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Posts Tagged ‘scone’

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Dear Bakers,

First, mad props to you. Honest. Life is hard; you make us treats. Without you*, how could we forget about the workaday world of Cadillac SUV drivers who don’t signal, about 16-page apartment leases, about presidential candidates who strut and fret their hour upon the stage? A cinnamon croissant roll takes five minutes to eat, but what a blissful five minutes. How unburdened an experience. You are gods and archangels.

Thank you for the variety on your menu, thank you for offering both plain and fancified, thank you for blueberries in high summer and spiced pumpkin in the fall. Thank you for little saucers of broken-up scones to try while we wait for service. (Full disclosure: Sometimes I pop one to soothe a hungry stomach and then go. But you know I spend liberally the rest of the week. We’re cool.)

Thank you, so many of you, for making pie crusts with lard, or butter, or a combo of the two. Thank you, others of you, for eschewing shortening entirely for the glory of butter. You know your cookies will be flatter, but firmly avow that flavor must never fall to the ax of showboating.

But I must take exception to those of you who bake with excessive amounts of sugar. Of course America has a sweet tooth. We just don’t need as much sugar as you’re adding. Many of your cakes and cupcakes are too darn sweet, and lots of bakers don’t stop there: even a corn muffin these days can make a girl’s mouth pucker. My argument:

  1. If the first and last ingredient we taste is sugar, the product is dull.
  2. If the first and last ingredient we taste is sugar, the rest of the ingredients don’t get their say.
  3. Ibid., the structure will be gritty.

I love chocolate brownies, for example. But when did we make sugar more important than the quality of the chocolate, the richness of the butter, and the fudginess or cakiness of the square itself? I ate a brownie on Sunday that was gorgeous to look at. But it was so packed with sugar that I crunched my way through it.** The chocolate, fat, and texture were very much an afterthought.

Last point:

4. If one ingredient isn’t allowed to be a diva, we can appreciate the subtlety and balance of the other ingredients.

Like seals being tossed fish time and again, pushing sugar into the spotlight of baked goods narrows our thinking, dulls our senses, and deprives us of a fuller experience. Let us taste the almond extract in your cherry scones; we’ll be excited to learn they’re such a winning pair (cousins, almonds and cherries, you know). Let us search for a hint of orange peel, or come to adore exotic cardamom on first taste. We love to learn. Let us get excited by the nuances of your work.

The brownie above, now. Good example. Much less sugar, in the European tradition. More excellent-quality chocolate, cream, and butter. It was dense, sticky—a deep and powerful experience. I’ll drive a half an hour north for this thing, and I cannot imagine I’m alone.

Being active observers of flavors and textures is a positive; looking for them with eagerness and learning from them is a blessing. Conscious, discerning eating can’t help but inform conscious, discerning thinking outside the bakery, and goodness knows we can all use a little more of that.

Two thumbs up, and best regards,

~M (and my dentist)

*And maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda.
**Of course I ate the whole thing. It wasn’t a good brownie, but it was a brownie.

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It was chilly in my apartment all last week, so I did what came naturally: turned on the oven and cooked.

The above and immediately below are coconut custard pie. I have never made one, so I blind-baked my basic crust, stirred up my basic custard, and did what my revered and liberally duct-taped Joy of Cooking suggested: tossed a 1/2 cup of shredded coconut into the bottom of the baked crust and then poured the custard on top of it. This was pretty good, but it needed to be more coconutty. So I threw in a splash of coconut extract and gave it a stir. And I ate it for breakfast all week because early-American settlers used to eat pie for breakfast, and while I can’t abide everything they did back then, I sure can this.

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Gratuitous second shot.

Next I found a recipe for Quick Jambalaya in an old February issue of Martha. I used San Marzano plum tomatoes, a red bell pepper (which I never buy out of season, but it does not do to argue with Martha), garlic, red onion, Old Bay, dark meat from half a dozen chicken legs, smoked andouille sausage, and jasmine rice. That last is an embarrassing anachronism, and per my last controversial post makes it Not Really Jambalaya, but either way it was pretty solid.

