I spent Sunday afternoon pursuing my winter folly of trying to come up with the perfect recipe for scones. Scones are to rural folks in Great Britain as oatmeal cookies are to rural Kentuckians. In other words, they are habit forming, fattening and very easy to make if you follow the basic recipe that millions of people have committed to memory.
But, like so many other foodstuff s, cooks of both scones and oatmeal cookies often add a little pinch of this or a little dab of that, a little more or a little less sugar, flavoring extract or lack thereof, etc., etc., so that, in fact, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of subtle little nuances that can makes one’s scones or cookies taste vastly better or worse than another person’s even though both cooks supposedly followed the exact same recipe.
Loretta and her sister Helen, for example, supposedly use the same oatmeal cookie recipe, but you sure couldn’t prove it by me. They can even buy that readymade dough that school kids are so frequently panhandling to raise money for a field trip or some such, one package each out of the same carton, purchased from the same kid at the same time and place.
Loretta’s cookies will not taste nor look much like Helen’s. I guess they must employ different ways of pinching the dough off and I’m not about to go public with which one’s I like better because I don’t want either one of them to change their ways or stop baking cookies for me.
I got hung up on scones last fall when I read a Carla Neggers novel in which she spent pages talking about English-style cooking and actually threw a recipe for scones into the plot that looked so simple I decided to try it. The recipe only called for five or six ingredients. It required a lot more time and elbow grease than I’d expected going in, but I found it to be great fun.
My clothing, the kitchen table, ceiling and floor looked like a flour sack had exploded in my hands when my wife walked in the door. But after scowling and snarling about how clean “her” kitchen was when she left the house that morning, she allowed that my scones were pretty good, but not in the same league as our friend, Don Weber’s.
Don is a native Welshman who took up residence in Paint Lick back in the 1990’s and decided to stay. And it does make perfect sense that he would be an authentic source of knowledge when it comes to genuine scones. To make a long story short, I talked Don out of the recipe that he always uses and it was very similar to Carla’s except he uses honey and cream of tartar and she doesn’t.
Anyway, I tried Don’s recipe, then I tried combining the best features of both, then I went online and discovered that I could spend the rest of my life doing nothing but reading scones recipes. There are even blogs devoted entirely to the finer points of making scones. Numerous term papers and college theses have been written on the humble scone. You can find pages arguing about the proper baking temperature.
Last Sunday was my sixth or seventh attempt. Loretta was asleep on the couch so I snuck into the kitchen and managed to assemble mixing bowl, pastry cutter, baking sheet and so forth on the table, set the oven to preheat to 400, whipped an egg into froth in a measuring cup before discovering that we only had about a cup of white flour on the place and I needed three.
Fifty years ago I would have run down to Aunt Lona’s and “borrowed” two cups of flour, no problem, and my current neighbor, Katie Rollins, would have come through this time if I’d called her. But, while cursing my dilemma, I found a bag of whole wheat flour stuck back in the freezer and only the good Lord knows how it got there because I’d bet money Loretta has forgotten and I know, for sure, I didn’t buy it. Anyway, I figured the only big difference would be that my scones would be brown instead of white.
The whole wheat scones did turn out edible, but I will not be doing them again in the near future. At least they are better than no scones at all and the dog won’t get them.
Let’s just say that a bag of White Lily all purpose flour in now on top of our grocery list and that I have, in my possession, over four pounds of whole wheat flour if anybody needs some.