Tag Archives: baking results

Which is your Ultimate Scone Recipe?

my-scones-resized

This blog post is dedicated to Olga Boikess, a food journalist from the USA whom I met in May 2016.  Olga came to my home and wanted  “make scones the way they were made by Vanessa Bell at Charleston”.  Her request has opened up my eyes as to  how recipes evolve.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-17-20-12My first step was to read the Bloomsbury Group Cookbook: recipes for Life, Love and Art by Jans Ondaatje Rolls.  Under the heading of Savoury Scones, is a recollection of the kitchen at Charleston  by John and Diana Higgens , the children of Grace Higgens (née Germany), housekeeper at Charleston for over 50 years:

“ Tea was at five o’clock, and at about half past four, the kettle was set to boil on the Aga …. Sometimes, Vanessa would make scones to go with Grace’s seed cake. Standing in at the table in the poor lit kitchen with its concrete floor, she would hook her rings onto a convenient nail by the sink and slowly, carefully, sieve flour into a bowl, rubbing in the minimum of butter. Her scones were plain, unglazed and surprisingly good, like the perfect cottage loaves that her sister Virginia (Woolf), impractical as she too was, taught her young cook Louie Mayer to make.”

Paradoxically, the two scone recipes listed in this cookbook did not followed the recognised technique for scone making employed by Vanessa Bell in the above description!!   See below.

Savoury Drop Scones

dropscones

Vanessa Bell’s daughter’s recipe
for savoury drop scones
¼ lb plain flour *1 teaspoon baking powder * salt * pepper * 1½ oz margarine or butter * Just under ½ gill water * 4oz grated Parmezan (sic) * (Lard, for frying)

Melt marg & water in a saucepan. Sieve flour and baking powder together. Add (pinch of) salt & pepper. Stir in marge & water & cheese. Fry spoonfuls in hot lard. Serve hot. (Makes 16 – 18)

Drop Scones are also known as Scotch Pancakes here in the UK.  They are delicious served hot, fresh from the pan and drowning in butter. The drop scone is like a thick mini pancake.

 Soda Scones

Helen Anrep’s Soda Scones
” To four pounds of flour add two large teaspoonfuls of salt, half an ounce of soda,
and a quart of milk, in to which half an ounce of cream of tartar has been well stirred.
Mix the whole well but lightly. Cut into round cakes and bake in a quick oven, or on an
iron frying pan over a clear fire. About 15 minutes are sufficient. The scones should
rise well; they need to be turned once. Wheaten meal cakes can be made in the same
way and make an excellent breakfast bread, both delicious and nutritious.”

I found a more up-to-date Soda Scone Recipe at Oaken.co.uk, who hand-make cast iron griddle plates (another item for my wish list) under the heading of  ‘Buttermilk Scones’. I did not achieve the lovely hot/warm stable heat that I would have got with a cast iron plate – thus they got a little burnt!  The pictures below are of my soda scones cooked in the frying pan.

Soda scones

I baked half the dough in the pan and the remainder in the oven. Despite slightly burning the pan scones, I preferred their texture over those baked in the oven. I think we often forget that our equipment will have a part to play and I wonder if  this is how butter began to be added to the oven scones to provide a richness that I found lacking in my oven-baked soda scones, despite being fluffy and light?

My ‘traditional’ Scones

my-sconesThe scone recipe that I follow does follow Vanessa’s technique of rubbing the butter into the well-sieved flour (the rubbing in can be done in less than 30 seconds using a food processor). Then deftly fold in milk/ buttermilk/yoghurt/appropriate liquid into the crumb mixture in a few mindful movements and work your dough as little as possible.  The key for me is to follow a technique that embraces the chemical reactions that occur during the process.

My new discovery! Griddle Bread (or is it a large soda scone?)

Griddle Bread

Similar to the Oakden Soda Scone recipe, this ‘bread’ has baking powder (in the self-raising flour) rather than Bicarbonate of Soda. Possibly this is closer to the Margaret Anrep recipe that calls for the addition of Cream of Tartar ( found in home-made baking powder) to the milk which almost ‘turns’ it into buttermilk (a future blog will cover the nuances between different raising agents used in baking!).  It takes 20 minutes from my first thought to taking the first mouthful of warm bread – pretty much as for a scone recipe. I have adapted the recipe to use wholemeal flour and you may wish to experiment with adding some herbs or spices.

