On Baking and Learning to Embrace Failure, plus a Recipe for Almond-Buttermilk Scones

I used to hate baking. It felt like such a chore, especially since I would, as a novice, accidentally get flour and butter all over the kitchen and my face, like a hyperactive child. With cooking, I feel like I can always make adjustments, add in different/new ingredients – I can be somewhat creative. Many say that cooking is like an art, while baking is a science.

Well, to those who believe in the “model minority” archetype, I was/am a bad Asian-American and did/do not excel in the sciences. (I used to drive my biology teacher insane by asking “how does __________ know to do that? Does it have its own brain?”)

So, the process of baking used to feel akin to the dread I’d experience whilst doing the physics homework that I barely understood (I have nightmares about taking a physics test at least once a month). I didn’t grasp the purpose of baking powder or soda. I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing, which is a crucial step before becoming a bit more inventive. And, without this knowledge, I felt doomed to fail.

As a high-strung, anxiety-ridden, productivity-oriented individual, there was nothing worse than dry-ass cake, unevenly baked brownies, hard-as-fuck pastry dough.

Lucky for me, my husband is super into sweets. Like, I have to hide Nutella in a secret location in order to get any for myself. Because I tend to absorb and reflect the things people love, I started to enjoy desserts, too. And, importantly, I slowly and painstakingly started to learn that a dry cake wasn’t some kind of signifier of how awful I am as a human being.

As my love for desserts increased, so did my enjoyment of the baking process. I began to understand more of the “science” behind the process, and can now identify why something doesn’t taste quite right. Strangely enough, I think that this has been important to my growth as a person. It’s almost impossible to fix a baked good, the way one can sometimes can with a stew, soup, roasted dish, etc. Baking (and in particular, failed baking) is teaching me how to embrace my unsuccessful endeavors. Once something is out of the oven, that shit is finished. If it’s not good, I have to sit with it. And rather than ask, “Yejin, why are you the worst and the biggest failure who has ever walked the face of this planet?” I can (sometimes) laugh, feel slightly bad that I’ve wasted a little bit of money, but feel glad that I’ve learned something from the process.

When drama comes from external forces, I tend to stay away. When it comes to judging myself, I’m as dramatic as they come. I’ve realized that sometimes I’m hardest on myself when I don’t actually want to hold myself accountable. This way, I don’t have to listen to someone else’s criticism, because my own judgement is already the harshest and meanest. There is some weird sort of selfishness and self-indulgence that comes with my specific brand of self-loathing. And if I can help solve for this oddly masochistic practice of running away from my own agency by baking and eating sweet things, then I guess I have no choice but to continue getting rounder and rounder. So, I’m publicly committing myself to baking and eating a lot more cakes, muffins, pies, and scones. For the sake of humanity, obviously.

And now, here’s one of my favorite scone recipes:

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

Almond-Buttermilk Scones with Jam
Recipe taken from Alexandra’s Kitchen
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients
2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar
1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
¼ teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
1 cup of sliced almonds
2/3 cup of buttermilk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 cm cubes

2 tablespoons of milk
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. While the oven is heating, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the almonds, and stir to combine.
  3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla.
  4. Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture. You have two options for this step: (1) use a food processor and pulse the mixture until you have a crumb-like mixture, or (2) use two knives or a pastry cutter to literally cut the butter into the flour (on a cutting board) until you have tiny pieces of butter.
  5. Place the mixture into a large bowl. Add the buttermilk/vanilla mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Once the ingredients are just mixed, pour the mixture onto your cutting board and gently knead the dough together until it us just combined. Do not knead too much – this will alter the consistency of the scones.
  6. Pack the mixture into a ball, and place down onto a floured surface. Gently pat the ball down until it is about ¾ of an inch thick. With a knife, cut the circular shaped dough into eight pieces.
  7. Place the pieces onto a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Brush the scones with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
  8. Place the scones into the oven, and bake for about 18 minutes. You want them to be a little golden brown, so check on your scones after about 15 minutes.
  9. Take your scones out of the oven, and let them cool for about five minutes on a cookie sheet. Cut the scones horizontally and fill with your favorite jam! I’ve personally been rather fond of blueberry jam, as of late.
  10. Enjoy!

Coming Up: Menu Series: Forcing Myself Out of a Funk

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