It was kind of a blarg week. Not acutely blarg, but the onset of a little cold, my inability to make pairs of my clean exercise socks, and the Blue Angels’ eardrum-rattling dive bomb routine (being practiced outside my office window) muted my normal ebullience. Even my bike ride home — normally the most invigorating & cheering part of my day — did little but cause me to mutter about assholes who don’t use their turn signals. Blarg! When I got home, sweaty and brimming with piss and vinegar, I knew that only a Comfort Dinner could pull me out of this state, return me to the realm of People Whose Eyes Aren’t Fixed in a Glare.
Dinner was quick, pulled together from odds and ends hanging around my fridge and pantry. (Note: One of my favorite challenges-cum-pastimes is making a complete meal from disparate, layabout items. Bring it!) I still had approximately half a head of red cabbage left from Monday’s salad-making bonanza; I cut a wedge into coarse ribbons and sautéed it in olive oil, seasoning it with salt, pepper, and lemon-fig balsamic vinegar. (Note: Rotkohl proper is so on this weekend’s menu.) Also on the menu was Trotolle tossed with herbed goat cheese (what else?) and sausage (Aidells Portobello), steamed and sliced into rounds. Once plated, the cabbage and pasta got another vigorous grind of pepper. Not a day goes by when I don’t add another shake of pepper to whatever I’m eating.
Settled into my window-facing chair, I warmed in the late sunlight. The pungent steam rising off the cabbage, the echoing street traffic, and the way the softened cheese coated the pasta’s curlicues soothed me. I ate with the window open. I would have photographed my plate, but I was finished eating before I thought of it. Next time.
For the past three days, I’d been daydreaming about baking scones. I just finished reading Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, among whose recipes is one for scones flavored with lemon zest and crystallized ginger. Ginger, I thought, is good for colds, and scones are good for my personal well-being. What better project to stave off the onset of illness and pull me out of my personal funk? As I worked, I fought invasive thoughts of the perfectly formed, golden brown wedges, the bits of caramelly ginger peeking through.
Friday evening, the kitchen was empty. The breakfast room window was open, letting the cool air draft in. I readied my supplies — flour, half and half, lemon zest, cold butter — and put Cat Power on the iPod as I worked, cutting the butter into small cubes, chopping finely the ginger (and coarsely the chocolate), measuring the flour, baking powder, and salt into the giant old turquoise bowl.
Working in solitude in the airy kitchen, the light moving from pale to dusk to dark, placing each dish in the sink as I dirtied it, I grew calmer. The Blue Angels, asshole motorists, and other Irks of the World were far off now. Dishes washed, scones in the oven, I sat back in my chair, watching the nighttime panoramic of the intersection below. Ten minutes later, I set the scones on their wire rack, their buttery scent carrying through the apartment. I had my perfect, golden wedges; I had the whole weekend ahead of me.
I’d always hesitated to bake scones, buying into some hogwash that good scones are near-impossible to make. Following Molly Wizenberg’s recipe (with a few minor changes), I debunked this myth. Here, then, is Wizenberg’s recipe. I didn’t have parchment paper at my house so I greased the pan, per usual, with non-stick spray. I also added a goodly amount (about half a bar) of chopped chocolate (Chocolove orange peel in 55% dark). Any good chocolate will do: I’m already plotting future batches made with Scharffen Berger and Valrhona.
I recommend that you put aside whatever you’re doing to bake these scones: they are that good.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” cubes
1/2 cup half and half, plus more for glazing
1 large egg
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
3 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture, squeezing and pinching with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and there are no butter lumps bigger than a pea. Add the sugar, lemon zest, crystallized ginger, and chocolate (if you’re using it) and whisk to incorporate.
Pour 1/2 cup half and half into a small bowl and add the egg. Beat with a fork to mix well. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir gently, just to combine. The dough will look dry and shaggy and there may be some unincorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl. Don’t worry about that. Using your hands, squeeze and press the dough into a rough mass. Turn the dough, and any excess flour, onto a board or countertop. Press and knead it until it just comes together. You don’t want to overwork the dough; ideally, do not knead it more than 12 times. There may be some excess flour that isn’t absorbed, but it doesn’t matter. As soon as the dough holds together, pat it into a rough circle about one inch thick. Cut the circle into eight even wedges.
Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or non-stick spray, as I used). Pour a bit of half and half into a tiny bowl. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the scones with half and half to glaze. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer the scones to a wire cooling rack to cool slightly. Serve warm and with butter, if you like.
Note: If you plan to eat them within a day or two, store the scones in an airtight container at room temperature. For longer storage, seal them in a heavy plastic container or bag and freeze them. Before serving, bring them to room temperature. Either way, reheat them briefly in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven. They’re best served warm.
Garky’s Note: It’s true that the scones are best served warm. They’re badass with butter or pumpkin butter. These are the only two spreads I’ve tried, but I bet the scones would also be good with fresh apple butter. Also, in addition to making lemon zest/ginger/chocolate scones, I also just made a batch with finely chopped dried pineapple/dried Bing cherries/cinnamon/a splash of vanilla extract, and man, are they good. Going to have to take a scone hiatus for a bit, lest I outgrow the matchstick cords I bought today. Over & out.