The particular comfort of scones
October 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
I did not grow up in a house with a mother who baked homemade cookies or apple pies made from scratch. I did not grow up in a house with a mother at all, and when I did see her, at her house with its big kitchen, she always preferred real cooking — chili, grilled veggies, tacos, pasta — to baked goods. We did cinnamon rolls that popped out of a can and funfetti cake from a boxed mix, but even those were rare. Better instead to buy ice cream from the fast food place by the swimming pool — after all, it was summers when I saw my mother most, and who in 90-degree weather wants hot cookies fresh from the oven when you could have a cone of soft-serve instead? If I craved chocolate chips, well, there was always Chips Ahoy.
At home, my dad cooked, though at times it might be more accurate to say he microwaved. He also grilled, either outside or on the George Foreman, and he fried eggs and burgers and frozen hash browns. We ate soup from cans and macaroni from boxes and hot dogs the color of sand and I don’t know if it’s because we were poor or because he, like me, never learned how to be comfortable in the kitchen. Of course there was no baking. Sweets were purchased from the grocery store, or, on special occasions, Dairy Queen.
In short, I grew up barely knowing how to cook and not knowing at all how to bake. Through college, with a well-supplied dining hall and a few good on-campus eateries, this suited me fine, but once I graduated and was thrust into the privileged tedium we call “the real world,” the world of a 9 to 5 job and a fully-equipped kitchen in your rental house, I needed to learn how to get by. I learned to cook: homemade soups, roasted vegetables, whole wheat pasta dishes, spinach omelets. I fell in love with brussel sprouts. I started eating almond butter.
But all of this was mostly about survival. I like what I cook, but there’s an urgency to it. I get home from work, I’m hungry, I don’t want to spend my whole night in the kitchen. I can’t relish it, though I’m trying to learn to.
Baking, on the other hand, is fun. There is no need for it. If there are no cookies or muffins or cake in the house, that’s not exactly a problem. But ever since my former roommate Heidi first tried to teach me about baking, walking me through making an apple pie (crust and all!), letting me help as she made chocolate meringue cookies and green tea cheesecake, I have slowly formed my own interest in baking. Now that Heidi’s moved to the east coast, I’ve taken over most of the baking, and it’s become something of a ritual for me. On Friday nights, I bake. Nothing complicated, usually, just a batch of cookies or a sheet cake. Now that it’s autumn, I’m worshipping at the altar of the pumpkin and baking every pumpkin recipe I can imagine. Most recently, scones.
I made pumpkin scones, from this recipe at Brown Eyed Baker. Since I was already making one batch of scones, I decided to also make one of my favorite go-to scone recipes: apple-cheddar scones from Smitten Kitchen. I made a few adjustments. I prefer round scones, so I made these round instead of triangular; the baking times were about the same. I also passed on the recommended glaze for the pumpkin scones and instead smeared them with clotted cream. However you like them, I strongly recommend pairing them with a hot cup of tea. I had jasmine this morning.
Here’s the thing about baking: it can be a kind of meditative experience. It is for me, more than yoga (which I still hate). With baking, you have ingredients, you have measurements, you have a recipe. Sometimes it helps to know a little about what you’re doing, so you can make adjustments. But mostly, all you need to do is follow the directions, put the work in, and be ready to be disappointed. Because sometimes it’s not a great recipe, and sometimes you make a mistake. But sometimes everything turns out well. The food tastes good. It’s the perfect texture. Your friends taste it, say they love it, eat some more. The house smells warm, welcoming. You are happy.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m buying in to an outdated concept of domesticity. Maybe I’m trying to make up for the fantasy home I never had, the fantasy homemakers my parents never were and never could have been. So my house was small and dirty, our furniture old, salvaged from street corners and generous friends, our food cheap and bland, our cookies pre-packaged. So that was how it was. Now I live in a big city and in a big house, with our IKEA furniture, our 2.5 bathrooms, our ample counter space. Now I am grown up and live in a house where we eat scones, warm, homemade, drinking looseleaf tea and talking about books and politics like we’ve been this way forever.