Sunday, February 22, 2009

Let Them Eat Scones

I’m going to throw a tea party. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while now, but there have been two significant hitches in my plan: one, that my residence is ever-changing; and two, that I fear the gender implications such a party would have. Because seriously, I want to do it up right: silly clothes and silly decorations and silly invitations. My best friend has even offered to let me use her grandmother’s antique tea set, and you bet I’m going to sit it on a doily or something.

Over the months, I haven’t let myself mull this party properly, though; it feels like I’m selling out. I have hairy arms and hairy legs and get into hairy situations. I’m not supposed to want to throw tea parties! I didn’t even have tea parties as a kid (too preoccupied with lesbian Barbies that got it on at the drive-in); why are they so appealing at twenty-two?

Well, there are a few reasons. I think part of it is that I like planning social occasions. As much as women are stereotyped as the centers of social networking, I don’t think that’s such a bad quality for members of either sex to develop. So here I go, embracing being a bringer-together of people. In this particular instance, I want it to be an all-female event because I’m looking at it as an opportunity to enhance my female relationships. Patriarchy has successfully pitted a lot of women against each other because a lot of us (myself included) have bonded to men in our attempts to reject traditional femininity. And in bonding to men, we’ve wound up unknowingly siding with them a lot of the time - to the greater detriment of our sex. Ladies having lady friends is important in the same way that POC caucuses are important at radical events: sometimes there are things that only folks that share your identity would understand. How strange that I want to develop this camaraderie through such a symbolically-oppressive event!
This brings me to my next point: that I like doing traditional things ironically. Face it, everyone does now. Those knitting patterns with skulls in them? Shit like “his” and “her” flasks? 3D wood puzzles that make guns instead of planes? We can hide behind the politics of subversion or say we’re challenging the routines of everyday life, but what it realty comes down to is this culturally irrelevant Urban Outfitters “LOL”-wave that we’re all riding. Whatever, fuck it; I’ve accepted it as a fact of my generation. Who am I to pretend to be immune?

The final reason is that there’s this part of me that longs for some sense of routine, of occasion. People used to get dressed up to ride airplanes. If someone asked you to stop talking during a movie, you did it. Dinner was eaten at a table. Not all traditions need to be resurrected (I’m totally peeved when a boy tries to out-pace me just because he wants to get to the door first so he can open it. Dude, I’m just a fast walker, and if I beat you to the door, fucking deal. It’s just a door); not all tradition needs to be resurrected resolutely (I know it’s tacky, but I won’t stop wearing pajamas to the video store). All that being said, I feel something’s gotten lost as we’ve distanced ourselves from cultural routine. Nothing feels special anymore! So the thought of receiving an invitation (in the MAIL of all places) to an event that someone planned right down to the guest list (which I was decided to be included on! hurrah!) – well, that charms me right down to my marrow. It’s not always bad to revisit things that otherwise seem antiquated. And I’m doing this by throwing a tea party (eventually).

Now, a good tea party requires a good menu, and I think I have a lot of it worked out. (This, of course, will be revealed in greater detail as the time to execute this actually approaches.) But a tea party just wouldn’t be a tea party without some good goddamn scones (oh, and tea). I’ll be honest: I haven’t had a single good goddamn scone since going vegan. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had many things that were good that people called “scones,” but anyone who knows anything about scones knows most things people try to pass as scones, well, aren’t. That thing you picked up at Starbucks? Nuh-uh. Those whatnots on a tray at Whole Foods? Try again. True scones should be somewhere between a cake and a biscuit: moist and fluffy with a little bit of crisp. All those pastries being pandered by vegan blogs and cookbooks are nonsense. I need the real thing, baby.

