My favourite new cookbook of the season: The Messy Baker, by Charmian Christie.
I love it not only because I've known Charmian for years, and have heard about this book for almost as many (she's been working on it for a long time), but because it's about baking with abandon. Baking for the deliciously messy joy and pure pleasure of it - without the pressures of perfection. To the uninitiated, all this fastidious, spotless baking is intimidating. Charmian has worked in many professional kitchens over the years, and always prefers to bake at home. In her words, "The Messy Baker is an antidote to the precious perfectionism of today's baking, where every cookie on the plate is just like the next, each layer of cake is exactly the same height, and impeccably scalloped pie crusts dare you to cut into them."
Rarely am I as inspired by a new cookbook - besides being beautiful and irresistibly down to earth, I love how she has divided her recipes not into the usual cookie, cake and pie categories, but adjectives like "Smudgy (food you have to wipe off your face)", "Crumbly", "Flaky" and "Drippy", which makes you even more hungry. And of course she offers warm, humorous, practical advice about what to do when things go wrong.
With over 75 recipes (and stunning photos!) there's plenty of gooey, chewy, drippy chocolate, but these cheesy, basil-laden scones are just as alluring; all I can think of when I see is how badly I want to balance one on the side of a bowl of tomato soup. Thanks Charmian! I wish I lived closer to your kitchen.
Basil and Aged Cheddar Scones
At the Wild Flour Bakery in Banff, Alberta, an artisanal café with a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains, I had a scone so good, I stopped my mountain gazing, pulled out my notepad, and jotted down flavor notes. Like the view-stopping Rocky Mountain scones, these are full of fresh basil, have a kiss of sugar, and provide a burst of sharp Cheddar. The only thing missing? Fresh mountain air and a bowl of tomato soup. From The Messy Baker by Charmian Christie (c)2014. Published by HarperCollins Canada. All rights reserved.
Commitment level: ready in an hour or less
21⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
4 ounces grated aged Cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
1 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. Hand method: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut the butter in until it’s the size of peas. Chop the basil finely and stir into the flour mixture to evenly distribute.
Food processor method: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a few pulses. Add the basil. Pulse in 2-second bursts until the basil is chopped and evenly distributed. Add the butter and pulse until it’s about the size of peas. Transfer the flour mixture to a large bowl.
3. Add the cheese and toss to evenly distribute. Add the buttermilk and stir until the dough forms a ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it just comes together. Roll into a round about 10" wide and 3⁄4" thick. Cut into 12 wedges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet about 2" apart and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden. Serve immediately.
Note: Scones can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days but are really best within a few hours of baking. To reheat, split in half and pop under the broiler. Serve with butter.
Tip: If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, sour your own. Place 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar in a measuring cup. Fill to the 1-cup mark with milk and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir and use immediately.