The Good Househusband: Scones

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Welcome to what should become a semi-regular feature in which I cook stuff and then write about it. Suggestions on what to make, tips, and alternative recipes are all very much welcome. The events page of your local council newsletter is not.

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Ah, September. The turning of summer to autumn, heralded by the browning leaves, the ripening crops, the terrified, pimply teenagers leaving home for the first time, and painfully overwrought metaphors about aging.

That is to say, universities start back in September, which means a new intake of first year students. At this very moment, thousands of scared, housebound agglomerations of acne and neuroses are venturing out into the world. Some are no doubt eminently prepared.

The thing is, though, I was an 18 year old boy at one point. And based on that anecdotal evidence, goddamn, 18 year old boys are awful, awful people. So I reckon it’s probably safe to assume the worst.

Which, yeah, great! Uni should be a time of discovery, of growth, of making regrettable and ill-advised life choices. By all means eat cereal for dinner or go without clean washing for a month. Discover why you don’t know any actual adults who drink Sambuca. Experience the rush of sheer joy when you find out no-one actually cares whether you go to classes or not.

But then there’ll come some occasion when a frozen pizza won’t cut it. The squirrel conservation society you accidentally joined because it was too early in the morning to read the form jammed in your face are having a fundraising coffee morning and you’ve been asked to bring something along. Your flatmates are getting a little annoyed at the heretofore unknown tiger-striped strain of mould you’ve managed to cultivate on every mug and you need some way to show them you’re sorry. Or you’ve shambled your drunk arse in from an evening in da club and need some ballast to make the room stop spinning.

Enter scones! They’re easy as hell to make, they don’t need any particularly special or expensive ingredients, you can throw in whatever flavours you feel, and they’re extremely forgiving to the lazy amateur. Even better, you can make them using that weird cheesy gloop in the milk carton that’s been sitting in the back of the fridge for a month. And if despite all that, they still taste terrible, then they’re decent for throwing at people who annoy you.

To begin with, then, switch your oven on so it can warm up. About 220 degrees Celsius should do fine (200 if you’re posh and have a fan oven) or the equivalent in gas marks, Farenheit, or any other nonsensical unit of measurement you prefer to use. 1700 degrees Flaumic or whatever.

But, yeah, do this first. Someone standing in a cluttered kitchen, covered in flour and egg, the look of triumph on their face at having actually done something more than check facebook draining away when they look at their sunken, collapsed scones is just the saddest thing. Don’t be that guy. Preheat your oven.

After that, take about 450g of self-raising flour and dump it in a mixing bowl. The self-raising part is pretty important here if you want scones instead of bricks. That said, dough-bricks will still provide decent vessels for funnelling inhuman amounts of jam into your face, so even if you can’t get self-raising flour you’ll still be able to pretend that you’re too civilised to just eat the nutella straight from the jar.

Alternatively, you can use the same amount of plain flour and add about a teaspoon of baking powder, but let’s be realistic about how often you’re going to use that shiny new packet. If you buy some baking powder, it definitely will linger in the cupboard until you move out next June.

Whatever flour you use, it should at this point be in a big bowl. To this bowl, throw in 100g of butter, 50g of caster sugar, and a pinch of salt. It should look something like this.

Yeah, I dug out whatever I could find.
Yeah, I dug out whatever I could find.

You’ll note that in that picture there are some brown specks. That’s because in the course of making these, I discovered that I didn’t actually have 50g of caster sugar, and so there’s a swatch (technical Scottish term) of soft brown sugar in there to make up the weight. Appropriately enough for a post about student baking, I also found out I didn’t have 100g of butter, so there’s a dod of margarine as well. The point being, don’t sweat the ingredients too much. I’ve made these with demerara sugar before, and they turned out fine.

Now there’s been a lot of measuring and weighing and boring discussion of ingredients so far. I understand if you want to wander off and play the xbox, leaving a bowl half full of flour and slowly melting butter in your kitchen. But don’t do that! Apart from, you know, who does that, man, seriously (although “what’s this bowl of flour doing here” is nowhere near the weirdest question to have been asked in a student flat), there’s actual action coming up! Time to get involved!

You might want to wash your hands (although I won’t tell anybody if you don’t) before doing what the cookery books describe as “rubbing the mixture with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs“. Basically, smoosh all of it together until there aren’t any lumps of butter left and it doesn’t stick to your fingers.

Yeah, I probably overstated the excitement potential of this step. Still, better than weighing flour, right? In case you’re unsure as to what it should look like, my effort produced this.

