Monday, June 21, 2010

One Love, Two (Batches Of) Scones

Growing up, one of my family's many food traditions was reggae and scones on Sundays. My dad would spin records on the living room turntable while my mom turned out rustic, currant-studded scones from our tiniest of kitchens.

Though my dad is no longer with us, for Father's Day yesterday I honored him (and our family's tradition) by firing up some reggae and scones. Twice.

I put a new twist on tradition by using my husband's grandmother's (Nana's) recipe for South African scones. While my mom's scones were triangular, flaky and slightly sweet, South African scones are unsweetened, round, and more like biscuits from the American South. They're really just a vehicle for jam (typically apricot or strawberry) and unsweetened, freshly-whipped cream.

Some other distinctions worth mentioning:

1. In South Africa, "scone" is pronounced "sk-ON," not "sk-OHHH-n" When I was first dating my husband, I tried to impress him by making sk-OHHH-nz. Not only was I making them in the American style and adding currants (oh, the horror!), I was mispronouncing the very word.

2. As is the rule when making biscuits, the key to success with Nana's scones is to use a very light touch. Overworking the dough will result in a hockey pucks, not scones.

3. Speaking of hockey pucks: always make certain your baking powder is fresh. Read on to see why.

Nana's Scones
Makes 6 (2 3/4-inch) scones
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (recommended: King Arthur Organic)
3 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum-free or homemade)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup milk (traditionally whole, but I use 2% with good results)
1 large egg

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F and line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment. (I usually use both, and highly recommend the use of silicone baking mats for their insulating and heat-distribution properties. I also swear by commercial-grade aluminum jelly roll pans.)

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Quickly rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture is a bit more coarse than coarse cornmeal. You want some pea-sized lumps to remain.

3. Measure 1/2 cup milk in a liquid measuring cup. Add the egg and whisk to combine. You need 3/4 cup of liquid, so, if needed, whisk a bit of water into the milk-egg mixture until you have 3/4 cup total.

4. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and gently stir with a fork until it the dough forms a ball. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle evenly with flour. Flour your hands and gently pat the dough into a round, making a couple gentle passes with a floured rolling pin until the round is about 3/4-inch thick.

5. Stamp scones from the dough using a 2-3/4-inch round biscuit cutter, gently gathering the scraps and re-shaping the dough one or two more times until you've used all of it. (Do not overwork this dough!) Be sure to employ a biscuit-cutting technique, pressing the biscuit-cutter straight down into the dough without turning or wiggling it, then gently pulling the dough away from the rounds you've cut.

6. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheet and bake on the center oven rack for 8-12 minutes, checking the scones for even browning (and rotating the baking sheet back-to-front if needed) after 6 minutes.

Ahem. Except my scones didn't rise and I ended up making them all over again.

It all went wrong with an innocent little tin of baking powder.

The Culprit

You see, baking powder and baking soda have limited shelf lives -- generally about 6 months when stored in a cool, dry place. After which, they lose their ability to make things rise.

I know this.

But when I began making my Father's Day scones, I spaced on the fact that I was out of baking powder, thanks to the previous week's baking frenzy. No biggie, I thought, I'll just make homemade baking powder from cream of tartar and baking soda. Nope. I was out of cream of tartar, too. But I did find a little tin of baking powder when I was rooting around in the cupboard for leavening agents. I was so happy with my discovery, I didn't even bother to check the expiration date. I just whisked the baking powder into my flour and proceeded onward.

Turns out the baking powder was two years old. And old baking powder = hockey pucks.

Hockey Puck

So I went to the market, bought a fresh tin of baking powder (and some cream of tartar), and started over. The upside is, my dad's memory was honored not once, but twice also.


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