Q. In 1966 I emigrated from England. I remained in Miami until retiring a few years ago and moving up to the Gainesville area. One of the things that I have struggled with over the years is trying to make scones.
I have tried numerous recipes, but they never seem to come out right for me, and I have never been able to settle on a recipe that worked well. It’s embarrassing to think that an English person cannot make scones. Any assistance with a recipe would be greatly appreciated.
A. There are lots of recipes for scones, but I’m happy to provide one, though I know I invite quibbling over ingredients (Should you include an egg or not? Should you use buttermilk or sour cream? Should you add sugar, and how much? Should you include raisins, other fruit, or none at all?).
Better than a recipe, though, I think a quick primer would help anyone who wants to make a crumbly, tender and buttery scone. These are tips I learned from my daughter, who lived in Dublin, Belfast and London for several years and approaches her scone baking as an art form:
Especially on warm days, or in a humid climate, it is essential that the butter be almost frozen, and the buttermilk ice cold. You should work quickly so the ingredients stay cool — that will make for a flakier, more-tender scone.
Genevieve picked up a handy trick of putting a stick of butter in the freezer for 30 minutes, then pushing it through the large grater of a food processor. You end up with lots of small icicle bits that are easy to distribute through the flour. No doubt you could use the large holes on a hand grater as well.
Handle the dough as little as possible. At Ballymaloe (the best-known Irish cooking school) you are told to make a claw of your hand, and use only your fingertips to incorporate the flour, keeping the fingers stiff and basically raking the wet ingredients into the dry.
You don’t want the dough to be even or smooth — you just want to disperse the butter and incorporate the remaining ingredients. Resist the temptation to add more flour, other than what you’ve used to dust your board. The dough should be wet and a bit sticky, not clean and smooth like a yeast bread dough.
Put away the rolling pin. Pat the dough, don’t smush. You can use a knife to make the traditional wedge shapes from a round of dough, or to make squares from a rectangle. If you want perfect circles, use a biscuit cutter rather than rolling dough into balls with your hands.
Once you’ve put the dough onto the cookie sheet, put the whole thing in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to rest after any stretching has taken place and will make the dough flakier.
Put your baking sheet on the top rack of the oven, rather than the middle one, to ensure the scones rise well and get a nice, burnished top.
Reader Question: Bourbon Sauce
Q. Sometime in the early 1990s I sent away for a recipe booklet from Tabasco that was a collection of various barbecue sauces from around the country. My favorite was a bourbon one, great on chicken thighs and on ribs.
I foolishly lent the book to a friend who tasted the sauce and loved it and now she has misplaced the recipe. I’ve looked all over. Any chance you can help?
A. Sometimes you have to go old-school. Though I found a lot of intriguing recipes on the Tabasco.com website (such as the fantastic kicked-up mojo here, which is great on skirt steak), I had to go to my filing cabinet to find the booklet you remember, which indeed is from the ’90s and includes the bourbon recipe (keep reading) along with everything from Brooklyn Kosher to Wyoming Wild in its 18 pages of grilling sauces.
Tried and New
One of the things I hate about grilling is cleaning and oiling the grates, especially when I’m using a sugary barbecue sauce. Grill Wipes attach to the bristles of your basic wire brush and apply grilling oil to any grill grate, hot or cold, to help prevent food from sticking.
They’re designed with a fiber that can be used even on hot grates and oil that does not burn off even at high temperatures. They don’t flame up like sprays, are non-toxic and biodegradable. Find them at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Publix and other stores, or at gratechef.com ($8.99 for a package of three).
Q. I have lost a recipe I had for a Japanese fruit cake that was from the old Miami News, probably in 1964 or ’65. I served it at my sister’s bridal shower, and now we are planning a 50th wedding anniversary, and I’d like to make it again. This was very different from the usual fruit cake and was baked in three layers with a orange and coconut filling. I’m hoping someone has saved the clipping since the newspaper is long gone.
Mary Bobbit, Homestead
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172. Replies cannot be guaranteed.