5.19.2010

a scone twofer


My mother will tell anyone who will listen that she is not a cook. That she doesn't like cooking, and doesn't know how she ended up with all these cooks in the family.

I, on the other hand, insist that my childhood memories are filled with delicious foods, made from scratch, by my mother.

Were we even in the same house?

I don't know. I've said to her - many times - something along the lines of, "But you always made such good food! You were always cooking for us!" At which point she always baffles me with an offhand comment like, "Oh, but I never liked cooking." Huh? Then why go to all that trouble?

The best I can come up with, especially now that I've got my own kids to feed, is that she looked at us and realized that she'd be doing a better job as a parent by cooking wholesome food for us than if she was feeding us processed foods. Which, of course, is what mothers do: you push aside your own personal biases and dislikes, and do what is best for your children. But still, given her prejudices, I really think she went above and beyond what most parents would do. Because, as one raised by a non-cook, I found myself eating some pretty good homemade meals:

Split-pea soup, as thick as could be, and chock full of carrots and potatoes . . .
Homemade, whole grain breads, in lots of fun shapes . . .
Perfect gingerbread man cookies, firm enough to roll and cut and decorate, but soft enough to yield easily to a young child's bite . . .
Tapioca pudding . . . oh, how I loved tapioca pudding . . .
Homemade ice cream, that we'd crank by hand every summer . . .
"Rice and vegetables" - the catch-all term for any number of stir-fry combinations . . .
Skillet cornbread, with its silky layer of sweet custard . . .
Salads full of organic veggies straight out of our garden . . .
Scratch-baked birthday cakes, every year . . .

And the best of all: after my father was diagnosed with celiac disease, she started baking gluten-free for him. Pizza, cookies, pie crusts, brownies - all back in the early 80's! This was long before we knew about any alternative flours other than rice flour, and had never heard of xanthan and guar gums. Suffice to say, her efforts wouldn't hold a match to today's gluten-free goodies, but at the time, simply attempting to re-create some of Dad's favorite foods was certainly a special gesture.

All this from a woman who doesn't like to cook. It may not have been gourmet, but it was good, and it certainly sent me down the food-loving path I've spent most of my adult life exploring. When I think about the alternatives, about what most kids of that era were growing up eating, I feel ever more thankful that Mom managed to grin and bear it so well. In the age of the microwave meal, of Chinese take-out and fast food, we sat down to a real dinner, every night. We were the lucky ones.


This helps explain why it is so important to me to maintain this tradition within my own little family. I assume it is easier for me to do than it was for Mom, since I take such delight at being in the kitchen. But still, life happens, and there are days (and sometimes it feels like whole stretches of days) when the idea of stopping everything to prepare a meal is not high on my pleasure scale. And then I look at my boys. And I think about how important the act of eating is, and how I want them to remember me making delicious, healthy food for them, rather than copping-out and giving them something pre-made, from a box. So yes, I use Maternal Guilt to force me to cook when I don't want to. And I'm proud of it.

I am also proud to have figured out a few tricks to get a good meal on the table with a minimal amount of fuss. This is especially important when you have more than one kid running around, as the late-afternoon (or early morning) struggles seem to multiply exponentially when you add clashes of personalities and willpower to the mix. We've been relying fairly heavily on Thomas Keller's recipe for basic roast chicken these past couple of months, not the least because of its no-fuss preparation. The fact that it turns out an amazingly moist and flavorful bird every time has also helped. As has the variety of appealing meals we can make with the leftovers.


I've also found myself needing a couple of do-ahead breakfasts for mornings when we need to be out the door in a timely manner. Yeast waffles are great for this. (Josh remarked the other day about what a charmed life he leads, when, on rushed mornings, he has to settle for fresh waffles for breakfast. It's tough over here, I tell ya.) Another breakfast favorite, that I've already alluded to in this space, is scones. Usually full of cheese and bacon, so that we can at least fool ourselves into thinking it approaches a well-rounded breakfast. But yesterday I mixed things up a bit by doing a sweet version, studded with raisins and warmed by cinnamon.


