Monday, December 14, 2015

English Scones

I taught English in Japan at a chain language school for two years. Part of the cultural enrichment that I received was the experience of working with native English speakers from a variety of places including England, Wales, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. Nearly every one of them spent time at one point or another lecturing me on what was "wrong" with American language, food, ideas, etc. They did this because Japanese people generally viewed everything related to foreign culture as it pertained to the West through the prism of American culture.

The fact that the textbooks tended to do things like spell color without a "u" vexed no small number of them. Some would write their "corrections" into the books during their lessons. A smaller number would write snide remarks in the books in response to what was perceived as an American cultural reference. I recall one book had a sentence about a fictional character taking a "psych course" at college and someone had written "Is this some awful American thing?" next to it.

This competitiveness was tiresome. Personally, I was interested in teaching all variations of English to the students and did not feel any version was "wrong," but rather that each was different. With the folks who invented the language, this attitude absolutely was not shared. They were "right" and we were "wrong." To their credit, these angry, adversarial people helped me remember language and culture differences far better than if they had been offered in a civil and convivial atmosphere.

One day while I was having lunch in a communal eating area, one of the Australian teachers was raving about the food at the local KFC. In those days, it was still called "Kentucky Fried Chicken," and it wasn't a greatly widespread chain in Japan, but we had one near the school I had worked at. I don't eat fried food so I didn't pay much attention to the joy taken at the lip-smacking deliciousness of the food there until he started talking about the "scones" that were offered. Even the Japanese called these little bready nuggets "biscuits" and that is what they are called in America. You can't go into a KFC anywhere and order a "scone" without dumbfounding the server.

I mentioned to the Australian fellow that they weren't scones, but they were biscuits. He insisted that they were scones even though they were called biscuits. After some pointless quibbling about the name of a blob of baked carbs, I let it go. I had already had more than my fill of this arguing over what was "correct" and, if he wanted to call the KFC biscuits "scones," then it was no skin off of my back.

The attentive reader may see where this is going. I tried The New York Times recipe for scones. I have a pretty amazing recipe of my own already for scones, but these are supposed to be an "authentic" English version. What they are is essentially a version of a KFC biscuit. The main difference is that the top and bottom are crispier, or at least they are straight out of the oven.

I usually make a scone recipe that is very soft and tender with a gentle crumb and a top brushed with milk and egg and sprinkled with sugar. It is undeniably a treat. It's also really not very dissimilar to this recipe. It uses a bit more butter and sugar, and has egg in the dough itself, but it's not substantially different. The results, however, are worlds apart in texture. Instead of tender crumbles like my usual scones, this is more like somewhat bread-like layers. It breaks apart along a line in the center.

I followed the recipe precisely except for one trivial difference. I added a splash of vanilla to the milk. I found that after 12 minutes the centers were still a little doughy even though the tops and bottoms were golden brown, so I threw them back in for two more minutes and that seemed to finish them just barely enough. I think that rolling them out compresses the dough in a way that may make them bake more slowly through the middle than my standard scone recipe. When I make the other scone recipe, I pat it into a round or rectangle and then slice it into triangles or squares so the texture is uniform and not compressed. For comparison, I will show a picture of those scones here as well:

The reason I'm making comparisons is that the fact that these are different is the important point. Of course, if you are used to buying your scones pre-made in a market, a restaurant, or Starbucks, you're not going to be familiar with what a homemade scone is like anyway as all of those are enormous, bread-like, over-sweetened monstrosities made by mass production. Those scones are nothing like either of these recipes. However, if you want to come extremely close to the English scone without baking a thing, you can drop by your local KFC and order a biscuit.

January 27, 2016 update: I revisited this recipe to provide an appropriate accompaniment for a faux clotted cream recipe (because I can't find the real thing anywhere in America and I can't find heavy cream that isn't ultra-pasteurized and can't make a proper version). The faux clotted cream was a bust, but I learned a few things and the scones were better the second time around.

I followed the recipe exactly this time, except that I did not roll them out. I didn't like how doing so compressed them and made a denser scone so I patted the dough into a large rectangle and cut it into 15 small rectangular pieces (which is why the scones are not round - it was a 3 x 5 grid with uneven ends). This made them rise better and cook more evenly than the first time and saved some trouble. It gave them a lighter texture overall and made them easy to split for spreads. The main benefit of these scones over my usual recipe is that they have a firmer structure and are less delicate (which is why I made them to go with clotted cream). They're good, but a different experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please remember that there is a person on the other end of this blog. Consider whether or not you'd say what you're saying if you were face to face with me. And then consider that I have the power to ignore your comment if you have poor manners and that you'll be wasting your time if you're rude.