Tea and a biccie? The biscuit is ubiquitous in British culture (see what I did there?), but here in North America, there’s been a distortion of usage over the years. What we know in North America as a biscuit — a light, flaky, risen cake — is known as a scone in England. Crackers — a plain or savoury, dry, flat unleavened bread, cut into equal sized shapes — are biscuits, but biscuits can also be sweet, although they’re usually still plain. And what we call a cookie isn’t really a biscuit either, cookies being thicker, softer in the centre and containing other ingredients such as chocolate or fruit. The exception to this might be the shortbread and its ilk which can be both. Confused yet? Author Lizzie Collingham will enlighten you. Continue reading “Book Review – The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence”
I blame Nigel Slater. Were it not for his BBC show back in November, Nigel Slater’s Icing on the Cake (the third in a series that also includes candy and biscuits), I’d never even have heard of Caroline Taggart’s A Slice of Britain. But in his search for British cake, Slater encountered Taggert and her recent book, and he interviewed her for the show.
I must have this book, I exclaimed, and promptly ordered it from Amazon UK. Then when it arrived, I proceeded to sort of ignore it for a few months, reading it in short bursts but not really enjoying it. To be fair, as a purchased book, it became my default reading when I didn’t have a library book or a book for an assigned review on the go. As well, injuries sustained to my neck and shoulders in February actually made it hard for me to hold a book for a month or so, which meant that Taggart and her cakes were sorely neglected. It didn’t help that I wasn’t originally enamoured with Taggart’s writing style – it felt too “bloggy”; a string of personal experiences as she travelled England, Wales and Scotland, searching out local baked delicacies, as opposed to a more factual, third person account with a clearly outlined history of each cake.
Determined to give it a second chance, I sat down again recently and plowed through half the book in an afternoon. Taggart’s chatty style grew on me and I found A Slice of Britain to be an enjoyable read. The idea to look up each cake on Google as I read about it helped immensely. Taggart includes recipes for many of the cakes she discusses (and “cake” is a loose term here – the book includes everything from scones to cookies/biscuits and full on cakes such as the ubiquitous Victoria sponge, as well as things we’d classify in Canada as a “loaf”, plus some candy items that are made in cake form), but with so many British cakes containing roughly the same ingredients, a visual aide (the book contains sketches but no photographs) was incredibly useful in determining the difference between, say, a Bath Bun and a Lardy Cake. Because, make no mistake, the Brits, or at least the ones in olde tymes in charge of making cakes, surely did love their raisins and dried fruit.
Growing up in Nova Scotia, scones in our house were always fried. We had tea biscuits, which are the closest in texture to what we now refer to as a scone, but they were dense and cakey, never flaky with discernible layers. We had heard of Southern biscuits, which were known to be flaky, and were served with savoury foods such as chicken and gravy, but they never graced our plates. If a bread product made an appearance at supper it was a nice white dinner roll, or possibly brown bread (made with molasses).
But the flaky scone is what we’re all after here in Toronto. I’ve no idea if flaky is what they go for at Betty Windsor’s house, but here, we can’t get enough of those layers and layers of rich, buttery dough. There are a few places now to buy gorgeous flaky scones, and it was after reading an interview with the owner of shop Baker & Scone that I resumed my search for a decent recipe.
I am so addicted to the scones at Baker & Scone (693 St. Clair Avenue West) that I have started to make up excuses to go to the Hillcrest neighbourhood. Thankfully there’s often something going on at Wychwood Barns, so it’s easy to make a stop on the corner of Christie and St. Clair West and come home with a box of Sandra Katsiou’s flaky, layered delights.
Arranged in the bright, pretty shop in tall apothecary jars, the fresh-baked delights come in 35 sweet flavours and 8 savoury, with around a dozen sweet and one or two savoury versions available at any time. So far, Toasted Coconut and Salted Caramel are my favourites, with the Old White Cheddar, Dill and Chive scones winning my favourite savoury flavour.
Why are they awesome? Katsiou’s got a great technique (folding and re-folding the dough like puff pastry) that creates high, layered scones, and her flavour combinations are fantastic. The scones are slightly cheaper by the dozen, which is just a great excuse to try one of every flavour in the shop. (Yes, I have done this. It was awesome.)
Who says strawberry shortcake can’t be for breakfast?
With berry season upon us, I’ve been shoving juicy Ontario strawberries into my face whenever I can get them, and while I like the idea of shortcake, I’ve never come across a recipe that I really enjoy, finding many that I’ve tried too dry. And those odd yellow spongy things from the supermarket and just odd… and yellow.
Enter the oatmeal scone. Perfect consistency to replace a shortcake, plus you know, oatmeal, so we can pretend it’s healthy. Top it off with sliced berries and vanilla yogurt instead of whipped cream, and suddenly it’s breakfast!