Egypt is marking three years since the January 2011 protests that brought down the fall of a brutal, decades-long military regime. In the time since, the country has been through more military rule, elections, protests, crackdowns, more protests, a few constitutions, and the ouster of elected president Mohammad Morsi. History tells us that waves of revolution and counter-revolution are normal, but to watch events unfold close up feels anything but that. Egyptians came into the streets in 2011 to demand bread & roses and freedom from police brutality. These days bread sometimes comes with propaganda attached and teargas fills the streets as helicopters circle overhead. It’s hard to know what happens next.
This isn’t going to be a post reflecting on the events of the day – there are many people who have done so with more truth and eloquence than I can, and if you’re in search of good writing on this deeply ambiguous moment, check out these reflections on Mada Masr (my first stop for progressive, independent, and trustworthy news on Egypt). Nor is it going to include portents of doom of a lost revolution. Revolutions have nine lives and in the meantime some excellent portents of doom can be found here.
This post is rather the first in a series I really should have begun last summer, which I’m giving the ambiguous tag the revolutionary counter – featuring the things that emerge from my kitchen on the days that protests and unrest force me to spend the day at home and make do with the ingredients already sitting on my countertops. Today: creamy scones with hints of lavender, basil, and rosewater – a hint of bread and roses in the hopes that the next chapter is a bit brighter.
Creamy Scones with Lavender, Basil, & Rosewater
Yields 6 scones
The recipe is based upon the Dreamy Cream Scones from the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen, which remains my first and favorite food blog love. I’ve added and altered just a few things.
You will need:
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dried lavender
1 teaspoon dried basil
5 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon rosewater (optional)
Note – you can of course substitute any herbs for lavender and basil: Italian dried herbs, dried mint, good zaatar…don’t be afraid to combine unlikely pairs, as the flavors that come through will be quite subtle. Part of the point is that they’ll awaken your senses – sight and smell and touch, not just taste – a key to classical Arab cookery, Galenic medicine, and good eats in general.
I should note that in college I was quite the baker. I made croissants from scratch and fresh bread weekly. Since then I’ve become much more of a cook, restricting my baking to special occasions – in part, I think, because I find the precision that baking demands to be less relaxing than the more forgiving practice of cooking. But when I’m faced with many guests or, as today, with none, and plenty of time, measuring baking ingredients to precision and working with them carefully brings its own kind of pleasure.
Two keys for scones: cold butter, and handling the dough as little as possible.
With that in mind: first, preheat your oven to 425 F/22o C, and combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and dried herbs (if they are not yet crushed, mash them up with a mortar and pestle so that they are fine and will blend well into the dough).
Mix in the rosewater with the cream.
Next, cut in that butter. Recipes always say this and they never really explain, do they? The key is (again) to have the butter cubes very cold, and to toss them in and immediately coat them with flour before dealing with them further. You can use a pastry cutter for this but I’ve always preferred to use my (very clean) hands instead. You want to break up the flour-covered bits of butter until they’re pea-sized ish. The nice thing about scones is that the butter doesn’t have to be totally uniform. These are rustic-shaped things. And the nice thing about this part of the recipe is that it keeps your hands covered in butter for a bit, so you won’t be tempted to check your Twitter feed for fear of getting dough all over your devices. Also, it is delicious.
All that accomplished, tip in your cream and stir with a wooden spoon till it all just comes together. Handling dough as little as you can, gently form six balls of dough and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or aluminum foil, in a pinch). Flatten them out to round shapes about 3 inches across. Bake for ten minutes or until tops are golden brown.
Enjoy with tea. Or with a scotch. Depending on how depressing your Twitter feed is looking.