Hair coloring had all but disappeared from the store shelves the day I was in that aisle—for a friend. When I came upon the second-to-last package of toilet paper I figured my luck had changed. But in the baking aisle, where the bags of flour usually were, was a vast empty space. Oh, all the scones that might have been!
Why flour? Baking has always felt therapeutic, and during a global pandemic, I appreciate I’m not alone.
On a walk with my neighbors, with six feet between each of us, Tricia mentioned she needed eggs, which were in short supply one week. In the spirit of neighborliness, since I had two, I delivered an extra carton to her back porch. Perhaps she might barter with a bag of Gold Medal flour.
The next morning, Tricia placed a plate of delectable, warm-from-the-oven, homemade, iced maple scones on my back porch, an excellent return on my investment! However, the search for flour continued.
Taking turns picking up an item at the store for a neighbor is a kindness, and even more appreciated during the recent stay at home order. My recent assignment was a pineapple and a lime; my request was always the same: toilet paper, and flour.
The blessed event finally arrived when a neighbor delivered a bag of King Arthur flour. It weighed 5 pounds, zero ounces, and measured 3.75 x 5.75 x 7.50 inches.
My neighbor, Fran was also enduring the flour shortage, fellow neighbor Kathy noted. When I next ventured out, the grocery store shelves had been restocked. Row upon row of bagged flour greeted me. Before placing one as a surprise in Fran’s mailbox, I tied a red ribbon around the bag. Being a fellow baker, she’d know who it was from. I wouldn’t have to wait long for a return on my latest investment, as I anticipated a dish of those famous buttery orbs of white flour and refined sugar.
Instead, on my socially distant walk with Kathy the following day, she shared Fran had unexpectedly stopped by with a container of her homemade Russian Tea Cakes. I was crestfallen. Fran had given Kathy my cookies.
It was some time before I casually mentioned the source of Fran’s flour to Kathy, on one of our social distancing walks. Guilt-ridden, and after two failed attempts of finding flour, Kathy delivered another package of flour to Fran. The next day, mercifully, Fran appeared at my back porch with a large container of glorious Russian Tea Cakes, usually available only during the Christmas season.
I opened the kitchen cupboard to gaze upon my newest acquisition, the still unopened bag of King Arthur flour. Those Knights must have had some mighty tasty offerings on their Round Table. A new bag of flour called for a very special recipe indeed.
I began with some heavy cream to churn some butter in my hand-operated Kilner Butter Churner. The buttermilk which was left behind was not discarded. I combined it with the hand churned butter and some of the flour, and when the aromatic, delicate, flaky buttermilk scones came out of the oven, I slathered one with a dollop of freshly churned butter: delectable.
There are still several cups of flour left in the bag, which will be carefully rationed. On my next socially distant walk, I’ll rely on my olfactory sense to lead me to the scents wafting from the open kitchen window of another baker, who might be in need of a cup of flour.
Tricia finds contentment when she puts on the music and begins baking. At press time she was starting a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. The origin of her maple scone recipe remains a mystery.
However, I was inspired by Tricia to locate my tried-and-true recipe: an adaptation of a Williams-Sonoma recipe, an adaptation of a recipe from Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.
“Maple Scones,” An Adaptation of an Adaptation
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp maple flavoring
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional) Preheat oven to 350°F.
Lightly grease a scone pan, or place parchment paper on a baking sheet.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a separate bowl, whisk egg, cream, vanilla, and maple flavoring. Add to flour mixture, stirring well.
On a lightly floured surface, form dough into a ball, and press into a 10” round, about 1” thick.
Cut into eight wedges and place into prepared pan, or on cookie sheet, a few inches apart.
Bake until lightly browned, 23-25 min.
Remove from scone pan by gently inverting pan onto a wire rack. Allow scones to cool slightly. Serve with butter, whipped cream, and jam, and a strong cup of tea. Fran’s adaptation of Betty Crocker’s “Russian Tea Cakes” (a.k.a. Italian Wedding Cookies,” a.k.a. “Mexican Wedding Cookies,” a.k.a “Snowballs”)
For Fran, her love affair with baking began 50 years ago this month, with a 1970 wedding gift: the Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book. She recalls trying this recipe 11 years ago when it was advised that it was unsafe for children to eat “raw cookie dough” containing eggs. “So I found a recipe they could make, eat, and play with before baking!” she says. “It worked well for the kids, and still tasted great for the adults. The rolling in ‘snow’ (confectioners sugar) was so much fun...and messy,” she remembers. However, she notes her own children ate raw cookie dough and survived.
Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 10-12 minutes until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.