Ingredients:
225g good quality Wholemeal Self Raising Flour (or 220g flour/2teasps baking powder)
1 teaspoon ground Sea Salt
250ml – 300ml buttermilk (or full fat milk with about a tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice added)
Method:
Heat your (medium sized) frying pan or iron griddle plate on the hob until the base is evenly hot.  Then turn the heat down to about half way. Sieve your flour and salt into a large bowl, add the buttermilk and, in quick strokes with a large metal spoon or palette knife, cut and fold the mixture to form a wet dough ball.   Sprinkle some flour into the hot pan.  Scoop your wet dough into the pan. If necessary shape slightly with wet hands.  Cook for about 8 minutes on each side to make sure it cooks through in the middle, remove from the pan and cool on a rack.  ENJOY with some good quality salted butter or even thick cream and home made jam.

This Griddle Bread could easily be cut into small rounds before baking rather than a large round – perhaps then they would be called scones! My next test is to bake the dough in the oven to see how it varies and whether it is as good as that baked in the pan.

Please let me know how you get on and your thoughts about transferring from hob to oven and back again. Also – do you have a favourite take on the perfect scone for you? I’d love to hear from you. And, if you have a spare cast iron pan or plate, please let me know!

 

The Debate Between Quality Organic Flour vs Supermarket Branded Flour | My Flour Journey

I may have got into some ‘expensive’ habits when it comes to baking that I would now find hard Organic Flourto break. I am great believer in good value i.e. weighing up the cost vs. reward ratio and certainly now I apply this when using flour.

For years I would buy the cheapest flour thinking ‘flour is just flour.’ A leading supermarket own brand costs 75p for a 1.5kg bag whereas as one of the beautifully packaged bespoke milled organic brand might cost up to £4 for the same quantity. My initial thought used to be “No contest”. I was teaching after all and any increased costs took away from my bottom line.

Enter: a whole new world for me..Organic Flour

A few years ago I heard Mervin Austin of Mount Pleasant Windmill talking about his allergic reaction to flour that had manifested itself when he  previously working for a commercial bakery for many years. Having developed contact dermatitis on my hands I thought it worth trying out good organic flour; anything to alleviate the pain of the ‘burning’ on my hands.

One Sunday, as I was preparing for a class that day,  I realised I did not have enough flour and rushed to my local supermarket. Happy Eater flour was all they had in stock. The class commenced and everything fine. At the end we sat down for tea to taste everything made by the students.  I was shocked at the texture and taste of the scones this time compared to my normal results with organic flour (they were still good but once you have made something thousands of times you do become very become extremely sensitive to every change).

Since then I have practised with numerous different flours and have found the quality really does make a difference,  especially when making something very simple such as bread, plain sponges and scones

Test it for yourself:

Why not put some normal supermarket branded flour into one bowl and some superior organic flour in another (at the moment I am using Marriages flour). Place one hand in one bowl and the other hand in the second bowl. Rub the flour between your fingers. You will feel the feel the difference (I hope!) and it is that difference that comes through in your baking. The organic one is much more slippery and silky (this also applies to wholemeal and spelt) whereas the value brand  ‘catches’ on the skin. If you hold up the bowls to the daylight it is likely the value brand is whiter – it will have been bleached which covers up any chemicals and any coarseness.

Food intolerances could stem from the quality of the flour

I would also wonder if the all pervasive additives and chemicals in the cheaper impure, low grade flours in so much of our food, especially ready meals and volume baked bread, has led to a lot of problems that are labelled under gluten and wheat intolerance.  I feel it is the ingested chemicals and additives used in mainstream food  productions that  are the problem rather than the bread itself.  I was on a wheat free diet for three years and really did not feel that much better for it (although my general diet radically improved!). I now only buy artisan bread if I can; Cranks wholemeal or lots of goodies from my local baker, Paul Rhodes in Notting Hill. Occasionally I eat mainstream bread  but I notice the difference to my well being if my consumption increases from once a week or so.

Quality (and higher cost) wins for me – over lower quality cheaper options

For me the cost reward ratio has no contest – flour is a staple that underpins so much of our food – aren’t you worth it to use the best? The compliments also will come in thick and fast for the superior baking results! Please do comment below with your thoughts and experiences with flour – I’d be interested to hear from you.

No clever baking techniques – just the obvious point: whatever you put in you are likely to get out.  We sometimes forget that flour was a living organism and expect each packet to be identical. They aren’t. And I am spending money on flour, not diamonds so I think it really is a luxury you really can afford.

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