February 6, 2009

Origin of the Scone: Cate Blanchett or Bob Dylan?

Every time I say "scone," I feel grandiloquent. The word "scone" just sounds so hoity toity, like something an aristocrat's Persian cat nibbles on while it suns itself in the bay window. (I want to be that cat!)

"Scone" is such a bourgie word. In fact, it's difficult to say it without sounding British. Go ahead--say it to yourself: "Scone." Did you hear your inner Brit intone with glee? Scones bring the Cate Blanchett out in all of us.

This British connection makes sense. After all, scones are a traditional Scottish quickbread.

(However, it should be noted that 2/3 of all Brits (and 99% of Scots!) pronounce "scone" the same as "con" or "John." Most Americans, on the other hand, rhyme "scone" with "cone." Funny, then, that by warping the British pronunciation, I feel more British. Well, you know what they say: One American woman's ballroom is another country's crackhouse.)

You know what they also say: one country's scone is another country's biscuit.

But, let's not muddy my old money image of "scone" by calling her "biscuit." There have got to be some differences between British scones and North American biscuits, right?

Despite their similar texture and appearance, some would argue that these two quickbreads are not the same bird. For one, scones "rely on cold butter for their delicate, flaky texture, while biscuits are more often made with shortening and are crumbly rather than flaky" (Incredibly Credible Wikipedia). However, this definition alone does not work for me. I have referred to many butter-heavy biscuit recipes in my day. And the line between crumbly and flaky is, at times, hard to draw.

What about the tasty nibs we associate with scones? Visit almost any coffee shop in the States, and you'll find rows of scones dotted with innumerable tasty treats: berries, nuts, pears, M&Ms, white chocolate chips, candied ginger, peppermint chips, etc. Well then, you might be thinking, is a sweet nib the distinguishing marker between a scone and a biscuit? Well, maybe...but one could also argue that these nib-encrusted scones are just biscuits with a boob job.

Some would say that the overall dining context is what separates a scone from a biscuit. For example, Dorie Greenspan, fabulous blogger and author of Baking with Julia (as in Childs), says that scones "are made in a manner similar to biscuits and, in fact, share biscuits' buttery-layered texture, but their name, their shape, and the fact that they're served with tea rather than gravy, lift them to the level of fancier fare." For Greenspan, then, it isn't so much a difference in ingredients that distinguishes a scone from a biscuit, but a difference in presentation, culinary accompaniments, and overall setting.

In other words, slather some gravy onto that quickbread, and you've got yourself a biscuit; sip on some Earl Grey while contemplating your fanciness, and you've got yourself a scone. The difference between a scone and a biscuit, then, almost becomes a matter of performance--like acting. If we suspend our disbelief for the duration of the act, then scone exists. Allow me to use Cate Blanchett (once again...yay!) as an example. In the 2007 movie I'm Not There, Blanchett changes her accent, hair, mannerisms, posture, clothing, tone of voice, and overall Cateness to "become" Bob Dylan circa 1965. However, underneath it all, wasn't she still Cate Blanchett, a stunningly talented British actress? Wasn't she a biscuit underneath all those layers of Dylan? Is "scone," then, just an act we choose to believe in until the credits roll?

Hrmmm. The distinguishing line between scone and biscuit, for me at least, still remains a little blurry. (As is the line between sanity and insanity in my cerebral cortex.) There's got to be a real and solid way to draw the line between the North American biscuit and the British scone--one that doesn't involve postmodern theory. Or lame & awkward comparisons between quickbread and Cate Blanchett.

Ah ha! Here's some data you can sink your teeth into: Kitchen Saavy says that scones usually call for both cream and eggs, which sets them apart from their biscuity counterparts. Scone recipes often call for more liquid as well, which makes them "a bit more cake-like in their consistency." And while biscuits may or may not call for sugar, a touch of sweetness is the norm for most scone recipes.

So, there you have it: One woman's biscuit is not another woman's fancy scone. Or is it? I guess the decision is all yours! While you're busy figuring out which side of the quickbread pond you fancy most, here's a tasty scone/biscuit recipe you're sure to fall in love with. Enjoy this ballroom (or crackhouse) treat!

Vegan Ginger, Pear & Almond Fancy Scones (or Biscuits)
(makes 8-10)

1 3/4 cups spelt or whole wheat flour (spelt has a nutty flavor, and it's full of fiber!)
1 Tbs. baking powder
2-3 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
pinch of nutmeg
1/8 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup chopped almonds
3 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 c. rice milk (with 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar)
1/4 cup chopped pear (the softer, the better)
a drop of maple syrup or honey never hurts!
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Set oven to 400 and grease a cookie sheet with a drop of oil.

2. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until combined. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. The dough might look a bit lumpy, but that's okay. You don't want to over-stir, as the scones could turn out tough as a result.
3. Drop dough onto your cookie sheet with a big spoon. The size and shape of your scones is up to you! Before baking, sprinkle a little sugar on top. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until you see a little browning around the bottom edges. I have found that spelt dough doesn't rise as much as white or wheat flours do, but the nutty taste makes up for the lack of puff!


Breedale said...

No matter how you say it or what you call them, they still look good!! I love how you can incorporate both Cate Blanchett and Bob Dylan in a blog about scones. Who does that? Only you! Good job!

Jada Ach said...

Woops! I spelled her name wrong! Thanks for helping me save face, darlin!

By the way, Bread Experiment #2 will be initiated tomorrow. Ahhh! I might be calling you for some suggestions!

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