Monday, May 20, 2019

SCONES - the British Way


As an American I've found it a long and arduous journey to find the perfect British scone recipe.  There were many perils along the way from disappointing recipes, confusing measuring conventions, differences in flour composition, and perhaps the most challenging factor, no decent example to be found anywhere.  I've had tea at the Biltmore in Santa Barbara and numerous other posh establishments and never had a cup of tea worth drinking or a scone enjoyable to consume.  While I didn't know how to make a scone myelf I knew enough that the pale, slightly risen, and cold offering was not a proper British scone.  Not by half.  Which is why I made it my mission to figure out how to bake a British scone and why it all goes so wrong in America.

The simple answer is that it's due to the flour.   All purpose flour in England has a higher protein content than in America.  But it's more than that.  I won't lie.  To succeed in America with baking British scones requires yes, the right flour, but it also requires its very own technique which is why I've been very exacting in the instructions below.  Follow this recipe and you'll be happily munching on scones as you watch Wimbledon this summer with butter and jam dripping down your fingers.  Or regularly with a cuppa and a good book, as I do.  Parenthetically I'm thoroughly enjoying the Maisie Dobbs series.

The recipe I'm sharing is my own and derived from a variety of sources including trial and error and serendipitous surprise.  As mentioned above I can not stress enough the importance of using the right flour which, luckily, is lurking at your nearby grocery store.  I actually had self raising flour imported from England (quite expensive) and didn't like the result as well.  Similarly cake flour (which has a higher protein content and is sometimes recommended for British scones) gave disappointing results.  The good news is that Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour is reasonably priced and available at a variety of grocery chains and, incidentally, makes fabulous baguettes as well.

Without further ado good luck and I hope that you enjoy these scones as much as Steve and I do!

SCONES - the British Way
Yield ~ 9 to 10 scones

INGREDIENTS ~

Either:
1/2 cup currants - soaked 10 minutes in earl gray tea (or plain hot water)
or
4 oz sultanas (golden raisins) (no soaking necessary so long as fresh) - set aside

Combine in a large bowl:
450g Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour or British self raising flour
If using Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour add 2 TBS baking powder
If using British self raising flour add 2 tsps. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
85g (6 Tbs.) sweet butter - slightly softened (I use a European butter such as Kerry gold) cubed

Combine in a separate bowl (and reserve 2 TBS):
1 large egg plus enough whole milk to make 1 cup
7 Tbs. (92g) fine white sugar  (caster sugar or C&H baking sugar)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Garnish: Demerara sugar




Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  N.B. you will drop the temperature to 425 as soon as you pop the scones in the oven.

2.  If using currants instead of sultanas soak currants in earl gray tea or hot water for approximately 10 minutes and blot dry.   Measure and set aside whichever you are using (either currants or sultanas).

3.  In a medium bowl combine your choice of flour, appropriate amount of baking powder (depending on your flour choice), salt, and cubed butter.  Using your finger tips rub butter into flour mixture until consistency of fine sand.  It is very important that there are no lumps of butter left as you want a cake like consistency and not a flaky consistency like a biscuit. Set Aside.

4.  In a separate small bowl combine egg and milk mixture, sugar, and vanilla.  Whisk until sugar is entirely dissolved.   Remove and reserve 2 Tbs. of mixture to be used later for brushing tops of scones.

5.  Add either currants or sultanas to the flour mixture and toss to combine.

6.  Add the milk mixture (less the 2 Tbs. reserved to brush the tops) to the flour and raisins.  Using a blunt knife cut the wet ingredients into the flour mixture to form a wet and shaggy dough.  Don't worry if not all the flour is incorporated - it's better to not incorporate all the flour rather than having a dough too dry (there are a variety of factors that can affect how much flour is needed to create the dough such as humidity).  Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and kneed a couple of turns until smooth.  Then gently fold dough in half three (3) times to create layers.  Use only a small amount of additional flour to prevent sticking as adding too much will create heavy scones.  Use your hands to pat dough into a smooth round approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches inch thick.  Do not use a rolling pin as it will overwork the dough.

