Friday, October 30, 2009

My favorite scones

Poor Jane Austen never ate scones.  Sadly, baking powder wasn't invented until about 1859, years after her death.  (see The Food Timeline for more information. A great website, I have spent hours surfing there).  But I'm pretty sure they did eat biscuits, which are somewhat related.  And I am convinced that, had baking powder been invented 50 years earlier, Jane Austen, and her heroines, would absolutely have eaten lots of scones, so make a cup of Earl Grey and eat them while you read (or watch) the works of Jane Austen, with pleasure.

Of course, if you really want to be historically accurate, you could get a copy of The Jane Austen Cookbook, researched and written by a food historian and a Jane Austen scholar; or even Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane.  It's unfortunately out of print, but used copies are easily found on the Internet.  Alibris is a good source.   Since I'm fascinated by all things Jane, I had to buy both.  According to Jane Austen and Food, Mrs. Austen did "send biscuits to some grandsons at Winchester College" (p. 17), and the book also refers to biscuits mentioned in both Emma and Mansfield Park, which I believe were like the beaten biscuits made in the south before the invention of baking powder, not like the lovely fluffy kind we eat now.  At any rate, here's one of my favorite scone recipes, adapted from The New York Times Cookbook:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

5 TB unsalted butter, chilled (Use UNSALTED butter -- otherwise, you'll have salty scones)
about 2/3 cup whole milk
1 egg, beaten
Additional 1 egg, for glazing, and additional white sugar for topping.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees -- if your oven runs hot like mine, adjust it back to 400.

2. Mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk (the recipe says to sift them, but I've never bothered. Whisking will do, honestly.)

3. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender, or two butter knives, keep cutting the butter into smaller and smaller pieces, while coating with the flour, until it looks like wet sand. If you want to add currents or other mix-ins, now is the time. I'm not fond of raisins and such but dried cranberries are nice (also nice if you add a little grated orange rind). Chocolate chunks are decadent, and not traditional, but wonderful.  I've also eaten wonderful scones with chopped fresh rosemary.  It sounds odd but they were delicious (not with jam, of course). 

4. Beat the egg, add it to the dry ingredients and add most of the milk -- hold a little bit back, just in case. Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, until a soft dough is formed -- don't let it get too sticky. Knead it about 15 times until it holds together, and is smooth, but be gentle since overworking the dough makes it tough.

5. Sprinkle some flour on your work surface, and divide the dough into two balls. Flatten each ball into a 1/2 inch circle and cut into 8 wedges, like a pie. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, brush them with the extra beaten egg, and sprinkle with sugar. 6. Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes.

These are delicious served plain or with your favorite jam. Devonshire cream is traditional, but hard to come by here in the states, and rather expensive. Whipped cream or butter are also nice -- if y0u can find Kerrygold Irish butter, it is worth every penny. Or my favorite, lemon curd, a delicious lemony custard similar to pie filling.

Note:  this recipe was previously posted on my book review blog, Books and Chocolate.

1 comment:

  1. Mmmmm. This sounds soooo good. I'm counting on you to bring some to the holiday party!!