In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn; color your hair; watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold the laundry for a family of five. In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world; or you can just jump off it.
It is Sunday morning, and I am baking scones.
I don’t think I have ever baked scones before. The fine art of biscuit making has eluded me, and scones are definitely a kind of biscuit.
Certainly I have never made gluten-free scones, and that’s what these will be—mixed up from a combination of sorghum flour and potato and tapioca starch, with xantham gum added to make up for the lack of gluten. I am using a cookbook James checked out for me from the campus library: Gluten-Free Baking at Home, by Jeffrey Larsen. Larsen is a food stylist who loves to cook. When his mother, who’d always struggled with digestive issues, was diagnosed as gluten-intolerant, Larsen was determined to help her enjoy the things she loved in gluten-free form.
He was creating Gluten-Free Baking when he was also diagnosed with gluten-intolerance. This is a cookbook of recipes that real people use and enjoy.
The scones I am making have praline pecans (pecans chopped and swirled with brown sugar and cinnamon, and sautéed until the sugar melts and the pecan bits are coated in syrupy wonder) mixed right into the dough, and melted margarine brushed on top, with sugar sprinkled over that. Regular sugar, although the recipe calls for turbinado; I do not have turbinado sugar. I put it on the first of the month shopping list.
Before I buy it, though, I need to buy some clear plastic bins so I can sort the sudden variety of powders in my baking cabinet. I have the sorghum flour, the potato and tapioca starches. I have oat flour, sweet rice flour, and almond flour. I have buttermilk powder and corn meal, and I have all the gluten-ated flours, too—bread flour, AP flour, whole wheat flour, and semolina to make pasta. I have a premixed 1:1 gluten-free AP flour substitute. I have xantham gum, and I have granulated, confectioner’s, and brown sugars.
I pull the drawer open in the baking cabinet, and bags full of powders quiver and threaten. The other night, the AP substitute pitched over and shivered a fine white dust on the floor. It’s time (it’s past time) to organize.
When I open the oven door and check the scones, they smell warm and cinnamon-y and comforting. In a minute, I will lift them gently from the parchment paper and onto the wire rack, and then I will let them cool. When they are no longer steaming, I’ll drizzle them with a sweet, sticky, almond milk glaze.
The Scots eat scones. I know that from my mother, who tried, once, to bake some.
This did not go well. The triangles were rock hard (sometimes, I read, people call scones “stones,” but that is because of lumpy appearance, not texture) and very overcooked. I liked them, though; of course, I ate anything then. I sat and broke off bits of scone, lathered on butter and chewed thoughtfully, while my family had a battle. Someone threw a scone at someone else, and then things rapidly escalated. It may have been my mother who started it; she quickly made a joke out of cooking and baking disasters (perhaps I have told you about the salty pumpkin pies on that long ago Thanksgiving…)
I munched, scones flew, and the laughter, especially Mom’s, veered toward hysteria. What a good sport she is, I remember thinking.
I wonder, though, if she was feeling glee or feeling sorrow and horror; I wonder, now, if she was thinking, “I tried very hard to bake something special for you, and you’re laughing at it—and at me.
And…who’s going to clean up all these crumbs?”
Mom probably grew up eating scones in her extended family of Scottish cooks. Scones are an integral part of Scots cuisine, I learn from icytales.com (“A Brief History of Scones: How Did They Originate?”) They are a quick, white bread, leavened with baking powder, not yeast. The Scots made them with oats and oat flour and cooked them on griddles. (The original scones were shaped a little like small Frisbees; later, some bright cook decided to pat all the dough out into one larger circle, and cut that into triangles.)
Scones are mentioned in Scottish poetry as early as 1513.
Icytales.com and legend have it that a British royal, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861), asked her servants to bring her, one afternoon, “scones, shortbread, and tea.” She enjoyed that late afternoon nosh so very much that she decided to have those treats every day, and, because she was an influencer, the custom of an English high tea was born. The practice also elevated the popularity of scones in the UK. (Like their Celtic cousins in Scotland, the Welsh, too, had been eating them right along.)
In Scotland, the article tells me, I might hear a scone called a bannock. And Freshways.com.uk says that the name ‘scone’ probably came from the Dutch word “schoonbrot,” which means fine or beautiful bread.
Several years ago, I discovered that Panera was offering scones, several flavors of scones, and I tried, first, the cinnamon. It was crumbly, fragrant, and tender; a thick cinnamon glaze coated the top and ran down the bumpy sides of the sweet breakfast treat.
That became my go-to order at Panera; it was one of the very sad farewells I made when turning onto the Path of No Gluten. I am hoping, on this gentle summer Sunday morning, that I have found a recipe to rival that experience.
And the morning solidifies; the raucous dawn bird chorus has gentled when I pull the scones from the oven, and when Mark, stretching and soft-eyed, comes padding downstairs. I transfer the scones to their cooling rack; Mark sniffs and pokes them, interested, then puts the tea kettle on to boil.
I mix up the almond milk glaze. When the scones are cooled enough, I put two onto red and gold Fiesta-ware plates, and I drizzle them with glaze. I leave the glaze bowl on the counter, with a spreading spoon leaning against the rim, and I carry the still-warm scones out to the patio where Mark reads the morning news on his iPad.
We sip our steaming drinks and eat the scones, and they are really and truly good. Mark goes back for a second; when he emerges, he says cheerfully, “I glooped instead of drizzling.” His scone is awash in a sea of sweet almond glaze.
He eats happily.
Later, I package the remaining scones (drizzled not glooped) individually, and I put them in the freezer.
All week long, I nuke scones and eat them for breakfast, a reward after my long morning walk or a workout at the gym. It is a troubled week of gut-punch court rulings, disturbing select committee revelations.
It is a week when it’s hard to be positive, hard to feel valued by a society that suddenly seems alien and hostile.
I look for a bright side, for a rainbow cast by a prism. I struggle to conjure a scone metaphor: I have given up one way of making my breads, but I find there are still possibilities. They are more challenging, more complicated, definitely more expensive, but the scones that result are wonderful and comforting.
It doesn’t work, though; I cannot carry this metaphor to a comforting conclusion, cannot make it work with what’s going on in this world.
The best I can do is hope that we can find an alternative way forward. I have no idea what that means, or how that might look, but in the reality of now, it’s the only succor on offer.
I nuke my morning scone and try to spark hope in my heart.