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Living in a 450 square-foot apartment is tricky if you love to cook and bake. Wall shelves help, as does a freestanding counter island. Baking pans are stacked in unnatural positions and wedged in tiny cabinets, and we have a bread board hanging on a nail on the wall. Luckily, we did manage to find an apartment with a dishwasher—though it's insalled directly under the sink, rendering it impossible to rinse dishes and put them into the dishwasher with any sort of grace. Needless to say, we don't have lots of big kitchen appliances.
Every time I read a cooking magazine or pick up a new cookbook, I am reminded of my longing for a food processor and (sigh) a Kitchenaid mixer. So many recipes call for these tools without explaining any alternatives. That's why I was so excited to receive a copy of Baking Unplugged from the kind folks at Wiley publishing.
In Baking Unplugged, Nicole Rees provides recipes for old-fashioned treats that don't call for any fancy equipment. With a whisk and a spoon (and a few other low-tech tools you probably already own), she makes breakfast treats and old-fashioned desserts to satisfy a sweet tooth. The yeasted cinnamon rolls sound amazing, as do the lemon squares with grated hazelnuts in the dough. (That one is very high on my to-make list.) Her directions are simple and clear, though I do wish there were pictures of the finished dishes. A long introduction explains baking down to the simplest techniques and ingredients: she wants to impart all the knowledge of old-fashioned baking the way your great-grandmother might have done.
Many of Rees's techniques and tricks for baking by hand make perfect sense, and I wish more cookbook and magazine writers would follow her lead and at least mention how a dish might be made without a mixer. Besides, it is kind of satisfying to put a dough together the old fashioned way. However, I'm unlikely to follow her all the way down this road. Whipping cream with a cold whisk may be possible, but I'm not that eager to try when a small electric hand mixer can do the job in a fraction of the time. (And without the arm cramp.)
I had never made scones before attempting the recipe in Baking Unplugged, and I was amazed at how quickly they came together. You could easily bake these in the morning before friends came over for tea or brunch. (Though they can also be frozen and rewarmed with decent results.) Straight out of the oven, they are trancendental. They're simple, tender, and flaky, with none of the off, stale flavors you find in coffeeshop scones (plus, a fraction of the cost!)
I used local cream from the farmer's market for this recipe, which I highly recommend. Because the scones have more cream than butter, and no other flavorings to distract you, the taste is one of farm-fresh dairy. They're not greasy at all. They were a touch too sugary for my liking—perhaps this is what the author means by "retro" baking. I'll scale down the sugar a tiny bit when I make them again (and watch the sugar in other recipes in the book.) I just may not have quite the same intense sweet tooth as Nicole Rees. But I'm glad her sweet tooth guided her toward writing this book.
From Baking Unplugged by Nicole Rees; Wiley 2009
Makes 8 scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (I would consider a little bit less)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream plus 2 T for brushing
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
sugar for sprinkling (crunchy turbinado sugar would be good)
Preheat the oven to 375°. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir the vanilla extract into the heavy cream. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until a few pea-sized lumps remain. With a fork, gradually stir in enough of the 3/4 cup heavy cream until the mixture just starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently pat into an 8" round about 1 1/2" high. Using a chef's knife or bench scraper, cut the dough round into 8 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet, spacing the scones at least 1" apart. Brush the tops with the remaining heavy cream and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Bake in the top third of the oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the tops are golden. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm with jam.
PS: I've added the book to our Amazon sidebar over there --------> so you can pick yourself up a copy.