I admit that sometimes I'm a baking wuss.
Seriously, I can be such a damn sissy about things that it gets to the point where even I roll my eyes back at myself. When it comes to fluting a pie shell or piping icing I can be a total buttercream drama queen.
Now it's not that I don't mind getting my hands dirty. I garden something fierce these days and I've earned the grit under my nails. I've worked with chocolate and beets until the skin on my hands is stained shades of scarlet and henna so dark you would think I spent my time elbow deep in vats dying textiles under the summer sun.
Still, we all have our particulars. I for one hate making scones.
The general reaction to this is from other bakers one of shock and awe. All of my old pastry teachers have chided me for my complaint. "Why?" they ask. "Why do you hate making scones? They're so easy! So simple! So quick! Four or five ingredients tossed into a bowl, bake, and done. Why such aversion, Garrett?"
Simple. The dough is incredibly sticky and I don't like getting messy, tacky, gluten-y (with emphasis on the "glue" syllable in that word) dough all over my hands and fingers. It's an unpleasant texture and I just don't like it. It's gross and unpleasant. Try to clean yourself and - bam! - the faucet is a now a mess as well. It feels like I have chunks of afterbirth sticking to my fingers and, and, and, UGH!
And, you know, I follow this up with a melodramatic show of pouting. It's not real bitching if you don't make a show of it.
I know what you're thinking; Me!? Drama!? Perish the thought. I'm a paragon of levelheadedness and rationality. Except, of course, when I'm not.
Still, through my near-farcical moaning most bakers just stare at me for this truly pathetic recipe hurdle of mine. I can do wedding cake. I can do charlottes. But they are befuddled when in comes to my scone-y whining for the most base of reasons.
But not Teresa. No, no. Not the head pastry instructor at American River College here in Sacramento. She who won't scold me. Won't chastize me. Not a single sigh will escape her lips. She just grabs the flour and shows me best.
I was about to teach a food writing seminar to her students and had a bit of time before as one of her classes was wrapping up. She noted that she had just taught biscuits and scones the other day and to that I mentioned my aversion to getting my fingers covered in clumps of floury, dusty dough. Furthermore, I added, I just never seemed to really get that super tender crumb that all great scones possess.
She looked at me. "Are you kneading them a lot?"
"Define a lot," I said with a hint of playful smugness, teacher to teacher.
"More than three or four times tops," she said flatly, turning away from me to reach a large mixing bowl and a gallon of heavy cream.
"Oh, yes. I knead that thing like a British nanny beats her charge in secret. Should I not?" I replied.
"Watch," she said.
And so she began to make scones. She gathered up her flour, sugar, and salt; and while she measured she put me to work chopping a bit of chocolate. She worked diligently, quickly but without rushing, and simply did the steps that had to be done. "Scones," she explained in a scholarly fashion, "shouldn't take more than three to four minutes of your time. They're designed to be fast and satisfying; easily customized to whatever is nearby."
She whisked together the ingredients and tossed in the chocolate - "You can use whatever mix-ins you want with this recipe. Fruit, nuts, and cheese is fine. If you want something savory, then omit the sugar." - before adding the cream.
She explained that with scones you have to get dirty. Just accept it. A spoon agitates the flour too much and causes too many gluten bonds to develop. Your hands are soft, delicate, careful, and nothing like a hard spoon.
Her hands swirled around the bowl clumping and fluffing everything together. A little more cream was poured in for good measure and, ta-da, she had a rough dough.
She turned it out on the counter. By then a small group of students had gathered and we all stood quietly absorbing the impromptu lesson. "Just knead it once or twice to bring it together, and then form it into a disc," she said to us all.
And that was it. No more kneading. A whish and whisk of her hands with a pat-pat-pat and the dough was formed into a flat disc no thicker than an inch. She took the closest knife and chopped it into a equal pieces.
"Brush them with cream," she said as she did so, "to give them a bit of color when they bake."
She split them up, baked them, and ten minutes later: Scones.