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Trader Joe’s had an awesome deal on blood oranges, so I snapped up a bag and made a sort of marmalade with them, but with less sugar. My cutting board looked like a vampire crudite platter.*

Then I made some vanilla-bean scones and ate it all up with a little plain yogurt. Also a worthy breakfast, early-American or not.**

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The below is my favorite pic. It was not a product of my kitchen.

While I was waiting for the woman at my local post office to ring up my purchase, I asked her what was in the pastry box on the counter next to her. I’ve always thought her sort of standoffish, but when I asked her she brightened and said she didn’t know, and was excited to take a peek. When she did, she squealed, and said I must take one with me.

Yet another reminder—and there will be more, and I will document them, count on it—that food can be miracle-izing. She didn’t know I’d had a chilly week, and was feeling kind of poopy. It hit the spot in a lot of ways. She even introduced herself. Thanks, Chantal.

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*That was totally gross. But true.

**Not. Whatevs.

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I never had much of a thing for lemons until a few years ago. They were something served with fish, or they occasionally, delicately, flavored a cookie. Sort of forgettable fruits.

Then I had stomach problems, bad ones, and was forced to swear off anything citrusy for a good couple of years. I missed oranges and orange juice. When that time mercifully ended, I had powerful cravings for citrus, but not in sweetie-pie doses like the aforementioned lemon cookies. Standard lemon cookies, bars, squares—none of them cut it anymore, not even those from homey bakeries. If I was going to eat something with lemon, I wanted to TASTE it. Which meant making my own lemon desserts.

A few years back I read with interest an article about lemons in the food section of my local paper. It was engaging, telling of the writer’s adoration of lemon curd, but ended on the most depressing note: the writer said he had never had luck making curd at home and that it was best just to go out and buy it.

The poor, misguided soul was fairly begging for someone to set him straight, so I wrote him and told him in a very polite but firm tone that food writers should be encouraging their readers to cook, to get used to the feel and temperament of ingredients—not to have a couple of botch-ups and then give up. Then I gave him the below lemon curd recipe. He agreed graciously, I’m happy to say.

I’ve had this recipe for a while and have tweaked it this way and that. Add more or fewer eggs to increase or decrease richness (though, really, the lemon flavor in this is so assertive that richness takes more than a back seat to it. It’s not even in the back seat; it’s sitting on the trunk and holding onto the spoiler for dear life. So extra richness is hardly worth considering, in my opinion.) This is NOT a recipe for those who think boxed lemon cookies taste just swell. It is for those few who jones for the eye-dabbing kick that real lemon zest and real, undiluted lemon juice gives.

Make the curd with ordinary lemons from the supermarket and it’s delicious. Make it with Meyer lemons, that current darling of the food world (as well as of my own), and the result is stratospheric. The bracing sunny sweetness will actually make your day a little happier, I promise.

3/4 c granulated sugar (use a little bit less if you really like a lemon wallop)

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (if you have one of those microplane graters, use it here)

2 large eggs (or 1 egg plus 1 white)

The juice of three big lemons

A pat of  butter, about a tablespoon or so

Put sugar, rind and eggs in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir it with a whisk until the sugar dissolves. This takes 2-3 minutes.

Add lemon juice and your pat of butter and whisk for about 5 minutes more, until the mixture becomes a bit thicker. To chill, put a lid on the pan, put a dishtowel on a rack in your fridge and set the pan on it. It will thicken up in the fridge some more, and makes about 1 1/2 cups.

I’m told this can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, but if your resistance is anything like mine, that tip is kind of immaterial. Apparently it can also be frozen in a freezer Ziploc. Again, hearsay.

This curd is lovely spread between layers of white cake, on hot scones or biscuits served with very cold, thick whipped cream, or as the top layer of the best lemon squares you’ve ever eaten.

I doubled this recipe as a birthday present for my mom, who ate every bit in the best way I can think of: just as the title above suggests.

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