cheese scones & tea
In my world, one doesn’t talk about cheese scones.
Whether you are the maker of the cheese scone or the eater of the cheese scone — you don’t talk about it. Words are pointless.
Grunts are acceptable. Grunts are good. Actually, grunts are to be expected.
But talking about cheese scones… you don’t. No one worth their salt does.
There’s no fucking point talking. You just make them like they’re meant to be made and you throw them down on the table, or whatever, in front of your people. Your people eat them and nothing needs to be said. Just looks. Looks across the table, or whatever. Frowns. Frowns and shakes of the head side-to-side. Shakes of the head and frowns which say… well, you know what they say. They say lots. They say words they don’t know they want to say.
Don’t need to say.
Because it’s just a cheese scone. But it isn’t.
Not all cheese scones invoke the frown and the shake of the head. It can be confusing to outsiders who witness it, not knowing what they’re witnessing but sensing it’s something momentous. To those who haven’t known the cheese scone, anyone watching from a distance might see the frown and the shake of the head and think a disagreement is going on — maybe Uncle Terry just did his usual thing where he said something morally outrageous and everyone is frowning and shaking their heads in some sort of recoil “Oh, fucking hell Terry. Naaaaaaaah. No way. This time you’ve taken it too far”.
But no. It’s the cheese scone.
No point talking about what to say. Except maybe an “ohh”, said as if in disappointment. Like it’s not fair. But it is fair. It is a cheese scone. You can’t be fairer than a cheese scone.
Later your people might talk in hushed tones to another about the cheese scone but generally they don’t. No point. That person they’re talking in hushed tones to — do they have a cheese scone in front of them? No. Is telling them about the cheese scone going to replace the actual having of the cheese scone? No. So, no point saying anything.
In my view cheese scones represent how you are in life.
There’s those who talk about doing shit. And then there’s those who just do shit and don’t talk about it, because they’re busy.
One can see people saying ‘this is how you should be, this is what we should all be doing — I wish we were more like this — why isn’t there more of this being done’ and on it goes. Meanwhile, on the other side of town all that shit’s already being done. In real time. By normal people. But they’re not talking about it — they’re just doing it, not realising that it was a thing.
This is the cheese scone.
Some people don’t even know what a cheese scone is.
I could fill this piece with the history of the cheese scone. I could tell you all about the scone, where it came from, why that might matter, what ingredients, traditionally, were used, how and why the ingredients I use matter, what those who came before me used, to give it depth.
Not necessary. Why?
Make the cheese scone, eat the cheese scone. Does this sound like a zen thing? No. It’s simpler than that.
You’re not worth much chop in my circle of friends if you can’t, or at least don’t know how to, whack a plate of cheese scones in front of people so that they get to sit in bliss and luxury they didn’t know they were daydreaming of until their eyes glazed over in that way we have where we gaze into blur and haze and know we need to snap out of it, get back on with proper life, and do this daydream at some other time more suitable, but sensing as we reluctantly pull ourselves away from it, that that suitable time never actually does come.
We always put an IOU on the daydream, but never collect on it.
The cheese scone will give you that time. The cheese scone is that daydream on a plate.
The cheese scone is collecting on an IOU.
You might say ‘oh yes, I could replace this ingredient with that and make it gourmet’ or ‘blah blah is gluten free, we could replace this for that to make it comply’. No. Just eat it or don’t. If you have these other things to consider, go with that and leave the cheese scone as it is.
You might think ‘oh, this is like those lovely rustic things they make down at the flash but retro cafe down the road that has worked very hard to appear to have gone back to how things used to be — to remind us of simpler times — except it has truffle oil on top.’
Please don’t. Please respect the cheese scone. Please don’t try and make the cheese scone dinky. Please don’t try and make it urban or retro or fusion or whatever. It’s a cheese scone.
This cheese scone is literally as it was. There are no simpler times. This scone is just as it is, no messing around trying to be something else.
quick & legendary
Imagine if I had banged on about the cheese scone all this time and left you hanging. Didn’t tell you the recipe.
I thought about it, trust me. Nah. Just joking.
So, the recipe. It’s the Bruce Lee of scones. Quick and legendary.