Tender scones. Moist and tasting of cream. Flecked with flakes of chocolate and studded with chunks of it, too. The flavor was simple but riveting.
She washed her hands and grabbed a paper towel to clean the faucet where her previously dough-laden fingers turned on the spigot. "You will get dirty. Take off your rings beforehand. Clean up after like you would for any cooking activity. No need to make drama about it."
She was right.
So, now I don't. When I make scones I barely even touch them. I'm gentle and fast. My hands get sticky. The bowl gets covered in adhesive bits of wet bread flour. The sink gets a wipe down with a paper towel. No prancing about the mess of it.
You just make scones. Deal with it.
Now, these chocolate-coconut scones I made at home are quite excellent for a particular reason. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Fearless Chocolate, a company in Oakland, California. They told me about their chocolate bars and at first they and the chocolate seemed a bit too hippie-granola.
The website explained that the chocolate was organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, Kosher, and so on. See? Hippie-granola. Generally, this is a turn-off because these kinds of chocolate bars usually taste as bitter as those unpleasant childhood memories where the class bully teases you. Often flat, gritty, and uninspiring this is chocolate I take pains to avoid.
What caught my attention, though, was the fact that the bars were also processed raw, meaning the temperature was kept under 108F to process the bars. Chocolate made with nearly no heat? "I think not," I said to myself. Plus, while once in a while you can find a few palatable raw foods, overall it is a trend of food I wouldn't mind seeing quietly die off like a Kevorkian patient.
I admit though, the fact that someone found a way to make chocolate like this shocked me. So I wondered if it was any good?
I was intrigued by the e-mail from Daniel, Fearless' PR guy. It was engaging, funny, and real. He addressed me by name, demonstrated that he read the blog, and his delightful brand of humor tickled me right. He asked if he could send me some samples to try and - if I liked them - that maybe I would write a post.
Between his personal e-mail and the product description I said something I rarely say to product pitchers: Please do.
I'm not being paid for this post. I'm writing this little review because the chocolate is simply some of the best I've ever had. Mellow and dark without being overly bitter. The flavors are spot on, dignified, and well blended. The peppermint and green tea bar was both refreshing and subtle. The coconut mixed bar is just bangin' with an intense coconut flavor that even BF, an avid coconut hater, enjoyed. The hibiscus and ginger? As fruity and piquant as a smashing first date.
For these scones I chopped up the Exploding Coconuts bar and the Dark as Midnight bar. To that I added a confetti of flaked coconut.
The taste was astounding. Full and intense. Even better, the chocolate withstood baking without any sweating or melting. High marks all around.
I talked to Daniel and we've got a little giveaway involved for you all. To win this all you have to do is leave a comment in this post. The prize is a package of three Fearless Chocolate bars.
Even better than that? There's another prize and another way to win! A one month membership to Fearless Chocolate's Eat Mail, a unique chocolate treat that varies month to month and is sent to the subscriber as a surprise. (Secret: I hear this next one is all citrusy and salty!) Go to Fearless Chocolate's Facebook page and become a fan. Then, comment on the thread about that talks about this Vanilla Garlic post and the contest.
See? Easy. The contests close on Friday, July 1st, at midnight. Winners will be announced on July 5th.
NOTE: This contest is now closed.
Best of luck! Please enter and then do yourself a favor and get over getting messy and make yourselves some scones.
6 oz bread flour
2 oz sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 oz Fearless Chocolate: Exploding Coconuts, chopped
1/4 cup flaked coconut
6 oz cream
1. Whisk together the bread flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda. Next, whisk in the Fearless Chocolate and coconut.
2. Add the cream and use your hands to gently bring together the ingredients. If you need to add a bit more cream then do so judiciously. It will be sticky and clumpy. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead twice (push-squish and push-squish, done).
3. Form the dough into a disc and cut into 6-8 pieces. Brush with a bit more cream.
4. Bake at 425F for 10-15 minutes or until golden.