Jackson Heights is a culinary mecca for ethnic foods. There are as many chicken places to represent every Latin and Asian country. You only have to emerge from the bowels of the 74th and Roosevelt station to know that you’ve hit jackpot gold once you get a whiff of seared beef, chilies, lime and peppers wafting from the Mexican food trucks. Walk not even a block north on 75th Street and the scent of rose and orange blossoms will entice you into one of the many Indian sweet shops. As much as I love the diversity available, I do wish we had a down home bakeshop slash cafe (sorry Espresso’s 77, I love ya, but ya’ll need more comfy chairs and more of them, and sorry CharBucks, let’s not even go there). I’m talking about something less commercial than a Magnolia’s or Billie’s. In my mind, it’s a conglomeration of Sarabeth’s, Sullivan Street, and Bouchon with the coffee quality of a Stumptown or 9th Street Espresso. Maybe such a place doesn’t exist except in the minds of gluten-fiends such as myelf. I want a place where you can pick up a hot loaf of baguette (sorry Cannelle) on the way home, a butter scone (with a healthy dollop of clotted cream), a simple but delicious omelet for lunch, escape the rain while sipping a cafe au lait from a polka-dotted bowl, your partner can sip a cappuccino and admire the latte art, where the pies are made from lard and the cookies from 100% locally sourced Berkshire cows who get manicures and pedicures on Wednesdays and Swedish massage every other day.
While such a place is being dreamed up, I am resolved to make my day dream come true. I am learning to bake my own breads and scones and am turning my humble living room into my dream cafe. No reservations needed, but do call ahead.
This is a recipe for my favorite scones, Sarabeth’s Currant Scones. Currants are not easy to find (yes, even Patel Brothers doesn’t carry them), I swapped in fresh blueberries. Enjoy these with clotted cream, your favorite jams and a cup of hot beverage–mine will be a cafe au lait in a blue polka dot bowl.
Recipe from “Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours” by Sarabeth Levine
Makes 12 scones (I used a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter and made about 2 dozen mini scones)
¾ cup whole milk
2 large eggs, chilled
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup dried currants
1 large egg, well beaten with a hand blender, for glazing
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. TO MAKE THE DOUGH BY HAND: Whisk the milk and 2 eggs together in a small bowl; set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and nutmeg into a medium bowl. Add the butter and mix quickly to coat the butter with the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour, scraping the butter off the blender as needed, until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs with some pea-size pieces of butter. Mix in the currants. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the milk mixture and mix just until the dough clumps together.
TO USE A MIXER: Whisk the milk and 2 eggs together in a small bowl; set aside. Sift the dry ingredients together into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Add the butter. Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until the mixture looks mealy with some pea-size bits of butter. Mix in the currants. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the milk mixture, mixing just until the dough barely comes together.
3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour on top. Knead the dough a few times, just until it doesn’t stick to the work surface. Do not overwork the dough. The surface will be floured, but the inside of the dough should remain on the wet side. Gently roll out the dough into a ¾-inch-thick round.
4. Using a 2 ½-inch fluted biscuit cutter, dipping the cutter into flour between cuts, cut out the scones (cut straight down and do not twist the cutter) and place 1 ½ inches apart on the prepared half-sheet pan. To get the most biscuits out of the dough, cut out the scones close together in concentric circles. Gather up the dough scraps, knead very lightly, and repeat to cut out more scones. You should get two scones from the second batch of scraps. Brush the tops of the scones lightly with the beaten egg, being sure not to let the egg drip down the sides (which would inhibit a good rise).
5. Place the scones in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 400°F. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on the pan for a few minutes, then serve warm or cool completely.