Sunday, April 6, 2008

A scone for all seasons


I will tell you about breakfast but I am not going to lie to you about it, though you might wish I would make it sound easy peasy. You know, "Scones to Impress Your Friends and Make Them Forgive You in 10 Minutes!" or something along those lines. I wish I could tell you the amazing scones made right here today freeze well and are a breeze to deal with. They are neither. They do not freeze because they are lovely, crumbly little gems and to freeze them would be to create a mound of almond flavored crumbs with strawberries gone-by in their dissheveled midst. Sort of like a bowl of Grape Nuts, come to think of it. And secondly, some things take practice and scones are one of them; two facts of life among grown adults, surely.

But there is a great upside to this: These scones will be remarkable the first time you make them but small phenoms with more sureness in your fingertips. Correctly combining butter and/or shortening and flour is a skill. The most important thing to know is that your goal is to get the mixture to look like wet sand in the shortest amount of time possible, it is this quickness of hand that takes rehearsing. Once I became familiar with the texture of the mix in my fingertips, it was easier to manage many types of pastry and related doughs. I have seen all manner of baker use various tools to get to the same place but it comes down to what you are comfortable working with, I am most at home with my hands and I feel it creates less guessing.
But I leave you to your wooden spoons and pastry cutters as we all have different paths to equally as good destinations.

I use an old scone base recipe from a book called The Afternoon Teabook, by Michael Smith published in 1986. It is a little paperback thing full of perfect Godsends, though nearly all of the baked items take repetition to master. The recipe in question which has been the most help when converting scones into sweet morning food or savories for supper, is called Basic Scone Recipe. I have made notes and spills on the page over the years which have lead me to what I feel is a slightly improved version of the same form:

Basic Scone
adapted from Afternoon Tea, by Michael Smith

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter (the original recipe calls for sweet butter), very cold and diced
1/4 cup 0 trans fat Crisco, very cold and diced
1/2 cup milk (I alternate with buttermilk depending on the scones intended flavors)

Place the baking sheet upon which you will bake the scones into the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt together. If you are making sweet scones also sift your sugar (I use a standard 1/4 cup granulated), if you are making savory scones, sift any other powdered ingredients at the same time: dry mustard, ginger, nutmeg, thyme, etc.

Put the butter and vegetable shorting cubes into the bowl with the dry ingredients and rub lightly and quickly with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs or wet sand.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the milk. Stir together gently with a fork
just until a dough is formed. Knead this dough gently in the bowl for half a minute, add any ingredients to flavor and knead again quickly just to combine.

On a lightly floured board press your dough out into a circle so that the dough is about 1 inch thick. With a large knife cut triangles from the dough just as you would a pie.

Remove the baking sheet from the over, place the scones on the sheet 1 inch apart. Brush with egg wash or a bit of heavy cream and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Which brings me to the scone of this morning, just a variation on a theme really. Once you get the hang of the dough and the proportions are clear to you, you can swap ingredients in and out quite freely without so much as a care for what I have quoted as scone recipes. Why, there you will be, holding saffron and looking for a good mate for it in a scone team. And surely, in no time you will sieze upon its mate and you shall have another treasure. In the meantime, I give you one of mine.

Almond Strawberry Scones
Jacksonville, 2008

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour (Trader Joe's makes a great one), or the same amount of almonds finely ground
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the baking sheet you will bake the scones on into the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Sift both flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar together.

Put the butter and vegetable shorting cubes into the bowl with the dry ingredients and rub lightly and quickly with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs or wet sand.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the milk and vanilla extract. Stir together gently with a fork just until a dough is formed. Knead this dough gently in the bowl for half a minute, add strawberries and knead again quickly just to combine.

On a lightly floured board press your dough out into a circle so that the dough is about 1 inch thick. With a large knife cut triangles from the dough just as you would a pie.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven, place the scones on the sheet 1 inch apart. Brush with egg wash or a bit of heavy cream and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Hi there!
I am a long time reader, first time commenting!
I love your blog! It was passed to me from a friend of a friend of a friend.
I was wondering where you learned about cooking and how you developed your passion for food? I really love your blog and recipes!! I'd love to read more about you- like who your favorite chef is, style of cooking, and how in the world you do it all (with a baby, a husband away etc...)?!
Thanks again...love reading your stuff! When can we expect th other blogs to be started :)
Rachel