I got this recipe from a grouchy old bag called Ruth who really just wanted to love people but felt funny about it so she enshrouded affection with gruffness. She’s my kind of gal, Ruth, and if she’d been a scone she’d definitely be a cheese scone — she’s fucking quick and fucking legendary — and what a daydream. More like concussion, actually, but that’s another story.
I don’t do recipes like the way you find them in cookbooks, ok? I do them like you’re standing in my kitchen with a cup of tea, watching me making them and asking me to give a running commentary on what I’m doing, as if it were a soliloquy, or as if you were tape-recording it, or as if you didn’t have your own eyes.
This might seem unusual to you. Might seem arse-about-face. Might hinder your preparatory abilities.
But I have faith in you. Read the thing through and then go from there. We’ll be ok, ok? I’ll be making a pot of tea at the same time.
If you don’t drink tea, just skip that bit. Or do it and realise that you just cannot fucking well beat a good cup of tea. Especially not with a cheese scone.
So the first thing you want to do is preheat your oven to 220°C, making sure the oven rack is in the middle level of the oven, then get all your stuff ready up on the benchtop.
Get your kettle on too. And get your teapot and fill it with hot water and let it sit somewhere out the way.
Also, get your baking tray out and grab a decent knob of butter with your fingers and smear it thinly on the baking tray. Butter, not fake stuff that doesn’t come from a proper cow.
Get your favourite butter knife at the ready. Don’t have one? Choose a random one and get to know it a little. Wink at it. Flirt a little with it even.
So, we’ve got flour — 4½ cups. May as well reach into your bag of flour now and grab a small fistful and chuck it on the baking tray, and grab another decent fistful and chuck it on your benchtop for when the time comes to cut up your scone dough. Grab the baking tray and take it outside, face away from any wind and shake it to and fro so that the tray has a nice flour veneer. Tap its bum. Now, look at it. It’s beautiful. It’s art. The longer you look at it the more you might want to run your finger through it — write your initials or draw a set of testicles and a big cock. Don’t do that. Just put the tray to the side on the benchtop somewhere, out the way.
Now, we’ve also got 4 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, cheese — Tasty cheese is best but whatever hard cheese you have is all good — I’m a big fan of Colby cheese personally but Tasty is nice and a good amount of strong for the scones — and you’ll need 2 cups of it. You’ll need to grate it. Eat some of the stuff off the block too. Yum. Cheese is my favourite thing. Well, not my favourite thing, but you know, I love it, so. I feel sorry for those who don’t do dairy. Poor fuckers.
Ok, speaking of dairy, you’ll need 300ml of cream — proper pouring cream, ok? None of that stuff with thickener in it — just the stuff they skim off the top of the milk — the good stuff. I once drank milk from a cow’s teat. That’s my idea of fast food.
Finally, a thing of lemonade — 330ml of it. When I talk about lemonade I always mean Schweppes and this goes without saying but, whatever, it’s got to have bubbles. So don’t use the lemonade that you bought from the kids outside at the lemonade stand. They probably spat in it, fucking kids. Actually, they probably slipped drugs into it. Nah, just joking. They wouldn’t waste that shit on you. It needs bubbles, the lemonade you use, so just use the shop bought stuff.
So, whack all your dry ingredients together in the sifter — or sieve — whatever you’ve got — so it’s all mixed nicely and aerated a little bit.
So, you have y0ur dry ingredients all nicely sifted. Add in your grated Tasty cheese and mix it around with your hand a bit, you know. Use all two cups of the cheese but also make sure you have more of the block left over for grating more cheese on top of the scones. That’s what makes it extra cheesy. I cannot tell you how important this is. Nah, I mean, seriously, I can’t — I’ve just jammed a massive slice of cheese into my gob. Mmhm. [nods]
Listen, on the mixing front — we are not building a spaceship, ok? Just whack it all together. It’s not a science. In saying that, you do need to make sure you get all the measurements right. I’m possibly pointing out the obvious to some of you but to others who are not familiar with baking, just do as the measurements ask, ok? Now is not the time to improvise.