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Now, have a think. Not too hard, though, this is supposed to be relaxing. So, casually consider what sort of flavours you might want your finished scones to be. Take a gander in your fridge to see what random stuff you have floating about. Cheese is a classic one to crumble in, in whatever kind you can dredge up. Fruit, particularly dried stuff like sultanas or raisins, is commonplace.  For the more adventurous, olives would probably work. Bits of cooked bacon, nuts, chili, chocolate chips: I mean, I haven’t tried any of these, but they might be alright. A quick rule of thumb might be that for savoury stuff, lessen the sugar content slightly. But do what you want, I’m not your supervisor.

Once you’ve decided if you’re going to add a flavour-thing to your mix (which you don’t have to! Plain scones are good as well!), add about 100g of that to your big bowl. For my part, after a brief side-adventure in a ruin involving some traps, an invisible bridge, and a weird old guy who apparently hoarded cups, I discovered some suspiciously old cherries. So, cherry scones ahoy!

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I’m sure other brands were available in like, 2006.

Mix your chosen lumps of flavour into the flour, then leave that alone for a minute. Grab a jug, or a bucket, or a vase, or a bin – something that can hold liquid – and dump 200ml of milk into that. Maybe a bit of cream if you have some. I am not a qualified medical professional and take no responsibility for your heart.

As to what type of milk, well, let’s not kid ourselves. If you’ve got fresh milk of some kind, of any fat content, then great, use that. But students tend to be lumbering, shambolic, half-assed imitations of functional human beings. Meaning they’ve got something lurking in the dark, unexplored corners of the fridge that looks like this.

Friendly bacteria, anyone?
Friendly bacteria, anyone?

Yeah, that’s a fair few months old. But good news! It’ll do well in this recipe, although the slightly cheesy odour may make it better suited to savoury stuff. Regardless, hold your nose, ignore the menacing hiss when you open the carton, and put some in your mixing bucket.

It smells about as good as it looks.

To your milk, add two eggs. Take a fork and beat all of that together.

You should now have a bowl of dry stuff and a jug of wet stuff. If you don’t, come in out of the rain, and try and remember that baking should probably be an indoor activity from now on. It’s fine, though, the next step’s pretty easy. Dump your milk and eggs into your big bowl o’ flour and mix them together. See? Dropping stuff and stirring. You can do that.

When they’re mixed together, spread some more flour on a worksurface (a table, your flatmate’s desk) and put the whole mixture out onto that. Put some more flour on your hands and pat the formless lump down to make a flat sheet about an inch or so thick.

And we’re almost done! All that remains is to shape and bake your scones. If you want to pinch little circles off your sheet of dough with your hands and impress the guy/girl across the hall with your handmade, artisanal baking, then do that. All I’m saying is that that your flatmate’s half-empty tin of beans sitting in the fridge is merely a little petty larceny away from being the perfect scone cutter.

Whatever implement you decide to use, cut shapes out of your dough and place them on a baking tray. Ideally, the baking tray should be lined with baking paper, or will be one of those fancy nonstick baking sheets or something. If you’re stuck using a bin lid, then, eh, just make sure it’s been warming in the oven while you’ve been doing the other stuff.

Yes, I do actually possess a scone cutter.
Yes, I do actually possess a scone cutter.

If you’re making these to show off to someone, you could at this point beat another egg and glaze the top of your scones. That is, brush a thin layer of beaten egg over your dough-disks. It’ll make them look nice and shiny when they’re done, but that’s about it. So if following this step would entail you stealing a paintbrush or something, it doesn’t really matter.

And so to baking! Put your trays into your preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes. What? You didn’t preheat your oven? But I already mentioned it, and underlined it and everything. Well, I just hope you don’t have any deadlines or anything coming up.

Well, that’s kind of it. Go do something else for 10 minutes. Go for a walk and contemplate the unending mysteries of life. Start a decent book. Start a terrible book. Maybe try and guilt trip your flatmates into doing your washing up, if you’re planning to give them some scones. Just don’t tell them about the beans or the desk.

Ten minutes or so have passed? Then take a look in the oven. Your scones should be golden and risen, so take them out. If not, then is your oven on? Has it actually been ten minutes? Have you been able to afford to pay your electricity bill this month, or did you just forget?

But assuming you actually managed it, you have scones! Well done! Now take them out to places. Show off what you’ve achieved. Perhaps casually ring the doorbell of the flat downstairs to tell them that you just happened to be making some scones and wondered if they would like some. Use them to try and persuade that guy/girl you like that you’re capable of more things than just dressing and washing yourself! Pretend you’re a competent adult for once!

More importantly, eat the damn things. I mean, you went to all that effort to curate that horrid milk, right?

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