7.  Using a floured biscuit cutter (2 3/4 inch diameter) stamp out scones using a quick hard stamping motion with the heel of your hand and do not twist the cutter.  Be as efficient as possible in cutting as many scones from this dough, as the scones made from the re-rolled scrap dough are not as nice. Place scones on prepared baking sheet and transfer to refrigerator for 30 minutes (which allows the baking powder to begin work and keeps dough cool to prevent spreading).

8.  Just before placing scones into oven brush tops with reserved milk mixture.  Only brush the tops (not sides).  Finish with a sprinkle of demerara sugar or similar course baking sugar.

9.  Drop oven temperature from 500 to 425 degrees and bake 7 minutes and turn pan.  Continue to bake scones an additional 7 minutes (a total of 14 minutes) or until dark brown on top.

Scones do not keep well and are best served warm from the oven when they are absolutely divine.  Contrary to the Brits I enjoy mine with strawberry jam and a spot of sweet butter but for the real deal use clotted cream and/or whipped cream (I find clotted cream at Gelson's Grocery Store).  Once cool freeze the leftovers and I find they are best briefly microwaved (30 seconds) and toasted in a warm oven.





If traditional British scones are not your cup of tea you might enjoy previously shared recipes for Irish Scones and/or  Almond Scones (these scones are easy and delicious and this post includes my mother's tips for brewing a perfect cup of English tea).


And There Has Been Knitting ~




As regular readers know this has been a sad year for me with the passing of my father and my mother relocating into assisted living.  There is still much to be done not least of which is the closure of all the loose ends from a lifetime (60 years) that my parents spent together.  But time passes and it gets easier.  It's been a reminder for me that nothing in this world remains the same.  And my faith is stronger for it.

Throughout it all I continue to knit.  But I won't pretend this shawl is fresh off the needles as it was finished last Spring and there are many other more current projects.  But I wanted to show this shawl as it's been a really useful addition to my wardrobe. Every once in a while I'll pick a design for it's simplistic beauty, as in this case.  Although it was a fairly challenging knit and required close attention to the pattern the payoff has been worth it and I don't believe it would be a problem for an average knitter with determination.

Particulars:  Rheinlust designed by Melanie Berg; 2 skeins Ella Rae Lace Merino (920 yrds).  I was concerned about having enough yarn and only knit 8 repeats of Chart B and ended up with 4g yarn remaining.  Final blocked measurements 20" x 73."  A previous pattern of Ms. Berg's that I knit was her Qwist Mitts.


Until next time be well and love well and may all your scones be sweet ~

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Girl's Best Friend.... a Cozy Shawl and Something Chocolate

I am wearing A Girl's Best Friend Shawl which I finished in time to enjoy this Winter. Hurrah!  And boy have we had a winter this year in Southern California.  Complete with rain, mudslides, and freezing temperatures.  I'm starting to wonder why I ever wanted a change from our perpetually sunny skies in the first place.  Isn't there a song about it's never raining in Southern California?  Ah yes, It never Rains In California by Albert Hammond.  That's clearly wrong.  These days I'm humming along to Keith Urban's Long Hot Summer (filmed incidentally on a local Malibu beach) as I wistfully recall endless summer days at the beach, and my lost youth.


I've been thinking about music as we watched Bohemian's Rhapsody last night.  I highly recommend the movie.  It's a poignant story of the life of Freddy Mercury who was the lead singer of Queen (rock and roll band in the 70's).  It's worth watching particularly if you remember the band.  I grew up in the 1970s and I think that era had the best music.  There are a few artists that I enjoy today but give me the seventies rock and roll any day.  That's probably what every generation thinks - that their music was the best.  In any event Bohemian Rhapsody has been nominated for a number of Oscar awards, including best film and best actor.  Tune in February 24th to see who wins!