Needless to say, the perfect vegan scone is something I’ve been working on for years. Once, I actually got it (okay, so I lied about that “good scone since going vegan” thing), but it was a complete fluke that occurred at a time when I knew nothing about baking. I have no idea what I did, and all subsequent attempts at recreating that recipe have been miserable failures. In fact, my attempts to doctor a lot of scone recipes have been miserable failures (in part because I was unknowingly doctoring recipes that produced those meal-y biscuits I’ve been complaining about). However, after a lot of tries and a lot of research, I believe I’ve finally got it. I’ve finally got that good goddamn (vegan) scone. So without further ado…

+ 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
+ 2 tsp baking powder
+ 1 1/2 tsp arrowroot powder
+ 1/2 tsp salt
+ 1 cup non-dairy milk
+ 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
+ 1/2 cup non-dairy butter
+ 1/2 cup sugar
+ 1/2 cup chocolate chips*
+ 1/2 cup raisins*
+ extra non-dairy milk for glazing

* Really, you can use whatever you want in whatever quantities you want or omit this shit completely. Pro tip: avoid fresh fruit. If you want fruity scones, use frozen fruit. Don’t add them to the well, though. After that step, roll out the dough and put the frozen fruit all over it, then fold the dough over and roll it out again. If you’re too vigorous about mixing the fruit in, it’ll dye the dough and get all weird and… it’s just not something you want to do. So just fold and roll, my sweets.

01. Heat the oven to 500 degrees (yeah, 500) and place the oven rack in the middle. Add the vinegar to the “milk “and set aside to curdle. (This will be your “buttermilk.”) Sift together the flour, baking powder, arrowroot, and salt. Now, none of us really sift when a recipe tells us to sift, but in this case, it really makes a difference. The more the flour’s been sifted, the more it helps create a fluffy texture when everything’s mixed together. I wouldn’t sift more than five times, but you know, do it at least once and go to town if you’re up for it. (C’mon, friend, meet us in Sift Town!)

02. In a separate bowl, cream together the sugar and “butter.” This is important because it incorporates the sugar better than just putting the sugar in the dry ingredients and adding the wet. I can’t explain the science of it, but trust me, all bakers agree on this. Once the sugar and butter are total BFF, add them to your flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or fork (some books suggest some weird two-butter knife method, but I have no idea what’s up with that, but if you do, you can use that, too), cut in the butter/sugar. You can stop when your bowl looks like it’s full of flour crumbles instead of flour. You want something meal-y but still uniform.

03. Grease up a baking sheet, then measure out your additives. It’s important to have everything ready to go before combining it because once the wet hits the dry (well, the now semi-dry), the acid in the “buttermilk” will activate the baking powder, and there’s only so active it can be before it’s less/inactive. We’re running on a schedule here, people! Make a little well in your butter flour, and pour all that “buttermilk” in. Throw your chocolate/raisins/whatever on top of that, and with a rubber spatula, mix everything together working from the inside out. Slowly but surely, the dough will come together, but be careful not to over-mix. Over-mixing produces more gluten, and more gluten means a stiffer scone. We’re shooting for something light, remember?

04. On a well-floured surface, roll/pat out your dough to a roughly 8- to 10-inch square, about an inch high. Then take a glass or cookie cutter (hearts are way cute and dorky) and cut out your scones. Be sure to dip your glass/cutter in flour before each pressing; it’ll make your life so much easier. Then place them on your baking sheet. You can push together the leftover scraps and make more until you’re out of dough. I’m not going to lie, I ate the raw dough that couldn’t be made into a pretty shape. Anyway, using a pastry brush (or your finger if you’re super punk rock like me), lightly glaze your scones with non-dairy milk. Then pop them in the fridge for fifteen minutes (or the freezer for ten).

05. When time’s up, pull them from the fridge/freezer, and give them a second glaze. Turn your oven down to 425 degrees, and pop those suckers in for 15 to 18 minutes. (The bigger the shape, the more time they’ll need.) If you’re keeping an eye on them with your handy dandy oven light, you’ll be really tempted to keep them in there longer because they won’t seem brown enough, but trust me, it’s time to pull them. Let them cool, and enjoy with your favorite scone-worthy beverage (tea, coffee, cocoa, vegg nog, etc.)

This recipe yields somewhere between twelve and fifteen scones.

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