Turns out my half-sour pickles and bone broth, while comforting, are not lifesaving. And on my most recent trip to Tampa I learned there was to be no miracle cure for Shay, my lovely sister-in-law. There was a miracle though. Somehow, she waited for my girls (Ryanne and Casey) and me to come and bid her adieu. The first day we sat on her sunny lanai, overlooking a pond filled with turtles, alligators and exotic waterfowl and laughed over old anecdotal Montana-ranch-tales her family was famous for. And just the next day, in hushed tones, we sang to her and prayed with her as she made her farewell journey.
Ryanne and I traveled back home and it was a long 22 hours between waking in Port Charlotte and our short night’s stay at the Airport Ramada in Spokane. The next morning, looming over my tired and grief-stricken self was the thought of co-hosting a shower for one of Casey’s high school friends, a young woman whom I adore, who’d recently had a baby. Mechanically, on the drive home I made the obligatory stop at Costco and half-filled a cart with my standard lot of prerequisite-party ingredients.
My first day home should have been a prep day, but I couldn’t muster the energy, so after a long period of procrastination, I finally forced myself into dicing and slicing most of the recipes’ ingredients and went to bed Friday night, satisfied with my culinary progress. I’m an early riser so it made perfect sense to just hop out of bed and get started when I woke a little before 4 a.m.
Cinnamon rolls weren’t on the menu, but time was on my side, so I began a sponge for sweet dough. Cathartically, I turned the mass out onto a floured board and kneaded it into a soft and smooth mound, reminiscing about life’s many events that caused me to bake when I was unsure about what else to do. My recipe for sweet dough came from my mother, and in 40-plus years filled with life’s surprises, this dough has never failed me. I do love working with yeast dough and still marvel at the magic when it comes to life, doubling in size in a warm corner of my kitchen.
I love many cuisines and cooking styles, but I was born with a baker’s heart. I’m happiest with a dusting of flour on my brow, in my kitchen in the quiet of morning, armed with my first cup of strong hot coffee, where I go about the ritual of silently preparing sustenance for all those still sleeping. Finally, I pop a pan in the oven and soon pleasing aromas waft throughout the house to greet my waking offspring and entice them down the stairs.
There’s also something really magical about the handful of simple and pure ingredients used in baking. Even without yeast, ingredients such as flour, butter, sugar and eggs can produce a variety of doughs, and depending on how you incorporate the ingredients, you can produce flaky scones or crusts, tender bread, dense muffins, light and airy cakes or crisp shortbread. I constantly consider the early baker’s delight, imagining how centuries ago they stumbled upon techniques that we use to this day.
My favorite baked good to produce is the scone, and I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I’ve turned out thousands of them. I’ve made hundreds at a time for wedding brunches and made my first savory ones (adding cooked sausage and peppers) upon the recommendation of past Missoula neighbor and client Rose Qualley (AKA Andie McDowell). Another discerning client once told me, “I’m not bragging about my travels, my point is letting you to know I’ve eaten scones on every continent in this world, and I have never tasted another as good as yours.” I’ve received similar commendation from my gaggle of grandbabes, and these days I mostly bake for them, though annually, several Angels Over Sandpoint gather with me to produce nearly two hundred of them for our annual tea. Some are served as the first course and the rest are packaged to-go, and quickly sold.
The secret to a flaky scone is very cold ingredients and quick handling, so the butter doesn’t get soft and meld into the dough. My favorite part of the process is cutting the butter into the flour by hand, rubbing it swiftly between my thumb and index finger until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Ryanne argues that she has the same success with her food processor (which I don’t agree with, as the processing bowl gets a little warm from the pulsing).
The morning of the baby shower, I loaded my offerings and arrived at the host’s home, decorated simply with lots of fresh flowers. Our newborn guest of honor never made a peep as he was passed from one set of waiting arms into another. Champagne toasts, well-intended advice for the new mother and love for this new little life flowed freely around this circle of women, who lingered long after the shower’s designated two hours. And so, it goes, this never-ending circle of life, filled with precious beginnings and poignant farewells. This month, I was grateful for both.
Whatever your reasons for gathering, bring along a basket of scones.
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbs baking powder
1 cup cold butter, cut into one inch pieces
Sweet – 1 to 2 cups chopped dried fruit, chocolate or other flavored chips, nuts
Savory -1 to cups cooked and cooled crumbled sausage, bacon, onions, peppers and fine chopped herbs
2 large eggs
Additional 2 tbs sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ – 2 cups cream
Pre-heat oven to 425 F.
•In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
Work butter into flour just until the mixture is crumbly
Stir in the fruit, chips, and/or nuts, if you’re using them.
Set aside (you can even freeze at this point, to have ready on a busy morning).
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the, eggs, additional sugar, vanilla and cream (start with the lesser amount of cream, add additional cream to dry mixture, if needed).
Add the liquid ingredients (reserve a couple tablespoons) to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.
Scrape the dough onto a floured surface, and with floured hands, lightly knead dough, adding a bit of flour to the mixture if sticky. Roll to about 3/4” thick and cut with 2 ½” round cutter. Repeat until all dough is used.
Place scones on parchment paper-lined sheet pan, about ½” apart.
Brush each scone with leftover liquid mixture, then for savory, sprinkle top with sea salt.
Bake immediately, or freeze to bake in the next couple hours, or wrap and freeze for up to a month.
Bake the scones on middle rack, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.
Remove the scones from the oven, and cool briefly on the pan. Serve warm.