But back to my shawl which I really love.  It's called "A Girl's Best Friend" presumably because it's  easy to hang out with, makes you feel better about yourself, and isn't demanding to knit.  I used three different types of yarn which came together beautifully.  I took me a long time to find the right combination but once I did I knew it was right. And the best part is that one of the skeins came from a dear online friend Andi, My Sister's Knitter.  She had a give-away on her blog and I won the beautiful dark magenta yarn that finished off this shawl beautifully.  It can be tricky finding a good mix of colors for a shawl.  But using totals and neutrals is always a safe bet which is what I used here.  And, of course, having a good friend's input is sometimes just what you need. Thank you Andi!


I also have to quickly mention the fun pom poms on this shawl.  They are such a cute addition! They are also super easy to make.  All you need is a fork and you can make mini pom poms to your heart's content.  Here's a link to a Youtube tutorial.  I don't see why you couldn't add pom poms to any shawl for a little extra pizzazz.  Or make a fun garland of these to hang on your Christmas tree next year!  Note to self: that's a good idea.


Particulars A Girl's Best Friend, designed by Isabell Kraemer (Lilau on Ravelry), US 4 needles; 3 different yarns (Plucky knitter - Primo Fingering (colorway wintery mix); Anzula Yarn - Squishy - (colorway rosebud) and Peepaloo Fields - Sock (colorway nevermore)).  I made no modifications to this shawl pattern, although I did knit one less repeat of the neutral section due to yardage concerns.  If you are interested in knitting multi-colored shawls you might want to read Multi Colored Shawls and Testing Yarn for Color Fastness.   While none of these yarns bled you should always consider that risk before you embark on knitting a multi-colored shawl.

And just so you know that I'm not completely stuck in a time warp and do enjoy some contemporary music here's a link list of some of my favorite Youtube Videos ( (warning: very eclectic list):

Labryinth ~ Beneath your Beautiful
Lana Del Rey ~ Summertime Sadness
Katie Perry ~ Teanage Dream (filmed in Santa Barbara where I grew up)
Back Eye Peas ~ Meet me Halfway
Gotye ~ Somebody That I Used to Know
Nelly ~ Dilemna
Sara Evans ~ I Could Not Ask for More
Gwen Stefani ~ Cool
Rhianna ~ Take A Bow
John Legend ~ Save Room

I could go on and on.  I was young still when MTV launched and still love music videos, especially videos shot on locations I'm familiar with.

Chocolate Almond Biscotti ~



Speaking of a girl's best friend I would be remiss if I didn't mention something about chocolate. Chocolate makes me weak in the knees and eating it makes me happy.  But I don't allow myself to buy a box of chocolates very often because I simply can not control myself.  Especially if it's Sees Candy which are my favorites. On the other hand baking with chocolate renders a fine result and I'm not as greedy and as compulsive about gobbling down every morsel in the vicinity.  Probably because it doesn't have as high a sugar content and doesn't spike a craving fit.  So, for me, it's safer and more prudent to skip the candy and bake something instead.   Like Chocolate Almond Biscotti.  This recipe is a winner from Pastry Affair and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

If you like biscotti I also recommend trying Pistachio and Currant Biscotti (recipe link in the Finishing Touches post).  I've made these many times over the years and it never disappoints.  There's a batch cooling in my kitchen as I write this as a matter of fact.


Until next time be well, love well and remember that when you go through difficult times it's more important than ever to spend time with good friends and enjoy simple pleasures.  Sometimes all I need is a good cup of coffee and biscotti to feel better.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Indispensable Trait of Determination for Knitting and Life


It's been unusually cool this Winter in Los Angeles, California.  How cold has it been you wonder?  So cold that we've been needing clothes that we typically don't need in LA.  Like socks.  Fortunately that's no problem for me as I've knit many a pair over the years.  But I don't have many of the sturdy variety and hence these Carlos and Arne socks have been great to have this winter.


I have to admit that knitting these socks was a love/hate affair.  It's obviously a self patterning yarn and, incidentally, the first commercially dyed self patterning yarn I've knit with.  While I loved the beautifully intricate pattern magically unfolding as I knit without any effort on my part, whatsoever, I was also turned off by the scratchy feel of the wool traversing over my fingers.  And knitting is a very tactile experience.  Hence the hate.  I almost tossed them aside as not worth the bother.  To be fair it was summer when I was knitting them and in the warm summer months lots of wools can feel scratchy.  But when I thought am I such a wimp that I can't handle a little scratchy wool?  Seriously?  That's pathetic.  So I determined to finish them and am very happy that I did.  You know what else?  Magically when the weather turned cool the wool suddenly wasn't scratchy any more.  I have no idea what the science is behind that. 

