When I was a kid, my Grandma used to say “My mother always told me that you could either do sponge or scones, but not both.” She would say this with a twinkle in her eye – because naturally she could do both. I’m not a huge sponge fan so when I went gluten free I didn’t really miss it, but my husband did. So one year, for his birthday, I asked both of my grandmothers for their best sponge recipes. The first attempt was a shambles (fold in your egg yolks, people) but the second attempt was successful and the birthday was saved. I have made the sponge a couple of times since, and I have actually found I’m rather fond of it done as a swiss roll with whipped cream and fresh strawberries inside.
Emboldened by this success, I decided that my next baking adventure would be scones. Contrary to my opinon about sponge cakes, I loooove scones. Unfortunately for me, they turned out like rocks. I wasn’t accustomed to failure in the kitchen back then – I hadn’t been living out of home very long and I’d only really been cooking recipes I knew well. I consoled myself with Grandma’s advice and let the matter rest.
Fast forward a few years and I went to lunch at a friend’s house with my kids. By pure chance, she had decided to make us gluten free scones. They were fabulous, particularly after a decade long scone drought. I ate myself stupid and she laughed when I kept telling her how awesome they were. When I explained my failure with scones previously, she gave me a few tips. Feeling a renewed surge of hope, I went home and baked a batch of scones the next day. They flopped. I tried again a couple of days later. They flopped again and I couldn’t work out why, so once again I let it go.
Fast forward another twelve months or so. I met with some writerly friends for morning tea and the sweet little café served gluten free scones. They were delicious and once again reignited my scone desire. I came home and began researching extensively, determined to work out what I was doing wrong. Surely I wasn’t doomed to a life without scones?
After reading boatloads of recipes that all seemed the same, I voiced my frustration to Grandma. I vented and paced and waved my arms over my head and when I was done we laughed together. When I lamented (in good humour) that her mother’s saying had cursed me to an eternity of sponge cakes, she asked to see my scone recipe. She read it over and said, “They don’t tell you how to mix it properly.”
Ummm what? I point out that yes, the recipe says mix into a dough. All the recipes say that, Grandma. She looks at me like I’ve said the most stupid thing in the world (which I had) and said, “You mix it with a knife, Samantha.”
A knife? Is she nuts? Clearly seeing my confusion, she calmly explained to me that when I was ready to mix, I should get a butter knife and use a cutting motion over and over until it makes the dough. Don’t stir it! Cut it. We had a long moment of staring at each other over the top of the recipe, her with that twinkly-eye look and me with dumbfounded amazement. I asked for more tips and she walked me through her scone making regime. There were a few small things to adjust but the knife was major. Game changing.
I wanted to make a batch right away but I was too frightened. So I waited. Then one night a couple of weeks ago I came to the kitchen to make dinner. Pork chops, which I had been intending to slice apples over and serve with veggies – only there weren’t any veggies. I scoured the pantry and found a tin of peaches. Um, thanks, pantry gods. As I was poring through my recipes for inspiration, out fell a recipe for spiced apple damper (made with a scone dough) and I knew the time had come. Pork chops with caramelised peaches, potato gems and spiced apple damper. I could do this. As I was working, I could hear Grandma saying “mix it with a knife, Samantha.” I poured in the milk, got a butter knife and sliced that mix into a dough, even though it was one of the weirdest feelings. I turned that big lump of dough onto the tray, made it a damperish mound, put it in the oven and prayed to my Grandpa for a little of his wife’s baking skills.
It worked! Even better than that, it was delicious. To make sure my success wasn’t a one off, over the next week and a bit I followed up with a parmesan and parsley damper, spiced apple and blueberry scones, cranberry and almond loaf and finally, my old nemesis, the ordinary scone. I even halved and then quartered the recipe measurements to achieve the serving sizes I needed and it still worked.
I feel as though I have passed some sort of cooking test. I have officially joined the echelon of home cooks who can produce both a sponge AND scones, in spite of the opinions of my great grandmother. And it feels great.
More importantly, it’s delicious!
How about you? Do you have particular dishes that haunt you or that you have worked hard to perfect?