a definite pro
About this time in March four years ago, I was faced with what felt like a torturous decision. I have to laugh at myself now, or at least smirk a little when I consider what triggered my anguish: I had been admitted to my two top choice graduate programs, and I had to decide which university I would attend.
I know, bring out the violins. And then, feel free to smack me across my bratty little cheek.
Eli and I were living in Seattle at the time. Several months earlier, we had flown down to the Bay Area to scope out my west coast option. We stayed with the parents of a friend of mine and, our first morning in town, we asked where we might grab a quick breakfast.
It's always a pleasure asking folks who are in love with where they live (and in Berkeley, that's everyone) where to find a bite to eat. When they share the name of a restaurant or a beloved cafe, it is always more than just the food that they want you to taste. It's a slice of their lives they're offering up. A scoop of your host's favorite ice cream stands in for smells and sounds and a certain something in the air that he would gladly hand you on a plate, if only he could. In my experience, the question, "Where can we grab breakfast (or lunch, or dinner, or a cup of tea) around here?" is rarely met with a brief reply. There's that place on the corner if you'd like to try the best bagels in town, or the diner on the hill for out-of-this-world pancakes, or that spot with the fresh-squeezed lemonade where you can eat outdoors.
But my friend's father, a caterer, offered no such passionate litany. His marching orders were short and simple:
"Go to The Cheese Board. Have the corn cherry scone."
When a local is that decisive, you listen - especially when he still has flour on his hands from an early morning knead. That morning, Eli and I ate the first of what would amount to three corn cherry scones during our forty-eight hours in town.
Three months later, acceptance letters in hand, I sat anxiously biting my lip. With two bests before me, I hadn't a clue how to choose just one. My dad had sent me a pad of paper pre-printed with blank "Pro" and "Con" columns. Pencil in hand, I began my lists. There was the question of what kind of theoretical training each program would provide, the required coursework in each department, the library resources available, the particular expertise of the professors who would become my advisers, the competing fellowship packages, and the larger issue of east coast versus west coast to consider. As the pros for both universities spilled over onto a second page, I hastily scrawled "Corn cherry scones," at the bottom of Berkeley's cascading list.
Many of my pros and cons were based on conjecture, on what I was pretty sure I wanted to study, or how I sort of thought I wanted to go about it. But those scones? They were a definite pro. Amidst all the uncertainty, it was a relief to have a known quantity, cherry studded, dusted with sugar, and unequivocally delicious.
I soon found that the recipe for the scones had been published in The Cheese Board Collective Works. I could make them myself anytime, from either side of the continent. I wish I could tell you that with the scones no longer in play, the balance smoothly tipped in favor of Boston over Berkeley. But no, I still had some agonizing to get out of my system. Ultimately we did decide to head back east, but not without the scone recipe safely tucked away in my file. At my breakfast table in Cambridge, a corn cherry scone is still a definite pro.
Corn Cherry Scones
adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works
Medium-grind cornmeal gives these scones a wonderful chewy-crunchy texture. If you don't have medium-grind on hand, finely ground cornmeal will do.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2/3 c. plus 2 T. sugar, divided
1 1/2 c. medium-grind yellow cornmeal
1 c. (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 c. dried cherries (not Bing cherries)
1 c. (plus a few splashes) buttermilk
Heat the oven to 425 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the salt, the 2/3 c. sugar, and the cornmeal to the bowl, and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two dinner knives, or rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingers, until the butter bits are the size of small peas. (I usually use a combination of pastry cutter and fingers.)
Stir in the cherries. Make a well in the center and add the 1 c. buttermilk. Mix briefly, just until the ingredients come together. Some loose flour will remain at the bottom of the bowl.* Let the batter stand for five minutes.
Using a small ice cream scoop or a 1/4 c. measuring cup, scoop the dough from the bowl and shape into balls. Place them on the prepared pans about two inches apart.
Sprinkle the remaining 2 T. sugar on top of the scones. Place the scones on the middle rack and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the scones are golden. Transfer the scones to a wire rack and cool.
Makes 14-16 scones.
*Once I have scooped all of the usable dough from the bowl, I often splash a little bit of buttermilk onto this remaining flour and squeeze a couple of extra biscuits out of the recipe.
Posted by Jess