Thursday, September 24, 2009

Scones for Jane Austen

Finally, after months, actually years, of drought in south Texas, we have rain. Lots and lots of rain. Weeks and weeks of rain. (But technically, the drought's not over yet). If the summer hadn't been so horribly long, hot, and dry, I'd hate it. But for now I am enjoying it, which brings me to thoughts of rainy England. What better way to spend a rainy day but watching a Jane Austen DVD, drinking tea, and eating scones? (OK, my husband prefers football and IPA, but this is not his blog).

If I was really organized, I'd find an appropriate recipe to go with every book review. But I like reading more than I like baking, and that would be a lot of recipes, so I'd probably end up writing less book reviews. Whenever possible, though, I will try to tie them together. Today I do get to combine one of my favorite foods with one of my favorite authors. The combination of Emma, my upcoming trip to the Jane Austen Society meeting, and a viewing of Pride and Prejudice (1980 BBC miniseries) inspired me to make some scones.

Jane Austen really doesn't mention food very often in her books. But, being British, there's a lot of tea drinking, and when I think of tea and English literature, I think of lovely afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, scones, and little desserts, all beautifully served on paper doilies on one of those three-tiered servers. So, scones it shall be.

Of course, if you really want to be historically accurate, you could get a copy of The Jane Austen Cookbook, researched and written by a food historian and a Jane Austen scholar. This may well be a future purchase --we're having a Jane Austen party in December for one of my library's book groups, so you may see some authentic Regency period recipes here in the future. Sadly, this would not include my beloved scones, since baking powder wasn't invented until about 1859 (see The Food Timeline for more information. A great website, I have spent hours surfing there). And I am convinced that, had baking powder been invented 50 years earlier, Jane Austen, and her heroines, would absolutely have eaten lots of scones, so make a cup of Earl Grey and eat them while you read (or watch) the works of Jane Austen, with pleasure.

Here's one of my favorite scone recipes, adapted from The New York Times Cookbook:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

5 TB unsalted butter, chilled (Use UNSALTED butter -- otherwise, you'll have salty scones)

about 2/3 cup whole milk

1 egg, beaten

Additional 1 egg, for glazing, and additional white sugar for topping.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees -- if your oven runs hot like mine, adjust it back to 400.

2. Mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk (the recipe says to sift them, but I've never bothered. Whisking will do, honestly.)

3. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender, or two butter knives, keep cutting the butter into smaller and smaller pieces, while coating with the flour, until it looks like wet sand. If you want to add currents or other mix-ins, now is the time. I'm not fond of raisins and such but dried cranberries are nice (also nice if you add a little grated orange rind). Chocolate chunks are decadent -- see, I did manage to make this a chocolate recipe!)

4. Beat the egg, add it to the dry ingredients and add most of the milk -- hold a little bit back, just in case. Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, until a soft dough is formed -- don't let it get too sticky. Knead it about 15 times until it holds together, and is smooth, but be gentle since overworking the dough makes it tough.

5. Sprinkle some flour on your work surface, and divide the dough into two balls. Flatten each ball into a 1/2 inch circle and cut into 8 wedges, like a pie. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, brush them with the extra beaten egg, and sprinkle with sugar. 6. Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes.
These are delicious served plain or with your favorite jam. Devonshire cream is traditional, but hard to come by here in the states, and rather expensive. Whipped cream or butter are also nice -- if y0u can find Kerrygold Irish butter, it is worth every penny. Or my favorite, lemon curd, a delicious lemony custard similar to pie filling. But that's a topic for another blog.


  1. "Months" of drought? Don't you mean years? I suppose 24 months is still "months" right? ;)

  2. You're right, the drought is still not over. I'll have to correct that. It's hard to believe we're still technically in a drought with all the rain we've had lately. Let's hope it'll be over soon.

  3. I love all this rain. And this weather! Finally cool weather! I feel a million times better than this summer!

  4. Yep, drought even when we had rain back in early spring and now. Kinda weird that way. The scones sound soooo delicious! I will definitely have to give them a try.
    Yum! :-)

  5. I promise to bring scones to our JA birthday party in December. :-)

  6. You're right: there is nothing better for a rainy day than tea, scones and a Jane Austen DVD. :-) Thanks for the recipe! (Hope it keeps raining down there...)

  7. Yummy scones! It's going to be fun in Dec. :)


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