There is a man I work with named Roger. Roger is in charge of answering silly inquiries about subscriptions, connecting lost callers to the appropriate employee and helping little old ladies get free copies of the paper. Every Friday, while faithfully donning his Meat Loaf “Bat Out Of Hell” concert T-shirt (for casual Friday, of course), Roger greets me as I stroll through the door with this lovely acronym:
P.S. I got a sweet new camera for my birthday! Whew — finally, we’re getting some better photos ’round here.
P.P.S. The husband has entered the blogosphere! Check out what he has to say over at his blog, Just Appetite. He’s one smart cookie, I tell ya.
Maybe the above statement is more Irish than British (or Scottish, the apparent host country of the scone), but nevertheless, I feel quite Western European after having noshed on a scone with a spot of tea. “Hmmm, tea, you say?” “Why, yes, it’s a lovely way to relax in the afternoon after a long day of linguistics in the library.” “You don’t say! May I try one, good madam?” “By jove, you may.” “Bloody hell, these are scrumptious! How ever do you make them?” Well, I’ll tell you, bloke.
First, I must explain how I got on the scone track in the first place — my 12 (sometimes going on 30)-year-old brother, Matthew, had a school project in which he needed to demonstrate how to make something. He approached me with the idea of helping him make scones. I obliged, and so, together we concocted this recipe of the perfect flaky lemon poppyseed scone — plus, he now has a project, I now have a blog post. Jolly good! (OK, I promise I’m done sounding like Harry Potter.)
Scones (properly pronounced “skawn,” as in gone, according to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible) are surprisingly simple to make. It’s really all about getting the dough — sticky and buttery and as heavy as an anvil — into a one-inch thick slab the size of a piece of paper, with straight edges to ensure the classic triangle shape. Apart from this turning and rolling and turning and rolling, etc., the rest of the process is easier than I expected. There’s no yeast, and therefore no need to wait for the dough to rise, and all it takes is 15 to 20 minutes in the oven before they’re done.
The flakes of butter mixed in with dark, spherical poppyseeds and curly pieces of sun-yellow lemon zest make these substantial “tea cakes” a beautiful, as well as delicious, mid-afternoon treat (or breakfast). And, if you make them with someone you love, the process is just as good as the result.
Debrief: The original recipe calls for currants instead of the lemon poppyseed version we made, which I might try next time. Really, you could put anything you want in scones — apples and cinnamon, blueberries and lemons, dried cranberries or chocolate chips — the list goes on.
1 cup (8 oz.) cold unsalted butter
4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 liquid cups heavy cream
2 tbsp grated lemon zest*
3 tbsp poppyseeds*
*or, per the original recipe, omit poppyseeds and lemon zest and add 1 cup currants
Chill the butter. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes. Mix the dough. In a large bowl or electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and with your fingertips, press the cubes into large flakes (Or use the electric mixer, mixing until the butter is the size of small walnuts). Stir in the cream just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together in large clumps (at this point, my electric mixer went into overload and could barely stir the dough, so I had to use my hands to incorporate the ingredients). Stir in the lemon zest and poppyseeds (or whatever ingredient(s) you choose). Knead the dough in the bowl just until it holds together, and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven rack at the middle level and set a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Shape the dough. Lightly flour the top of the dough (or use a floured pastry sleeve), and roll it out into a long rectangle 1 inch thick and about 8 inches by 12 inches; use a bench scraper to keep the edges even by smacking it up against the sides of the dough. Fold the dough in thirds, lightly flour the board again, and rotate the dough so that the closed side faces to the left. Roll it out again and repeat the “turn” 3 more times, refrigerating the dough, covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes as necessary only if it begins to soften and stick. Roll out the dough once more. Trim the edges so that it will rise evenly. (To use the scraps, press them together and roll out, giving them 2 turns, then roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick square and cut into 2 triangles.) Cut the dough in half lengthwise so you have 2 pieces, each about 4 inches by 12 inches. Cut each piece of dough into triangles with about a 3-inch-wide base and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. (The dough will rise but not expand sideways.) If the dough is soft, cover it well with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 1 hour before baking. Bake the scones. Bake the scones one sheet at a time; cover the second sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you bake the first one, then bake the second pan directly from the refrigerator. Place the pan on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet and bake the scones for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and the tops are a golden brown and firm enough so that they barely give when pressed lightly with a finger (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a scone will read about 200 degrees F). Check the scones after 10 minutes of baking, and if they are not browning evenly, rotate the baking sheet from front to back. Do not overbake, as they continue baking slightly on removal from the oven and are best when slightly moist and soft inside. Cool the scones. Place two linen or cotton towels on two large racks and, using a pancake turner, lift the scones from the baking sheets and set them on top. Fold the towels over loosely and allow the scones to cool until warm or at room temperature. (Since linen or cotton “breathes,” the scones will have enough protection to keep from becoming dry and hard on the surface but will not become soggy.)
Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little insecure about my current talents, I reminisce about the days when I used to be able to do certain things. Like do flips on a trampoline. Or fit through one of those collapsible play tunnels. Or have enough imagination to act out an entire three-hour scenario of soap-opera proportions with my Barbies.
And sometimes I wish I could do things I’ve never been able to do before. Like run a marathon. Or speak fluent German. Or sustain the energy to write a novel.
Alas, though I haven’t met all of my goals, this week I have been able to cross one achievement off my list: make a pretzel. Actually, a bretzel.
What is a bretzel, you ask? That’s a good question, one I couldn’t answer myself until I looked it up on the glorious World Wide Web. A bretzel — more specifically, a bretzel roll — is a Bavarian pretzel sandwich roll. In laymen’s terms, it’s a yummy, warm bundle of salty, fluffy, pretzel-y tastiness. And a super-easy recipe, too.
The ingredients and process are simple — mix some yeast, water and flour in a food processor, knead the heck of it, shape it, give it a bath, and you’re done! Yep, that’s right, a bath — a foamy pot of baking soda, the pivotal moment when the dough becomes “pretzel” dough. When the little dough babies are plopped into the pot, the steam gives off that very familiar aroma you waft while walking past an Auntie Anne’s at the mall, or a German bakery — whichever is more relevant.
The dough was extremely elastic but took forever to knead — at least 15 minutes, and even then it didn’t pass the good ol’ windowpane test. When dividing the dough into rolls I used a pizza cutter to ensure more even pieces, and was pretty impressed with my craftiness. And when the rolls came out of the oven, all warm and caramel-brown with a crispy outer shell and an inner fluffy stuffing, the smell of salt dissipating from the soft crosscut in the center… Oh. They. Were. Heavenly.
Debrief: Though the recipe I found (adapted on the food blog Smitten Kitchen from Bon Appetit) strongly encourages/reminds you not to cover bretzel rolls when you store them, but instead leave them uncovered for up to two days, my rolls were as hard as rocks the following morning. In other words, eat them right when they emerge from the oven doors, or at least within several hours. But I’m sure that won’t be too difficult.
P.S. Merry Christmas, everyone.
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 envelope quick-rising yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast, which increases the initial rising time to nearly an hour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (about) hot water (125°F to 130°F)
8 cups water
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg white, beaten to blend (glaze)
Combine bread flour, one envelope (2 1/4 tsp) yeast, one teaspoon salt and one teaspoon sugar in food processor and blend. With machine running, gradually pour hot water through feed tube, adding enough water to form smooth elastic dough. Process one minute to knead. Grease medium bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel; let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 35 minutes (or, with active dry yeast, closer to an hour).
Flour baking sheet, or clear area of counter. Punch dough down and knead on lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into 8 pieces. Form each dough piece into ball. Place dough balls on prepared surface, flattening each slightly. Using serrated knife, cut X in top center of each dough ball. Cover with towel and let dough balls rise until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes (in this time, I suggest prepping the water bath and preheating the oven so the rolls don’t rise too much… maybe this is common sense, but I have to remind myself sometimes).
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease another baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Bring 8 cups water to boil in large saucepan. Add baking soda and 2 tablespoons sugar (water will foam up). Add 4 rolls and cook 30 seconds per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer rolls to prepared sheet, arranging X side up. Repeat with remaining rolls.
Brush rolls with egg white glaze. Sprinkle rolls generously with coarse salt. Bake rolls until brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Serve rolls warm or room temperature.