I got a whiff of London today, while driving along sunny Wilshire Boulevard. The smell I associate with London is slightly acrid, metallic, with a finish of burnt tires. I love it. I love it when it hits me walking out of Heathrow, placing me firmly in a time and location I find comforting.
I couldn’t quite distinguish the provenance of this incongruous London smell in the middle of Santa Monica, and it only lasted a minute but it was powerful, because, generally, Los Angeles does not possess a smell of its own: pine trees, salt air, roasted poblano peppers characterize different neighbourhoods, not the whole city.
While London has vastly changed since I lived there, I always find it has changed in a manner that pleases me, at least aesthetically, while retaining its air of austere grandeur and a touch of whimsy. I have never loved a place more: from the first moment I sat eyes on it at age 15, I was hooked, and there was very little doubt that is where I wanted to be. So very different from the medieval and colorful city I come from, London always felt like home. It still does.
Paradoxically, for someone who hails from Italy and who grew up with a farm to table cooking mother long before the term had been conceived, London introduced me to some delicacies I still crave as much as home-made tortellini and cotolette: proper fish and chips eaten out of a newspaper cone (before food trucks were trendy); all manners of curry; bagels and lox from Beigel Bake on Brick Lane (recently named the best bagel by the American foodie magazine Lucky Peach); mincemeat pies and the centerpiece of English cream tea – scones.
Not the American cousins that are more like rocks studded with all manners of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate chunks but the proper English scones, fluffy and warm, always accompanied by clotted cream, a double dare to calorie counting and cholesterol indexes. I would save for tea at Brown’s or the Ritz from time to time but my very first scone was enjoyed at the Butter Churn, a Hampstead tea shop that has long given way to fancier establishments.
On a recent Skype conversation, sofagirl lamented that she has been trying to make scones a number of times with pitiful results. “I am not a baker” she said with resignation. Maybe so. But here is the my go-to scone recipe for when I serve proper afternoon tea, with cucumber sandwiches (another English invention I couldn’t live without) and cakes.
Try it out and don’t forget the clotted cream. Neither the US nor South Africa can boast production of real clotted cream so I approximate it by adding whipped cream to mascarpone. I am Italian, after all.
RECIPE – Yields about a dozen large scones
3 cups self-rising flour 375 g (3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt can be substituted)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar 100 g
4 ounces unsalted butter at cool room temperature 114 g
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk 250 ml
1 egg yolk.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the sugar. (Or give all the dry ingredients a quick whirl in a food processor.) Cut butter into bits and work it into the dry ingredients with fingertips or a pastry blender, or by pulsing the processor, until mixture is finely crumbly. If using a food processor, transfer mixture to a bowl.
- Gradually add the milk (keeping a tablespoon aside) and mix with a fork. Knead lightly by hand to make a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 20 minutes.
- Heat oven to 425 degrees (220C). Grease a baking sheet with butter or line it with parchment paper. Roll dough to a 3/4-inch thickness. Use a 5 cm cutter to punch out scones. Scraps can be kneaded lightly for additional scones. Beat the egg yolk with remaining milk and brush on the scones. Place on baking sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes until risen and golden brown.
Yield: 16 medium scones or 10 to 12 large.
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