July 30, 2017

Scone Queen Reigns in Vancouver

It was at a Bakers’ Market in South Vancouver that I had tons of choices when it comes to wheat and sometimes gluten free belly. 

So I bought several items to go.  And among five purchases, one stood out, the scones from the Scone Queen.  The scones were exceptional.  I will explain below.   So I decided it was time six months later to educe my adoration for Scone Queen’s scones.

The Scone Queen is Tara Lee.

Tara told me that she grew up eating scones her Poh Poh (maternal grandmother) made.  At age six, she would watch and “help” grandma work on the dough.  Tara said, “I have a strong association between scones and comfort, which is one of the reasons I love them so much. That, and the fact that they taste so good, especially with lots of butter, jam, and sometimes clotted or whipped cream.”

Tara’s grandmother migrated in the 1930s from a small village in Méixiàn (or Moiyan) China to Cape Town, South Africa to marry Tara’s grandfather.  Tara recounts, “Poh Poh ran a general store in Cape Town to help support her brood of five children.  At first, Poh Poh was incredibly lonely due to being cut off from friends and family in China, but eventually made new friends with the extremely tight knit Hakka Chinese community, as well as the neighbors. 

One of them was a Scottish woman who taught Tara’s grandma how to make scones. The concept of baking was very foreign to Tara’s grandmother, so Poh Poh had to ask for a lot of clarification for instructions that the Scottish woman thought were obvious. Eventually, she caught on, and scones became one of her favorite things to make. Poh Poh made plain, raisin, blueberry, cheese, cheese and chive.”

Apartheid South Africa was unbearable.  Tara’s grandparents and kids (including Tara’s mom) migrated to Canada in 1967.  So in a nutshell, that is how a Scottish lady’s scone recipe from South Africa arrived in Canada.  At 102 years old, Tara’s Poh Poh is well today but no longer bakes.

I asked Tara:

J: What are the ups and downs of learning and baking scones?

T: Scones seem relatively simple to make, but, actually can turn out badly if you're not careful. The key is not to play with the dough too much, which will make them hard and heavy. 

Your touch needs to be fairly light, and you must not overwork them. You also have to make sure the butter is cold, and that the chunks of butter in the dough aren't too big, or too small. 

Finally, you want to add enough liquid (milk) so that the dough stays together, but you don't want it to be too wet either. It's basically all about balance.

J: What really makes a good scone?

T: A good scone should be light and flaky, with a fairly delicate texture. It should hold together fairly well versus breaking apart when you cut or break them open. It should also be buttery and not overly dry. In other words, it should not taste or feel like a hockey puck.

J: How different are your scones from the ones you can buy in other bakeries?

T: When people buy my scones, the scones have always been made only a few hours before, so they are very fresh. Many bakeries make big batches, whereas I make very small-scale lots. Scone quality tends to go down the larger the scale. 

J: Have you created invented your own variety of scone?

T: My scones use my grandmother's recipe, as learned from the Scottish woman in South Africa. The various types I make are based on flavor combos I have had elsewhere, as well as flavor combinations that I personally like. For example, cardamom is one of my favorite spices, so I use it in one of my scone types.

J: How long did it take you to master the craft?

T: I have been making scones my whole life, so I cannot say exactly how long it has taken me. I suppose that I have become especially good at making them over the last few years, after my grandmother stopped and other family members had to take over making them.

J: How did you come up with the business name Scone Queen?

T: I associate scones with England, elegant afternoon tea, and the Queen. I wanted to draw upon this association, as well as indicate that I believe that I am a queen or expert at making them (I say modestly).

J: How many kinds of scones can you bake?  What are they?

T: I have tried all sorts of flavor combos, but I am currently making:
Aged Cheddar and Chive, Aged Cheddar and Apple, Cardamom and Currant, White Chocolate and Dried Sour Cherry.  In the future, I might play around with making and selling other flavor combos, like goat cheese and pear, or feta and spinach. 

J: What are the most popular scones with men, with women, with children?  Why?

T: Children tend to like the sweet scones, most especially the white chocolate and dried sour cherry. Some men, who have less of a sweet tooth, really like the ones with cheddar. I have made ones with onion and bacon, and those were popular with the men. Women often like the cardamom and currant, especially with tea. Overall, though, the aged cheddar and chive are by far the crowd favorite, irrespective of age or gender.

As for moi, I had to try all four scones Tara mentioned earlier.  First, what makes Tara’s scones outstanding is the dough: buttery, a bit crumbly but still holds, and certainly not bready or dense as the ones in bakeries.  Now I know what she means when she said you have to hand knead the dough with care and getting the right feel.  It shows.   The top and bottom are golden crusty.  The inside is supple with the flavorings scattered all over.  Certainly not like a hockey puck.

The White Chocolate and Dried Sour Cherry scones were an excellent balance of sweet and sour.  Do not spread butter or anything else.  By itself, this is one of the best scones I ever had.  

Add captionWhite Chocolate and Dried Sour Cherry

Aged Cheddar and Chive (image below) was fragrant, colorful with bits of yellow cheese and dark green chive specks.  

Aged Cheddar and Chive

Personally, I prefer the pair of Aged Cheddar and Apple (image below) which was very applely.  

Aged Cheddar and Apple

Cardamom and Currant (image below) work well together like a good marriage – the potent domination of the cardamom is subdued by the sweet slight acidity of the currant. 

Cardamom and Currant

According to a great blog www.savvyeat.com, to freeze scones well “Fold a paper towel so that it fits the bottom of a plastic container. Place the scones on top, and then add the lid.”   You can keep it in the freezer up to three months.  I find the best way to warm it up is to let the scone thaw, split it in half horizontal wise, place it in a pan on stove top in low heat, cover with a peaking lid, for a few minutes.  Touch for warmth.  Flip for a couple of minutes. Then serve with a hot or cold beverage.

To order Scone Queen’s scones, e-mail Tara at sconequeenyvr@gmail.com.   Each scone costs $2.50.  I had to pick up mine from Tara’s Vancouver home.  She sells in some special events markets.  To find out which markets, visit sconequeen.wordpress.com.


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