I bristle whenever anyone trots out that worn-out chestnut “cooking is an art but baking is a science”. Yeah, so you have to measure stuff and you have to know the difference between baking soda and baking powder (or at least know that there is a difference) . Would someone tell me where on earth did that expression comes from anyway? Each time I hear it I just figure whomever is saying it is probably good at neither as the expression reveals a complete lack of culinary understanding. At the least it shows a lack of passion -- for to be good at either endeavor you have to have some passion to create.
Art is where you find it I suppose but just take a look at the cookies and cakes at just about any bakery and tell me there is no art there? Gaston Lenotre is every bit an artist with flour, butter and sugar as Van Gough was with paints.
For some reason it is “the bakers” who say it more often. Perhaps “the cooks” see science in what they do more readily than “the bakers” see art in what they do? I don't mean to suggest a false dichotomy in the kitchen either for I know many fine folks who are equally at home with both skills. That said, however, most people seem oriented to one team over the other even though most, when push comes to shove, can swing both ways, if you will.
Perhaps some bakers find some false comfort in retreating to some figurative kitchen where what they do is reduced to nothing more than following directions? Personally, I don’t get it. I see all the beautiful pastries and cakes baked by internet bloggers and I see nothing but art.
The Tuesday’s with Dorie baking club gives good example to the art found in baking. TwD is the baking cousin to the French Friday’s group I belong to and each week over 300 bloggers take on the same recipe yielding 300 different interpretations and presentations. Simply put, it is art.
One such baker...er... artist is my friend Mike over at Living Out West. His is one of the more prolific internet baking blogs out there and each week he takes us through the selections of up to 4 different cookbook clubs showing us just how artful baking can be. (He recently must moved blog services so give him some time to work out the kinks and then be sure to check out his vast library of artistic creations.) This week he is hosting the TwD selection of the week: Toasted Almond Scones (you already figured that out, right?) and was kind enough to ask me to bake along with him and give these Toasted Almond Scones a try. “Even you can do scones” he said. Thanks Mike.
I promised him I would actually comment on the recipe itself in my post (don't I always?) so let me impart two bits of wisdom from the exercise: First, there are only tablespoons of sugar in the whole batch making them a bit unsweet but ideal for eating with sweet butter and jam washed down with hot coffee. (I thought my favorite spiced fig jam was the perfect foil for the toasted almonds.) These were so good that my husband actually forbade me from packing them up to take to work and share. Instead of cooking up the second round right there I took Dorie's suggestion and froze half the batch for later. I didn’t even know you could do that! Turns out, you should do it.
A few days later we had an overnight guest worth impressing so out came the frozen scones early in the morning. I was worried there could be freezer burn so I painted the tops with cream and then sprinkled brown sugar creating the lovely glazey, almondy crackle that you can you see in the first picture above. The extra sweetness was pushed them over the top. Not only will I only cook them this way again but I will also only cook from frozen. This second batch of scones turned out even more flakey and ‘sconey’ than the first batch. Cold butter actually holds more moisture than warmer butter. The cold butter pockets the moisture and converts to steam in the hot oven separating the flour into flakey, airy layers whereas warm butter distributes evenly and does not layer. Cutting the butter with your hands, as Dorie suggested, is great for the texture but you impart lots of heat with your hands into the butter. If you aren't going to freeze them it might be a good idea to pop them into the refrigerator for an hour prior to baking.
Somewhat ironic that there is a scientific explanation!
Be sure to check out the other Tuesdays With Dorie bakers artistic interpretations of these scones. Special thanks to Mike for inviting me to bake along with him today. The recipe is also posted at his site but you can also get it and others from my Dorie posts by following me on Twitter and simply requesting them.