Raisin scones are another food that brings back childhood memories of Mom baking for us. She used to make them for a study group that met at our house, and I loved them. They seemed so exotic! I don't remember anyone else in my life making scones, and I never saw them on the menu at cafes or bakeries. (Which is not to say they weren't there. I was young. I could have been blinded by pie or some such.) It's been many, many years since I've had them, but when I call up my recollection of their flavor profile, I wonder if they had oats in them. There was a nuttiness, and certain crumbly characteristic, that reminds me of rolled oats. I suppose I could just call up Mom and ask if hers was a recipe for Scottish oat scones, but I like this internal guessing game better.

The scones I make now are much more tender, and not really crumbly at all. Both the sweet and savory versions have such a soft, pillowy mouthfeel that it's hard to believe they are not only gluten-free, but that they have quite a bit of rice flour in them! The secret? Heavy cream. Heavy cream is magical - it smooths out the rough edges of just about everything it comes in contact with, and imparts a richness to baked goods - and a moist-but-not-wet texture - that's hard to beat. And paired with gluten-free flours, which we all know can't get tough from over-kneading, it makes the ultimate scone. Really. If you're not gluten-free yourself, I suggest running out right now to find yourself a gf buddy to bake for, just so you'll have a reason to make these (and be sure to hold some aside for yourself). It's a sure path to instant friendship!


Gluten-Free Cream Scones
yields 8 scones

The technique for both sweet and savory scones is the same - even the ingredient lists are almost identical - so I'm giving you two lists of ingredients, but just one set of directions. These are meant to be simple, easy, uncomplicated food. The recipes, minus the "flavorings" (bacon, cheese, dried fruit, etc.) can be used for any number of variations. Just pick your favorite flavors and substitute them for the ones listed. I particularly like dried blueberries or crystallized ginger in the sweet dough, and herbs de Provence in the savory dough. Any way you go, they'll be good - just don't add anything too wet, since the dough itself already has so much moisture.

Cream scones are eternally do-ahead friendly: you can make the dough the night before, and just bake them off in the morning. Or, if you're really organized, make a double recipe and freeze half of the (unbaked) scones. Then, the night before you want them, pop them in the fridge and let them defrost overnight. Quality-wise, you'll never notice the difference.

Bacon Cheddar Scones
200 grams gf pastry flour mix (at the end of this post)
80 grams gf all-purpose flour mix (at the end of this post)
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
3 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
30 grams cooked, chopped bacon
85 grams shredded cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 1/3 cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing

Cinnamon Raisin Scones
200 grams gf pastry flour mix (at the end of this post)
80 grams gf all-purpose flour mix (at the end of this post)
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
3 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
65 grams granulated sugar
85 grams raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/3 cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing

To Make:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add the heavy cream and mix well (you may end up using your hands after a while). Note: if you're making the sweet version, the dough is going to be VERY sticky - it's from the sugar. Please resist adding extra flour! Simply lightly flour your hands and the top of the dough when patting it out, and you'll be fine.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and pat it into a circle, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut into 8 wedges. (At this point, the scones may be refrigerated for the night or frozen for up to two months.)

Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet and brush with heavy cream. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Cool on a rack.

3 comments:

  1. All of these scones sound delicious. Scones are one of my favorite breakfast treats!

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  2. Thanks for sharing this recipe! These scones are really lovely - I made them for a tea today and people ate just as many of them as they did of the conventional gluteny scones! I've made the cinnamon-raisin ones twice now, and the second time I successfully made them without xanthan gum - I just swapped in a bit less than a teaspoon of ground chia seed, and it worked quite well. Oh, and since I don't tend to keep very many flour mixes on hand, I calculated the proportions for the flours individually. In case it's useful to anyone else...

    This recipe ends up calling for:
    -42 grams brown rice flour
    -11 grams sorghum flour
    -73 grams potato starch (20+53)
    -23 grams tapioca starch (7+16)
    -131 grams white rice flour

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