begone. Back to basics, the best way.

Banana bread oatmeal (serves 1)

Ingredients

45-50g (about a half cup) oats (I use a mix of porridge and whole rolled oats for texture)

1 banana, half of it mashed, the other half chopped into coins

120ml (half a cup) each of plant milk of choice (I use almond and oat), and water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

some crumbled banana bread

2 tsp each of almond butter and maple syrup

Directions

In a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, mix the oats, salt, mashed banana, milk, water and cinnamon together. If you’re using a saucepan, bring the mix to a boil, then lower the heat a little and stir until you get a thick and only slightly gloopy consistency. If you’re using a microwave, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Take it out in between (after 1.5 minutes) just to stir it and make sure nothing bubbles over, because that may happen if your microwave is especially strong.

In a pan heated on medium heat, lightly oil the base and place your banana coins in the pan. after 30 seconds on medium heat, flip over to check if they’re nice and brown. Heat them a little longer if they’re not. Flip and caramelise the other sides. Place the banana coins on your hot bowl of oatmeal, top with the crumbled banana bread, almond butter, maple syrup, and if you want, a splash more plant milk. The cold milk seeping into the thick and gooey, hot oatmeal is divine.

Classic Baked Cheesecake

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‘We die and decay– or are burned– to come up again as wheat or roses, which in turn may form the bodies of future generations of people. Decay is the inevitable and necessary consequence of finite corporeal mortal life.’– Slightly morbid but beautiful quote of the day.

Lots of school, lots of reading, lots of fun. A lot of hesitation, but my head throbs with the chilling promise of a new day, each day.

So I could describe the entirety of my childhood in terms of cheesecake. It was definitely, undoubtedly, completely, a significant part of the reality I encased myself in. There was no such thing as no cheesecake twice a week, and yes, it did my soul a world of good, it was a chunk of my world and sometimes the world itself, when I didn’t feel like facing the real one. This was before I knew anything about the reality of the dairy industry, before I knew how much better it felt to put into myself a real damn cheesecake. A harmless, do-good cheesecake. So I was determined to make one. A proper one. A baked, New York-style cheesecake, soft, dense yet fluffy on the inside, firm and lightly browned everywhere else. They say anything made vegan is a compromise, which is true only if you’re not aware of what goes on in the food you enjoy on a day-to-day basis. Here is a cheesecake I made twice because I got so passionate about it. The ingredients are simple, the product flawless.

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Whilst meddling about experimenting with Minimalist Baker’s infamous recipe, I realised I could make the crust and filling, leave it in the fridge to set and then bake when I wanted it to (you don’t have to leave it in the fridge before baking though, I just did so due to time issues). Baking it together, without changing the temperature halfway, yielded an equally delicious and beautiful result.

No hint of hubris. It’s just a good, dense, flavourful vegan cheesecake.

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Classic Baked Vegan Cheesecake (Serves 8-10, adapted from Minimalist Baker’s stunner of a recipe)

Ingredients

For the crust:

70g (about a half cup) rolled or porridge oats

90g raw almonds (optional:sub with cashews)

pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp coconut/brown sugar

60g coconut oil, either melted or at least at room temperature

 

For the filling:

120g (1 cup) raw cashews

250g (1 cup) coconut cream

220g (about a tub) vegan cream cheese

1 tbsp cornstarch

150ml (half a cup+ 2 tbsp) maple syrup

1 tsp fine salt

juice of one lemon+the zest of the lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

The night or day before you bake the cheesecake, put the cashews for the filling in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight on your counter or in the fridge. You can also do this for half an hour if you have the time earlier on in the day.

The next day, drain the soaked cashews and set aside. Preheat your oven to 170C and ready a 9-inch springform pan. In a food processor or blender, put in the ingredients for the crust and whizz it up until you can press the crust with your fingers and they stick a little. The crust should not be too oily to touch. Press this into a 9-inch springform pan and put it in the fridge to firm up a little while you make the filling.

Briefly wipe down your blender/food processor (don’t go all out to clean here yet!) and whack in your filling ingredients, including the soaked cashews. Blend everything together until you get a smooth, white creamy product. There are usually still bits of cashews after blending for a minute, so continue to blend until everything is smooth and bit-less. Pour this on your crust and then bake for 50 minutes. Check at 50 minutes– the top should be lightly browned. If not, continue baking until you see a light golden colour on top.

Remove, let cool on the counter for a half hour before moving it to the fridge to set a little more.

Enjoy with some vegan whipped cream or coconut yoghurt. Beautiful on its own as well. Dana did such a fantastic job with this recipe, and I’m dying for everyone else to try it! My favourite pairing is with berries and basil, as may be observed in the picture just above the recipe.

