Friday, March 4, 2011

Baking Scones

Had you told me a year ago that I'd be really into baking scones right now, I probably would have laughed and said something like, "I think you must be confusing me with someone else." And yet here I am, baking batch after batch of scones.

I'm good at brewing tea and cooking off the top of my head (meaning sans recipes) when I focus on either activity, but I always thought I was a terrible baker. And it wasn't just my imagination -- I WAS a terrible baker. But it turns out I just needed a little focus and a few key pieces of information to be a pretty good baker. Here's what I learned that helped me go from being a terrible baker to a passable one:

1. Don't try to rush it. Cutting in butter, properly flouring a surface and kneading dough, preheating an oven fully... these things take some time and patience. When you're first learning, baking in a rush is neither enjoyable nor productive. If at all possible, cultivate a Zen approach to baking.

2. Weigh, spoon or sift your flour. Never scoop it out of the bag with a measuring cup. Seriously. You end up with about twice the amount of flour you're supposed to have. This was my main mistake in years of sub-par baking.

3. Follow the instructions. I'm what people call a "creative type," which is a nice way of saying that I don't like to follow the rules. I prefer to do things my own way, and usually that works great for me. Not so much the case when it comes to baking. (For example, I learned the hard way that "cold butter" means cold butter, not room-temperature butter and certainly not melted butter. Sure, it's harder to cut in, but your scones will be sooo much fluffier in the end!) If you're considering a shortcut or substitution (like melted butter), see step one again, and remember that baking involves many, many years of wisdom that you're unlikely to outdo with minimal knowledge of how it really works. Learning to bake is a bit like learning algebra -- at first, you have to just follow the formulas you're given and hope for the best. Once you really get the rules and have more skills at your disposal, THEN you can get creative.

The end result of this adventure in baking is a small (but growing) collection of scone recipes, including:

* Almond Scones
* Orange-Ginger Scones
* Pecan-Cinnamon Scones
* Rose-Walnut Scones
* White Chocolate-Orange Scones

My next scone-baking experiment involves baking vegan scones with virgin coconut oil in lieu of butter. If it turns out well, it will get added to the collection. Wish me luck! (And if you have any tips for baking with coconut oil, I'd love to hear them!)