Getting It Right Scones

Last week the Times published one of those articles seemingly designed to provoke heavy cringing in anyone who grew up in New York. It was about a group of over-privileged Upper East Side 20-somethings who wanted the opportunity to network with people just like them. They came up with the "Native Society" as the name for their new, roving club and began amassing members. Don’t bother trying to join, this discerning group has to approach you. So many things annoyed me about the piece. Of course the idea of a club based on this idiocy is horrible, there is only one population who can call themselves “Native” and they were shoved out of the way 400 years ago. So that aspect is just horrible. But what really bugged me was the idea that these kids truly believe they are the crème de la crème. And that’s where they got it wrong. If you did grow up here you would recognize most of the academic pedigrees of these “foppish scions” to be pretty mediocre. There were few really rigorous secondary schools or colleges represented. And frankly, the alums of those first rate academies would be secure enough in their intelligence to leave their little circle in order to network. It makes me nuts to think the people who read the piece, or who watch The Real Housewives of New York City, feel they’re seeing real “society.” Don’t they know that anyone who is really anything would never belong to that club or agree to have their life filmed for the world to see?

It’s like the way my father, a true Mad Man, refuses to watch Mad Men. Despite the painstaking research the show prides itself on, Dad, who was actually part of that world, thinks they get so much wrong. It makes him crazy. And even though I think he’s missing out on great TV, I can understand his rejection. When you know the truth about something it is so hard to watch people believe what you consider to be false.
Years ago a woman I know finally married the man who had put her though Hell before he finally proposed. I was privy to the ins and outs and ultimatums and it was exhausting. But she wanted that ring. (Because of course everyone knows a guy who is a pain in the neck when you’re dating is going to morph into the perfect husband as soon as he says, “I do.”) They finally got married and lo and behold she wrangled a “Vows” column in the Times Sunday Styles section. Reading it I felt like my friends were strangers. She had spun their “story” into a lie. It became all about how he gave up his bad boy image (he wasn’t a bad boy, he was unemployed) to finally settle down with his princess (okay, the princess part was true.) I wanted to scream. I had to listen to her moan and groan and then it was as if nothing had ever been out of whack. Again I thought about all the people who would read the piece and think, “What a lovely couple!” It was all wrong. Oh, and they’re no longer a couple.
Then a few weeks ago while watching Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? (Give me a break, I was cleaning out my closet) mother and daughter were told by their assistant that Perez Hilton was coming by for an interview. Well, you would have thought the Queen of England was on her way over in a carriage. Joan got all excited and said, “It’s Perez Hilton, I really want things to look fabulous.” And then she announced she wanted to serve “High tea.” Explaining to the camera she said, “High tea is a very formal English ritual. My husband was English and when you have someone you really like over you have a High tea.” Okay, I was suspicious. She went on, “There are three parts to it: it goes sandwiches, petit fours, scones.” And she jumped on the phone to her New York staff ordering them to overnight her good china. “I really wanted to do things right for Perez Hilton,” she reiterated. Okay, there is so much wrong here. First the dog and pony show for Perez Hilton is just a little sad. But most importantly, what she was serving wasn’t High tea it was "Afternoon" tea. High tea is what we would think of as an early dinner. It’s eaten around 5pm, there are plates of cold meats, fish or eggs, maybe some shepherd’s pie, sandwiches and cake. (Fun fact: it is called “high” because it was served on a higher table, where you would take a real meal vs. a low coffee table where you might pour tea and have some scones.) As far as I’m concerned this is the worst kind of getting it wrong because it is imbuing something with fanciness when it is just the opposite. Like when people say, “between you and I” because they think they sound classier when in fact, they just sound kind of dumb.
And now I’m asking myself why any of this actually bothers me? I know the truth and so what? Am I better off than someone who is buying into unwarranted pretensions? I don’t know, probably not. But still. I can’t shake it. I feel the same way about baked goods. Why does the tea shop near my apartment call the sugary, bloated, stuffed mounds studded with chocolate chunks, scones? A scone is more like a biscuit than a thick cookie—plain and simple, sometimes with raisins (blech), sometimes with currants (nice), sometimes with nothing. As in all things American we’ve managed to tart them up in translation and they’ve lost their purpose and focus. This recipe, however, is perfect. So easy to make, just slightly sweet but not so rich that some cream and jam would be overkill and light enough you could have them as part of an “Afternoon” tea party with little sandwiches and some petit fours. And maybe, if you’re really lucky, Perez Hilton will stop by.

Getting it Right Scones

Adapted from Letty Hampton, Everyday Food, March 2009
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2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon milk

Directions Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 tablespoons sugar.

With a pastry blender, a fork or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in currants.

Make a well in center; add buttermilk and egg, and stir just until combined (do not over-mix).Transfer dough to a floured work surface; knead 5 or 6 times. Pat into an 8-inch disk. With a floured 2 1/4-inch biscuit cutter, cut out rounds. Re-roll and cut scraps once.Transfer to baking sheet, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Brush rounds with milk; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until scones are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield 12-13 scones


Even in Australia said...

This cracked me up as you hit on a number of my pet peeves, including "between you and i."

Dan Shaw said...

A real scone IS hard to find. If you ever find yourself in Salisbury, CT, Sweet William's Bakery has cream scones that taste almost exactly like the ones they sold at the bakery at Selfridge's on Oxford Street many moons ago.