My Favourite Thing This Week x Pumpkin Turmeric Scones

Fall is here and ready to take over. Over my mental and physical worlds and everything in between. The first week of school has come and gone instantly, as if the mind-bending philosophies we were taught and lengthy pauses of appreciation they induced, workshops and field trips were as transient as my last 5 inhalations and next few exhalations. Earlier this week we went on a tour of the beautiful Chelsea Physic Gardens in the heart of London, which showcased most magnificently the vast and (if I do say so myself) underrated variety of medicinal herbs, spices and other botanical wonders. No skipping the Asian and other ethnic varieties either, which was what impressed me most. Rice? Sake? They had it all. This is a gem of a place and do encourage anyone in London to give the place a visit.

This ‘favourite thing’ should be more of a thing. Weekly, perhaps? Favouritism aside, it allows for reflection on a lot of things that have happened the past week, letting this physical reality overlap with hardcore introspection.

I want to talk about Paperless Post, which represents everything I adore. The bibliophile and letter fiend that I am always hesitates to replace technology with traditional scrawling (I am still that one in lectures with a pad and pen, struggling to match speed of brain with that of the lecturer’s tongue) in any case, especially for the sake of convenience. But Paperless proves to intensify one’s creative streak with its thousands of templates and quotes, designed by world-famous artists and graphic designers.

I gave it a shot by sending a few trial birthday invitations to my family and a few friends over the weekend… even though my birthday is in November! Here’s the silly one I designed. The site essentially lets you choose and design your own virtual postcards, invitations and birthday cards for those closest to you. It’s so easy– just set up an account using your email address, then choose your design, customise it by adding different fonts, colours and backdrops, and use their smart online tools like RSVP tracking and guest messaging to ice the cake. Ok, how cool is that… Forget any other platform, this is all you need. Why use Facebook when you can send beautiful, personalised invitations to the lucky select few? Birthday or barbecue, the extra 5 minutes choosing a deliciously good-looking template that represents you and what your event is all about, is worth it.

I spent a good few guiltless hours on the weekend playing around with templates, and was thoroughly impressed with all the designs on offer. It saves time, effort and a little sanity. To cut it short, Paperless is stressless. Everyone who received my card was touched by the design and caption of the card, and all it took was 5-10 minutes! I personally love how you can add whatever pictures or photos you may already have on your computer to your invitation. To be clear, this post is published in partnership with them and Anagram Interactive, but I will continue using this platform to send thoughtful, meaningful cards and invitations to those nearest and dearest. Whatever your creative or aesthetic style, there is something for you. Click here if you’re interested!

Now. Second favourite thing the past week?

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I’d say ‘today it’s turmeric’, but really it should be an almost-everyday thing. Pumpkin is everywhere and in everyone every fall, so for tradition and comfort I incorporated it too, but turmeric is the real showgirl here. The impressive little kicker has proven anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, all thanks to its main component curcumin. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of its pungent, gingery flavour upon first trying it, but I’ve grown to love its warmth and pepper. It’s pretty simple to incorporate turmeric into anything, be it scones, or porridge, or a savoury curry, its grounding aroma doing much to calm all the senses. Just this time last week I thought scones would be the most welcoming fall treat, something ultra buttery, flaky and hearty. Simple, sleek, marginally sexy.

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With a special double glaze– plain classic and fiery turmeric. It’s this turmeric glaze that is worth the hype. The intense spicy drizzle carves dimension and excitement into the buttery formula of the plain, spiced scone. Any worry about the foreign and disconcerting pairing of this exotic spice with the traditional breakfast item will be alleviated. Just you try, and see.

 

Pumpkin Turmeric Scones (makes 8 medium-sized scones)

Ingredients 

240g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour

150g (1 cup) rye flour

35g (1/4 cup+ 2 tbsp) sugar (white or coconut)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp turmeric latte mix or 1tbsp turmeric+1/2 tsp cinnamon+1/2 tsp cardamom

100g (1/2 cup+2 tbsp) vegan butter (cold)

60ml (1/4 cup) soy or any other plant-based yoghurt. Alternatively, you could use applesauce

3 tbsp pumpkin purée

100ml (a little under a 1/2 cup) plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 tsp vinegar

For the turmeric glaze:

100g icing sugar

2 tsp turmeric latte mix, or just 1 tsp or ground turmeric

1.5 tbsp almond milk

For the plain glaze:

100g icing sugar

1 tbsp almond milk

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Mix the milk and vinegar in a bowl and set it aside to let curdle a little. Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients except the yoghurt and pumpkin purée in a bowl. Use your hands to mush the butter into the flour, which is actually very easy if you use vegan butter (yay!). Then add the milk mix and yoghurt. The final mixture should be moist but firm.

Tip the mix onto a liberally floured surface and shape into a disc. Place on a lined baking sheet and cut into 8 equal pieces, as can be seen in the picture above. Brush the top with almond/any other plant-based milk and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes. How easy was that?

Whilst it is baking, make the two glazes in separate bowls using a small fork as a whisk. Once the scones have finished baking, let them sit on the counter to cool for at least 10 minutes before drizzling with both glazes. Bon appetit, my fall friends!