14 August 2009

Entirely at peace

I am a girl entirely at peace now. At least for a while, until a surge of desire to bake strikes again, and like a junkie I will have to anxiously wring my hands while craving for my next fix, and nervously count down the days when I could possibly take over somebodys else's kitchen again. This is how it works for me. Baking is meditation as well as addiction.

This time, the initial plan was to make a few recipes -- for granola and Scottish scones -- at Luke’s, but like I wrote, I had a suspicion I wouldn’t stop there. Blimey, I was correct.

Luke is a banana buff. He loves the fruit and always keeps a bunch of them on a large, oval, mosaic-patterned plate on his kitchen countertop. Yet it so happens that sometimes he does not take a proper care of them, which would be eating the beggars before they eat themselves, so to say. We all know that the best way to reanimate a dying banana is to put it to use in a baked something or other. A great cook as he is, Luke is not much of a baker. As soon as I cast my shadow over his doorway and saw something that formerly looked like a glowing tropical fruit but with dignity long-lost by now, the first task I applied myself to was, of course, bake banana bread.

I am proud to report that the mission was accomplished ‘with gusto’, as Luke, the enabler of my baking dreams, said. I made Molly Wizenberg’s banana-coconut bread with rum.

The whole enterprise was not easy, I must confide. While preparing the batter, I had to combat an army of fat stinging wasps who didn’t seem to be bothered by the mere fact that the kitchen was mine for the weekend.

There were many of them and I was scared. No kidding. A good thing that the recipe called for booze; I had the swift intelligence to use that not only for the batter. A few sips, and things seemed less dreadful. I even didn’t cry when I saw the final product turn out somewhat flat. I now blame it on this self-rising flour (in place of all-purpose one) as well as on an oblong baking dish (instead of a standard loaf pan) that I wound up using, both being my only options. But never mind, because despite its being deflated, this banana bread tasted and smelled supreme. Its soft, moist and coconut-laced crumb was a home for a scent so heady that it felt like there were a million of ripest bananas inside. To me, it smelled like Opium of the banana world. To eat it unashamedly in excesses was the only way to pay respect to the goodness. Which Luke and I did.

Then we walked. And while strolling through the fields with grazing cows, we ate Italian gelato.

What you see in the picture right down there are scoops of hazelnut and pistachio gelato on the right, and banana and raspberry on the left.

When at home and awaiting for another batch of baked something or other, we played video games, watched movies and ate Luke’s home-made curry. After which we walked again. And ate more ice-cream, natch.

Then there were scones. Sweet Jesus, they were viciously good. In fact, these beasts were the highlight of my baking 'work-out' past weekend. Seeing that it was my first ever attempt at scones making -- there is no excuse why I spent previous twenty four years of my life without scones in the first place -- I can’t express my delirium enough about the fantastic results I reaped, courtesy of Molly and her recipe for Scottish scones with lemon and ginger (should you own Molly’s book, A Homemade Life -- which you really should; it is a truly beautiful, personal account of food, but most importantly of life itself -- the recipe is on page 174).

I made the scones in question on Sunday morning, and they were gone sooner than they reached the table. Basically, what I did was rub butter in flour, fold in sugar and chopped crystallized ginger along with lemon zest, stir gently to incorporate, and then pour in egg-milk mixture. After which I kneaded the batter until it just came together, patted it in into a circle that I then cut into wedges.

After having hopped around them in elation, I sent them lovingly into a pre-heated oven for a mere 10-15 mins.

Reaching over a kitchen counter, Luke ate three pale-golden, puffy wedges right after I’d pulled them out of the oven. I went for two, one after another. The rest disappeared within a few successive hours.

All I can say now is that, in my opinion, Sunday mornings are made for shameless affairs with baked goods named scones.

