Wednesday, July 21, 2010

O Danny Boy, The Pipes Are Callin' (to Eat Some Scones)

I grew up on Cape Breton Island, a smallish island in the north Atlantic in Eastern Canada, which is part of the province of Nova Scotia. Although there were/are many ethnic groups represented there, the dominant groups are the Scots, English and French, all representing competing histories that were often in conflict. That is mostly in the past today. Cape Breton, recognized as one of the most beautiful islands in the world by the UN, is a peaceful place, with long, cold winters and short, cool summers. It rains a lot - except in the winter when it snows a lot. I mean a lot. There are seals in the harbors and puffins on the cliffs. And some of the world's best fishing grounds are just off shore. Needless to say, the food is simple, satisfying and hearty - stews, and fish baked with potatoes, carrots and onions. Lot's of fish. The bread is crusty and used to sop up gravies and sauces. Desserts and breakfast breads are a bit of a treat but very traditional.

The largest ethnic group on Cape Breton today are the Scots (Nova Scotia means 'New Scotland' in Latin), and their presence is felt everywhere. I remember in high school, where we sat alphabetically, that during a particularly harsh winter and a bad flu season that the class was divided in two as all the 'MacDonalds' were out sick! So, in deference to those memories, I am posting a recipe, with several variations, for scones. I know that some people think scones come from England and not Scotland. The truth seems to be that they are native to both places with some differences. They are practically identical, actually. Anyway, for the record, English scones use milk or cream whereas Scottish scones use buttermilk. English scones are also more likely to have some kind of glaze - sugary and delicious. Also English scones are round, cut with a cookie-cutter, and Scottish scones are wedge-shaped. Or is it the opposite. Oh well, nothing left to do but eat these scones and worry about all that later.

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cold butter
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons raisins or dried currants
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Here's what you'll need to do:
In a small bowl, combine the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and baking powder.
 Cut in butter
until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Stir in the buttermilk, raisins and lemon peel until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead gently only 5-6 times or
until no longer sticky. Do not over knead! That develops gluten which means structure which means bread! We want crumbs, remember? On a lightly greased baking sheet, pat dough
into a 5-in. circle about 3/4 in. thick. Score the top, making twelve
( English scones are cut into circles with a cookie cutter).
Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar; sprinkle over the top. Then glaze with beaten egg white.

Bake at 375° for 23-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from pan to a wire rack. Break into wedges. Serve warm. Yield: 12 scones.

Variations: If you use milk, the scones will be lighter but not quite as rich. To make them super-rich use sour cream. To make them super-light, use yoghurt.
You can use all different kinds of fruit, apricots, peaches, blueberries (or any kind of berries). 
Substitute 1/3 cup oatmeal for an equivalent amount of flour.
Use nutmeg instead of cinnamon.
Mostly just enjoy!

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