Saturday, October 27, 2007

God Save the Scone

remember how i said, in my opinion, there were three types of cookbooks? well, i was wrong about that as well as what i do believe. i forgot to mention the classics. those books that are tried, true and extraordinary simply because their name (and the legend that surrounds the quality of their recipes) sends "but of course!" sighs through anyone who hears their title. like Betty Crocker (as i mentioned, i have my mother's BETTY CROCKER cookbook from her 23rd birthday, 1958), L'Escofier (which is also a SERIOUS cookbook), THE SILVER SPOON (another serious cookbook that is also a classic), Larousse's French tomes (also serious cookbooks) and Fannie Farmer. I have each of these, in one form or another, and they have never let me down. i open them in silent wonder, caress them with respect and cook out of them, dropping sauce on their pages, oiling up the paper, marring it and seasoning it as you would pans. cook books are for cooking out of, not to sit on your shelf being gawked at and feared. and if you find a cookbook that is SOOOO intimidating, you can't even FATHOM cooking out of it, then put it aside, hold it at the top of your shelf and try something else until you can. really. that is the only reason people create cookbooks. for use. honest.

our recipe this day was out of Fannie Farmer. our Fannie Farmer cookbook is falling apart, held together by a rubberband, stained, overworked, immensely used and a good friend. very much like my mother's Betty Crocker cookbook. And many, MANY others. including Larousse. the recipe i made was CREAM SCONES and, yes, i made them for my buddies at work. very cool.

2 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbs butter
2 eggs, well-beaten
1/2 cup cream

what to do:
1. preheat the oven to 425ºF. lightly butter a cookie sheet. mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. work in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. add the eggs and cream and stir until blended. turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about a minute. pat or roll the dough about 3/4-inch thick and cut into wedges. place on the cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes.

here's what we did:
we kept the ingredients the same, but we added about 1/2 cup of dried currants. we like currants much more than raisins for ANYTHING, even oatmeal, because they have a more complex flavor, a slight tartness that takes them past raisins, in our opinion. my sons feel the same. they're not big raisin guys. we added them in the kneading and as far as the kneading, here's something to remember when it comes to biscuits, scones and pie crust -- the less you knead and mix in liquid, the flakier and more tender it will be. truly. remember, baking is chemistry -- a meshing of ingredients in the CORRECT ORDER AS MENTIONED IN THE RECIPE that makes it work. kneading creates gluton, which is great when you're talking about bread -- it binds, holds things together and gives it a different sort of crumb, as they call it -- because, if you remember, bread makes crumbs, so CRUMB means texture -- than would be good for tender baked goods. scones are NOT pastry. they are not sweet. they are merely sweeter than biscuits, but, basically, they are another form of biscuits. and when you think about it, biscuits that are flakey and light and fragile are the ones that melt in your mouth and make you feel yummy.

i'll give you a GREAT example of chemistry in baking. my first big baking job was a celebrity wedding cake and 150 THREE TIERED INDIVIDUAL WEDDING CAKES for their wedding. the celebrity? who give s a crap? but i ended up in IN STYLE magazine and in the first IN STYLE MAGAZINE WEDDINGS show on ABC that year. or at least the cake did. ANYway, the actual cake was fake except for the bottom tier they would be cutting. the individual wedding cakes had fondant on them, were adorned with lavendar royal icing flowers that had platinum dragees as their centers and then sprayed with a light spray of platinum edible food coloring spray. ostentatious? absolutely. but, the celeb and spouse wanted it. that's a WHOLE other story.

okay, it's about 3:00ayem the morning of the wedding, my catering partner and i, along with her mom, brother and someone else (i want to say my ex-husband, because it sounds right) are working away in the kitchen. i hear these words come out of my partner's mouth whose job it was to make the fondant: "oops." now, bill cosby does a whole thing about the power of the word "oops." it's powerful. definitely. i turned and saw that my partner had put glycerine in at the wrong time, so the fondant didn't hold. fondant is that pure white stuff that is perfectly smooth that you will see on specialty cakes and on petits fours. petits fours have poured fondant, but it's the same principle. this was lemon fondant, rolled and laid upon the cakes as a smooth surface upon which to place the flowers. she had put the ingredients together in the wrong order and the powdered sugar, a main ingredient of fondant, and the glycerine, another main ingredient (along with gelatin) were put in incorrectly. our fondant, which was the basis of our cakes and we had about 50 more to cover, needed it desperately and i went on a mission. i needed to find the glycerin or, at the least, fondant.

at 3-4 in the morning, bakeries have begun baking. so, i started calling bakeries i knew were heavy on cake making and were known for their decor. i lived in los angeles at the time, so the bakeries i called were sweet lady jane's, known for its cakes, ma maison sofitel, which is a french hotel and has a strong baking staff (fondant is a notorious french ingredient) and hansen's cakes, a classic and legendary l.a. cake place i've gone to since childhood (little aside: one of its locations is in what used to be my preschool). ma maison sofitel told me their master baker hadn't shown yet. sweet lady jane's said they don't really deal in homemade fondant, so didn't have the ingredients (they're famous for their three berry cake luxuriously covered in a whip cream frosting, upon which i will not comment) and i actually went to hansen's at 4:30 in the morning, knocked on their service door and spoke to their lead baker. all i needed was glycerin for the fondant. when i told him i was in need of glycerin for fondant i was making from scratch, he hesitated then laughed, hysterically. he called back to the kitchen staff in spanish, who also laughed uproariously, then turned to me and said the words that made me commit to making fondant from scratch for the rest of my life, "honey, NO one makes fondant from scratch anymore."

none of the bakeries were helpful, but i waited until my baking shop opened and i bought glycerin and, considering i was pressed for MAJOR time, some pre-made fondant. but i've never done it again. i always make it from scratch.

and that is proof to how baking goods, adornments and such need to be followed to the tee. these scones are terrific and lovingly simple. we make them often, as we do other fannie farmer recipes.

the reason they work so well for us is simple. like she says in LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, the reason is "love." we put a lot of love in our food.

no matter what, messy house, crazy life, love gets us through.

i can live with that.

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