Thursday, December 20, 2012


It's a thing now, the study of scones. Or the theory of scones, which one must have if one is to 1) make scones 2) make other things, and (most importantly, but don't tell the scones) 3) survive baking season.

I was telling someone, someone who also likes to make scones and apparently makes them every weekend, about my difficulty making scones, and she totally misunderstood (maybe I was drunk, I don't know) but she said the answer is the pastry cutter and I needed a pastry cutter, and so I politely agreed because she just didn't understand, and what's the point?

But now, friends, I will attempt to explain to you what I could not explain to her: it's not the butter! The butter, cut into small cubes and refrozen for an appropriate amount of time, the butter you simply dump into the food processor and do the pulsing thing, and then wala, you have the base of the dough, but NO, the problem, friends, is the cream. The cream!

Now, I don't want to say the cream is problematic as if this were a character flaw on the part of cream, because cream is lovely, right? It's soft and delicate and blameless. No, the problem, as it were, is that the cream doesn't really want to make friends with the dough.

The recipe I follow says to make a little mound of the dough and then make a divot in it and then pour the cream and then cupping your hands like tiny shovels, lightly move the dough into the trough of cream and do this without screaming obscenities and don't mix it too much or else it gets gummy and then somehow (the recipe doesn't say how) get it all to stick together (but barely, barely!) and then make it into a circle and then, quick, before one portion cedes, cut them into triangles and get them into the oven where the still slightly frozen butter can work its magic.

Well. You can see my dilemma. The first two times I made scones I was perfectly happy to participate in the charade that cupping the hands and yadda yadda yadda would result in scone magic. But last time, this last time, I just said, you know what? Screw it. I'm just going to pour in enough cream until the dough just has no choice but to stick together because that's what dough does, and then I'm going to make it into a flat disc and I'm going to use the scone cutter that I bought and I'm going to cut circles and then I'm just going to bake them.
And you know what? They were still perfectly delicious and better than 99.99% of the scones I've ever consumed, ever, except the ones made by my friend at that bakery in Bellingham. So that's a win right? Scones 0, Me 1. I win!

But, also, and here's the important part: recipes exist for a reason. I need them. I do. Even when I've made something a million times I look at the recipe for reassurance, like checking in just to make nothing's changed since the last time, even though I know what I'm doing. I do. So what I've learned, my scone-ology, is that you need the recipe, yes. But if you are going to survive baking season, and baking in general, you have to go with the flow. Baking is about nothing if not the current context. Sometimes the temperature in the kitchen is greater or lesser. Sometimes you have hot hands. You just do. Sometimes the butter is better or worse.

But you know what? The scones always taste just fine. In fact, they taste delicious.


Lisa B. said...

I think I have traced this exact arc of aspiration and acceptance re a foolproof but demanding, technique-laden recipe. And actually, it was a scone recipe. Basically, with the frozen butter/cold cream technique, you're putting the scone in the category of a fine pastry. Which is great, but sometimes you can be a little less refined and as you say: still good!

I wish I were eating one of your scones right now.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

You do have clotted cream right? And strawberry jam? That's the part that matters. :-)

Nik said...

The worst thing is when you fix a recipe and think, I'll remember my fixes and then you don't and you go back to the recipe and there it is, like it was and you have to relearn the whole delete the cupping of the cream section until you forget it again next time.