Now get your cream and lemonade and pour them into the bowl. Now, listen, this bit is serious — don’t get all stir crazy. Don’t get all Missy Elliott on me — you most certainly do not want to ‘work it’. You want to just combine it all and you want to use a butter knife. The best result comes from leaving it the fuck alone (said me the first time ever).
Get your lump of scone dough and whack it down on the benchtop, on top of the nice coating of flour you chucked down earlier, and pat it out into a circularish rectangle (yes, that is exactly what shape I mean). You want to get 12 to 15 scones out of this so, follow your nose on how big you need to pat the dough to achieve this. Again, don’t go all gung ho on it, you know.
Now, please. Listen to me — please do not get a cookie cutter thing, a muffin cutter thing, an anything cutter thing, and cut this dough into dinky little… things. These are cheese scones. Show some respect, please. Let them have their dignity. Get your simple butter knife – the one you flirted with earlier – and cut the dough into rows and columns. Like noughts and crosses, or whatever but, say, 3 down, 5 across. It’s better, you’ll see. This way you’ll have littler and bigger ones. It’s nice. It’s the way it’s meant to be, you’ll see. Just go with it. It’s a cheese scone. It wants to look like a cheese scone, ok?
Now, get your baking tray out. The one without the cock and testicles.
Transfer your noughts and crosses of scone dough from the benchtop to the baking tray in the exact same way they were cut. Put them relatively close to each other, like not quite touching but sort of just almost kissing. If you don’t know much about touching and kissing, dinnae fash, because, trust me, you will whip these scones up again and you can trial and error it all, ok?
Grate some more cheese and sprinkle that all over the top evenly. Put as much as you want on top, but pick up any that lands directly on the tray. If you need me to explain why you probably shouldn’t be in the kitchen in the first place. Otherwise, just take my word for it.
Chuck her in the oven and bake for 20 minutes (or a little bit shorter or longer, as long as they’re golden brown, you know).
While that’s in there doing its bit for humanity, get your plates and butter and knives out and turn your attention to making the tea.
And chuck this little number on below, at the bottom, which I’ve found to be bloody good music to brew tea to — and while this is playing we will proceed to talking a little bit about tea.
If you partner any drink other than tea with a cheese scone you are only hurting yourself.
You will want a pot of tea on the go as opposed to just the one cup, the reason being that you will definitely want more than just the one cheese scone.
I love Earl Grey myself, but English Breakfast is also very good. As long as it’s strong and hot.
Earlier I mentioned that making scones is not like building a spaceship — that it is not a science. Well, to me, neither is making tea.
But it is a bit like walking on a tightrope if you want it to your liking.
Let’s put it this way, once you find the way you like your tea, you are unlikely to want it any other way. Yes, I realise that that is as with everything, but I find this is no more truer for anything else than for making tea.
You don’t want weak and you don’t want less than hot. But you don’t want it so hot you cannot taste the tea. Weak and scalding is terrible as is strong and less than hot. When I say less than hot I mean it. If you’ve made the tea correctly there is a long row to hoe from hot tea to cold.
Realistically, in my view, you have a smallish window to get tea at its best. I think this is really why it’s best to sit down to a cup of tea. It all requires one’s full attention. If one puts the cup and saucer down somewhere to then take it up again 10 minutes later, the entire affair is completely fucked.
Your tea is ready and your 20 minutes is up. No doubt you will have replayed the tea-brewing song a couple of times — I know I do — once is never enough and it’s not one of those songs one tires of easily.
The cheese scones are out. Piping hot. Just add butter. Proper stuff, from a cow.
There’s no fucking point talking. You just pop them on a plate and throw them down on the table, or whatever, in front of your people. Your people eat them and nothing needs to be said. Just looks. Looks across the table, or whatever. Frowns. Frowns and shakes of the head side-to-side. Shakes of the head and frowns which say… well, you know what they say. They say lots. They say words they don’t know they want to say.
Don’t need to say.
Because it’s just a cheese scone. But it isn’t.
Because here’s the bit where you get to sit in bliss and luxury you didn’t know you were daydreaming of until your eyes glaze over in that way we have where we gaze into blur and haze.
The time has come.
The cheese scone is collecting on an IOU.
Along with a bloody good cuppa tea.
This recipe is for Gail Boenning — aka James Herriott Girl — as you asked for it.