The moral of this story is that sometimes you have to stick with things through thick, thin and scratchy times.  Because if you don't then you may miss an opportunity to add color, warmth, and satisfaction to your life.  Like these socks have to mine.


PARTICULARS: Pairfect Design Line by Arne & Carlos, Schachendmayr Regia Sock Yarn (75% wool / 25% polyamide); (Colorway #9090); 100 g 459 yrds.; US 1 DPN; I followed the pattern provided on label and made no modifications whatsoever, other than I followed my own toe decreases from my Colorblock Socks pattern.  This sock yarn is a tremendous value and I highly recommend making your own Pairfect socks!  They should wear like iron.  But if you are more interested in luxury sock yarns I would recommend a mix of merino wool, nylon, and 10% cashmere and a favorite brand of mine is Sun Valley Fibers, MCN (80% merino, 10%cashmere and 10% nylon) which is what I used for my Winter Rose socks and for another pair I have yet to photograph.


Simcha and Determination


The topic of determination and sheer doggedness would not be complete without a Simcha antidote, who has more determination in his right pinky err paw than most people have in their entire body.

For Simcha size has always mattered.  From the time he was a little puppy it didn't matter if it was a toy, treat, or stick it was clear that bigger was definitely better.   Out on the trail hiking he doesn't pick up any old stick.  Instead he will forage to find the very biggest stick around and then he'll carry it for long distances before eventually discarding it.  It's not always easy for him to extract these massive sticks.  They are often partially buried in the ground or entangled in limbs of trees and bushes but he will thrash about pulling until it breaks free (I used to pitch in and help him with this until he accidentally sliced my finger in half and after that I decided he was on his own). There was only one time when I thought he was going to be defeated.  He had jumped off the trail into some brush below and there was a  sheer rock wall that had to climbed to get back on the trail.  I stood and looked down watching him.  He had found a large stick that he clearly wanted to bring with him.  He was whining in frustration because he had made several failed attempts to get up that rock wall with his stick.  I could see the problem was that he didn't have enough space to run and gain any momentum to help carry him up.  I thought he was beat.  But then he put his head down, griped that stick in his jaws, raised his head up and by the sheer force of his determination clawed his way up that rock face onto the trail with that giant stick in his mouth.  I was astonished.  He's older now and doesn't have the same drive and determination but I'll never forget seeing him do the impossible.

There's a number of excellent books about dogs and their amazing stories.  I know he's fictional but I think that Simcha has much the same personality as Buck from Call of the Wild by Jack London.  I also love the book Where the Red Fern Grows about a boy and his dogs growing up in the Ozarks.  And my dad used to read Old Yeller aloud to my sister and me when we were little.  These are all sad and yet wonderful stories.  If you have a favorite book about a dog I would love to hear your recommendations. 


ST. LUCIA BUNS ~


I love the idea of welcoming winter with celebration and those things that bring warmth and comfort into our lives. Which is why the St. Lucia celebration in Sweden appeals to me.  Well to be perfectly honest it's the rich tasty St. Lucia buns that appeal to me.  Flavored with saffron and vodka these buns are warm and savory with a tiny sweet crunch from the pearl sugar topping.  They are simple but I really like them.  It must be the Swed in me. If you are familiar with St. Lucia buns and this celebration then you know that I'm late in making these (St Lucia is celebrated on the first day of winter).  But honestly being untimely hasn't effected my enjoyment of the buns one tiny bit. Note to self: Make these every winter, preferably on St. Lucia Day.  Recipe from Bake from Scratch Magazine, November/December 2018.  The New York times shares a St. Lucia Bun recipe (highly rated) free online.

Until next time, be well love well and may your winter months be filled with warmth, comfort food, good books and cozy socks!