Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Perfect Scone Part 2: The Solution

I suppose I've been lucky: I've found pretty decent Japanese substitutes for most of the English junk food I miss. When I want a sausage sandwich, I eat a giant gyoza or a nikuman. When I want prawn cocktail crisps I'll go for a squid wafer cracker. Toffees? Morinaga's shio-butter caramels - the chocolate version just about soothes the terrible Rolo cravings I get every now and then. 

But, try as I might, and though I did find some amazing cakes while I was trying (even the Starbucks here is good!), there was no replacement for the freshly baked English scone. I had to think of a plan.

The time I spent (or, wasted) staring into shops and dreaming of ovens

didn't change the fact that here in Tokyo they are as rare as indoor home swimming pools. So, I tried my luck with the tiny kanji-covered microwave in my tiny kitchen, that claimed it was also an oven. I was suspicious at first, but a few disasters later (easy to do if you mistake the Japanese for 'oven' for 'open', and the kanji for 'weight' for the kanji for 'time') voila! A working oven:

It took twice as long to heat up, and almost twice as long to bake anything (cue a few sunken stodgy first tries) - but that didn't stop me. Now I know that not only do they work, but you can put metal in them, and  make properly crispy roast chicken (if you are lucky enough to find bird that hasn't been chopped into bite sized chunks anywhere in Tokyo). Hooray!

Having solved the oven problem, though, the next hurdle was the flour. I never knew quite how spoilt I was to have such easy access to feather-soft self raising flour in the UK. I got some interestingly disgusting results from using tempura flour (flour mixed with salt and soda) and okonomiyaki flour (flour mixed with salt and fish flakes) by mistake. But one day, right over on the other side of the supermarket, I got all excited when I found 'cake flour'! That was, until I took a scone out of the oven that more closely resembled a bullet than a cake. So, cake flour is plain flour with added cornflour, not baking powder. Right.  I should have known that. Ok then. Plain flour, baking powder and bicarb it would have to be. My granny would have been proud. Tools below:

So, 'oven' set to 245c (not my usual fan-assisted 210), preheated for half an hour, and carrying a pile of what felt like all the white powders in the world, I was finally ready. My normal recipe had to change, but the routine was the same:

Sift flour and other random white powders (salt, sugar, baking powder, bicarb)

Add fat (normally I'd use all butter, but that makes the scones too heavy here for some reason. Best combination I found was a mixture of half super-rich cheesy 'Hokkaido butter' for flavour and half bizaarely grainy but light and almost completely flavour-free Japanese margarine)

Rub in fat (as finely as possible, the flour here gets lumpy super easily)

Add liquid (plain milk is my preference at home, but here the soda needs extra help, so using thin yoghurt and a bit of water works best for me) and mix as quickly as possible with metal knife or spoon

Cut into small chunks with scissors (the nearest I was going to get to a cookie cutter in my student fleapit) and place on baking tray charred by several previous efforts...

Shove into the oven for 18 minutes (5 minutes longer than I'd ever leave them in at home, even though I cut them half the size here)

Then, pray 'taste good, taste good!'


The plain ones weren't exactly 'perfect':

And neither, strictly speaking, were the raisin ones:

The cranberry ones were interesting if flawed, perhaps:

And the extremely yellow pumpkin and ginger ones were improvably 'interesting':

But for me, and everyone else who has tasted them here, they worked like a dream.

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