In the past three months, I have discovered that I am not a line cook by nature; though I might master it, I may never come to love it. I am more certain of my vocation, but less sure of my place in my current kitchen. I may want to work in a different sort of restaurant. I may want to move out of restaurant work and into catering. I may even want to go back to the labyrinthine kitchens of a big hotel.
There is a dream, however, that is proving to be remarkably stubborn.
We'll call it the Gingerbread House, because that was its name when I first mentioned it as nothing more than the idlest of idle fancies, a castle in the sky. I was still a recent law graduate, or perhaps an unhappy office minion, and I spent my free time plotting out recipes for baked goods.
The Gingerbread House would be a bakery-cafe, or a patisserie cafe - or something in between. There would be scones and muffins in mornings, and baguettes and ciabatte and focaccia in the afternoons. A quiche of the day for lunch. There would be brioche on weekends, and an espresso machine - one of those vintage Italian models - with a barista to make bone-dry cappuccino and ristretto strong enough to chase away even the worst case of morning sleepiness. There would be no table service, just a side counter with cutlery and napkins and water pitchers and water glasses. Customers would pay, collect their food, and sit at whichever table they liked.
On the last Saturday of each month, the cafe would close early. We'd pull all the tables together to form one long table, and serve up a communal high tea. A proper spread: egg salad sandwiches with the edges rolled in chopped parsley, avocado, tomato and ricotta bruschetta, chicken and leek pie with a golden crust, a fancifully tall chocolate torte garnished with crystallized violets, currant scones with jam and clotted cream, and all a manner of little tarts and buns and other sweet, sticky, delectable treats. The dainty and the hearty, in one fantastic jumble, with guests passing plates up and down the table and eating until they couldn't manage another bite. An afternoon tea of the best kind.
It's still too early to tell if the Gingerbread House is nothing more than an idle fancy. I don't know what the next three months (six months, twelve months) are going to bring, or how my next kitchen will shape me.
In the meantime, though, may I tempt you with some currant scones?
(Makes a dozen or so.)
Preheat the oven to 200C (400F.) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Get out a mixing bowl and dump in two cups of self-raising flour (two-hundred and eighty grams). Stir in a heaped quarter-teaspoon of salt, and three tablespoons of white sugar (thirty grams).
Take one hundred and ten grams (three point eight ounces) of chilled butter, cut it into small cubes, and add them to the flour. Use your fingertips to rub the butter in until the largest pieces are no bigger than peas. Stir in half a cup (seventy grams) of dried currants.
Pour in half a cup of milk, and one well-beaten egg. Stick a hand in the mixture and stir until the mixture just comes together. Turn it out on a clean countertop.
Press the mixture out into a rough rectangle, and fold it over in thirds, like a letter. (Don't worry if it's shaggy and messy and falling apart.) Press it out again, and fold it over in thirds. Repeat again one final time.
Flour the dough lightly on both sides. Grab a rolling pin, and roll it out until it's a little less than an inch thick. Dip a scone cutter or a small drinking glass in flour and use it to cut out rounds. (You can gather up the scraps, squish them together, and roll them out a second time, but don't do it more than twice - overworked dough makes for tough scones.)
Arrange the rounds on the baking trays. Bake the scones for fifteen minutes or so, or until lightly browned on top. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Serve warm with jam and cream.