March 19, 2010
Baking is what first landed me in the kitchen, years ago when the sound of my mom’s stand mixer usually meant a layer cake or whipped frosting. Catching her donning her apron suggested something sweet was in the works. A pie, her favorite thing to bake, meant leftover pie dough rolled with cinnamon and sugar and baked until golden brown would be waiting for us kids on the counter in little dishes. Yes, scraps! Spice cake meant penuche icing and devil’s food promised bright white marshmallowy boiled frosting. Either way, I was there with a spoon, eager for a dip into the leftovers. I remember watching her bake peanut butter cookies, rolling balls of dough in sugar then branding each with a fork-pronged crosshatch. She is so good at this. And when they emerged from the oven, accompanied by a scent I was convinced would also exist in Heaven, they cooled on brown paper grocery bags which seemed to occupy every inch of counter space. One of my favorite sights. I’d sashay into the kitchen. Whatcha doin’? And would leave with one (or a few) warm golden cookies. These moments stand out so vividly in my memory. Good times, good aromas, and, of course, good eats.
I don’t remember when I first wanted to do the baking myself. Here I was surrounded by amazing women who baked. And baked well. Mom’s pies and layer cakes. Grammy’s spritz cookies and pizzelles. Grandma’s potica and yeast rolls. And all of my aunts and extended family who followed in their mothers’ footsteps. Over time, holidays brought not one batch of almond crescents, but several, from the matriarch and her children who desired to carry on traditions. The changing of the cookie and nut roll guards. Perhaps this is what led me to bake. The unwritten, unspoken handing down of tradition. Not so much an expectation or duty, but rather a “hey, if you’re interested, here’s Grammy’s thumbprint recipe”. Though my one dear aunt did entrust me with my grandmother’s potica recipe along with an encouraging nudge to keep this tradition alive. I’ve committed to mastering that recipe, all five or so typed pages of it. I’ve tackled it once but have many more attempts ahead of me. You will likely hear about that recipe one day.
And so I started baking because I really enjoy the art of it all. I enjoy replicating recipes which have made regular appearances at family gatherings and holidays for as long as I can remember. I re-live certain baking memories, like cooling peanut butter cookies on brown paper bags, and create my own traditions, like toffee bars for Kyle’s birthday and chocolate covered cherries at Thanksgiving. There is a comfort in baking that drives me to bake two dozen scones on a Saturday afternoon for no particular reason. No family function or girls’ brunch. Just because. A tribute to the many who baked (and continue to bake) before me.
These are savory and a bit spicy. Amazing right out of the oven, slathered with a bit of butter and served aside some scrambled eggs.
White Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones(Adapted from The Best American Recipes 1999 via Epicurious)
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 T baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 T sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 T coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 8 pieces
- 4 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 cup lowfat plain yogurt
In a large mixing bowl sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt and black pepper. Cut in butter. Stir in cheese. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a heavy baking sheet or line with parchment.
To the flour mixture, add the yogurt and gently mix until just combined. Dough will be slightly sticky and crumbly. Using your hands, gather the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough into a 8×12 inch rectangle (about 3/4 inch thick). Using two spatulas transfer the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut dough into 20-24 squares or triangles. Separate the triangles slightly (by about 1/2 inch). Brush the tops with milk.
Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are very lightly golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack. Best served fresh out of the oven.
Makes about 2 dozen.