Baking, nostalgia, and snowstorms (plus a scone recipe)
Baking is one of the most relaxing activities for me. I’ve written before that I often stress-bake, but really I bake any day I feel the need to deeply unwind, whether or not I’m in the midst of a particularly stressful season. Generally, the recipes I choose aren’t particularly difficult or complicated. Instead, I opt for coziness and recipes that tie me to beloved people and times.
This weekend, we got hit with our first real snowstorm of the winter. Yes, we got a few inches at the beginning of January, but it wasn’t a full-on storm, you know? This one came on Saturday with high winds and low visibility and left us with about a foot of snow. Though I had things I could have ticked off my to-do list while we were cooped up inside, I found myself craving a slow and comfortable day. So, instead of doing random tasks around the house, I filled my day with reading (Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher) and baking.
I have a collection of cookbooks, so I had my pick of potential recipes, but I ended up selecting one filled with memories that I haven’t made since c. 2015: Dr. Brown’s scones.
Let me explain. Every year, my college’s English honorary hosted a tea for the incoming freshmen English majors—sort of a meet-and-greet to get to know the upperclassmen and the professors in a relaxed setting. We’d have big pots of tea, real mugs and saucers, and snacks galore. The highlight of the event, however, was always Dr. Brown’s scones.
The scones were delicious, but the thing that made them so special was that Dr. Brown had a reputation for being a difficult (and sometimes prickly) professor, one whose role it was to weed out those students who majored in English as a cop-out to avoid choosing a more fitting field of study. Her British Literature class, one of the first classes new English majors undertook, was notoriously difficult. Many students transferred to different departments by the end of the first semester.
Those of us who weathered the storm and stuck it out, however, came to love Dr. Brown and see how deeply she cared about literature and her students. The scones she brought to the tea were the first glimpse of that care. The scones were legendary, but it wasn’t just because of the recipe.
When I graduated and was busily planning my wedding, I reached out to Dr. Brown to see if she would be willing to share her secret scone recipe so I could make it for my bridal shower. In what I knew by then was her typical style, she graciously emailed me the recipe along with a lovely note expressing her congratulations and excitement for me. Though I’m sure she didn’t think much of it, her kindness and care have stayed with me and I’m grateful for it.
So, when I wanted to bake something yesterday during the storm, I returned to the scones and the kindness they hold. They’re not exactly the ones she made anymore because, as with most handed-down recipes, I’ve adapted them to my own tastes.
I hope if you choose to make them too, you’ll do so with the same care Dr. Brown showed to me all those years ago. Share them with your friends, family, neighbors, or maybe a college student who would benefit from a little connection.
My gluten-free version of Dr. Brown’s scones
2 cups of gluten-free 1-for-1 flour (my mix can be found here)
6 tbs sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ c. cold butter, cubed
½ c. heavy cream (see note)
¾ c. each of any of the following: dried fruit, jammy bits, chopped nuts, citrus zest, coconut flakes, etc.
2 duck eggs or three regular large eggs if you can’t get duck eggs
1 small egg for the egg wash
Preheat the oven to 450° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, combine the flour, 4 tbs of sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse till blended.
Add the butter to the food processor and pulse till the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Dump the mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in the dried fruit, nuts, etc. I like the jammy bits from King Arthur Baking Company best because they create delightful little pools of jam in the finished scone. When I made these this weekend, I used raspberry jammy bits and flaked coconut.
Add the cream and the large/duck eggs to the bowl and mix to combine, making sure there aren’t any dry pockets. Though this version can’t be easily over-mixed since there’s no gluten to accidentally develop, it will start absorbing moisture, so try to go quickly. The mixture will be very soft and a bit sticky.
Dump the mix out onto a lightly floured surface. Flour your hands and pat the dough into a circle about ¾ to 1 inch thick. At this point, you can either cut the circle into triangles or use a lightly floured circular biscuit cutter (like these) to create the individual scones. You should be able to get at least a dozen scones.
Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheets, leaving lots of room for them to expand as they bake. I used a standard large cookie sheet and fit eight scones on it comfortably.
Whisk the remaining small egg and brush over the top of each scone. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbs of sugar on top.
Bake on the middle top rack of the oven until the tops are lightly golden and slightly shiny from the melted sugar, about 8-12 minutes depending on your oven (mine took 12).
Remove from the oven and transfer the scones off the cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Once cool, store in an airtight container. If you don’t plan to eat them all in a few days, go ahead and freeze them.
If you don’t have heavy cream on hand, you can use a 3-to-1 mixture of milk to melted (and cooled) butter. The important thing is that you maintain the fat content to ensure the texture of your scones turns out right. Yesterday, I couldn’t go to the store to get cream because of the snowstorm, so I used this ratio and it worked perfectly.
If you make these scones, let me know what you think! Do you have a baking recipe that makes you feel nostalgic?