These particular species they don’t shout ‘butter’ or ‘sweetness’ or even ‘lemon-ness’ at you. Instead, they talk in low, subtle voice of mysterious ginger and lemon zest punctuated with sugar just enough so as to allow for a sweet layer of something or other atop. They are the scones of soft and tender crumb jacketed in a thin and rugged, ever so crispy outer layer. Once in your mouth, they fall apart, or, I’d even say, melt lazily, making you crave for more. They are both tantalizers and satisfiers, these simple scones.

As Molly writes: ‘They are pretty perfect in general'.

They undoubtedly are.

But soon it came Monday with its misty morning.

Daring sun beams sneaked in through the milky haze every now and then, falling on the hay-colored floor and a cutting board, and the granite kitchen countertop.

I packed my belongings including a huge box of home-made granola -- I’ll get to that in one of my next posts -- as well as the memories, and left back to Amsterdam, to my (temporarily) oven-less life.

Scottish Scones with Ginger and Lemon

Adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Yield: 8 scones

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 Tsp light brown sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest (from about 2 medium lemons)
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup milk, plus more for glazing
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C)

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt, whisk and add the butter. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks pebbly. Add the sugar, ginger and lemon zest. Whisk to combine.

In another bowl, beat the egg with the milk, using a fork. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently to incorporate. Don’t overmix. With your hands, form the dough into a rough bulk and turn it onto a lightly floured countertop. Knead it until it holds together. That’s ok if there is some unincorporated flour left. Pat the dough into a circle and cut it into 8 edges.

Position the wedges on a baking sheet layered with parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small piece of cotton wool, brush the tops of the wedges with the milk (2-3 Tsp) to glaze. Bake for 10-15 mins, or until pale golden. Let cool for a few minutes. Serve warm plain or with butter or jam or even both.


Fabienne said...

Dear Anya,

I noticed your blog via Luke's Facebook page. In a few words: great food, great pictures of food, and even greater writing about food! I'm jealous...and hungry ;-))


Tiina said...

Ok, my shopping list for tomorrow:
-one lemon
-half a litre of milk
-brown sugar
I absotulety must bake those scones!:)
Anya, great writing, made me smile :), and what a fabulous outfit you wear in the ice cream picture! Have a lovely weekend!


Ruth Bragg said...

Dear Anya,
I am also a fan of Luke being his mother and when he directed me to your blog I had no idea what a delight was awaiting me.
Your recipes sound amazing, your life experiences challenging. But your insight of your life, your world and your love of cooking makes the reader want to see what other gems of life and food you discover.
I hope we get to meet some day. In the mean time continue to nourish my son and readers,
Another lover of comfort food,

Anya said...

Dear Fabienne, thank you for stopping by and letting me know what you think of this thing called 'Godful food' blog. I am thrilled. I mean it. As they say, pleasure shared is pleasure doubled. So here is to more! :)

Dear Tiina -- it's a very orange outfit, isn't it? :) Did you make the scones yet?

Dear Ruth -- I can't stress enough how much I treasure what you said. It'd be wonderful to meet you some day indeed! I dare dream I'd get to enjoy your chocolate mint cookies right from the oven, made by yourself. I still remember them, and crave for them too, since the time when Luke came to St. Peterburg to visit me and happened to bring along those mind-numbingly delicious morsels...

Tiina said...

Orange, yes, but also very 1920s! I'm sitting here this very minute munching the scones. Forgot to buy crystallized ginger, of course :), but nevermind, these scones are sooo good! I love how lemony they are. Thanks for posting the recipe.


toni said...

For whatever reason, I've been thinking about making scones. Thinking about it a lot, in fact. And now this.... What can I say? Pass me some flour and step aside!!

Wonderful photo of you, Anya!!!!

toni said...

p.s. I just made these.... OMG! How am I supposed to refrain from eating all of them tonite??

anya said...

Toni, I had exactly the same problem, that is, if I can call this situation problematic at all. :) Then I understood that restraint and these scones they'll never get along. Everybody will be better off, I believe, if succumbing to the goodness.

Tiina said...

Anya, I stumbled upon this article about E. Gilbert while reading The NY Times online & thought you might find it interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/books/20book.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=books