My first encounter with Irish culture was through dance.
I had moved to NY after college and a friend who had been in my college dance company, then working for an entertainment lawyer, was able to get us comp tickets to see “Riverdance.” Not just any comp tickets — the best in the house, which in case any of you are wondering, for a dance performance or musical theater, is generally front row center mezzanine, not orchestra. This (as opposed to “Lord of the Dance” which is all about Michael Flatley taking off his shirt and prancing around) remains one of my favorite shows because it gives a version of Irish history through music, song, and dance.
Initially I had a difficult time relating to some of the dance — the performers on stage seemed so stiff. Their ramrod torsos with arms on hips or straight at their sides while their feet seemed to go a mile a minute in military rhythms, heel and toe clicks, high kicks, fast knee bends that made me repeatedly flinch for fear of a flying shoe. The real action starts around 2:20 in this excerpt from the finale:
The explanation for the posture came about mid-way through the first act when right before one number, a disembodied voice commands, “Irish dancers, stand proud!” A proud army they were, straight posture, heads high, shoulders down, feet-a-flutter.
I was so excited, too, when I took a few Irish step classes and the first thing we learned was to put our hands out in front of us, palms up, fold our thumbs in, curl our fingers over our thumbs, and lower our arms to our sides. A proud army ourselves even in our mishmash of leotards, jeans, tights, and tap shoes.
Wanting to make something for St. Patrick’s Day, I tried to learn a bit about the Jews of Ireland (through food of course) to find something to cook that would incorporate Jewish traditions and Irish pride. I couldn’t find any “Jewish Irish dishes” in searching through my multi-cultural Jewish cookbooks and few of my Irish Jewish friends seem to cook.
I turned to Ellie, The Baking Architect, who participated in a bike trip through the Emerald Isle a few years ago to raise money for Miklat, to suggest some authentic Irish recipes, maybe made by Jews in Ireland, but she could only send me some beautifully decorated butter cookies. I have little patience for such fussiness and sweet icing (sorry, El).
In looking around on the web, the main thing I found about Jews in Ireland vis à vis food is that they were traditionally involved in city life, acting as merchants and business people (surprise, surprise…), and therefore bought most of their food rather than growing it. Many Jews came to Ireland from Lithuania and Russia in the late 1800s/early 1900, so much of their food is Ashkenazi. The Bretzel Bakery, that makes traditional Ashekenazi baked goods (including rugelach) has been non-Jewish owned for decades and is no longer kosher (though apparently the non-Jewish owners did keep up with kosher certification, working with a mashgiach for several decades).
Back to square one.
So, forget Jewish…I might as well make something sort of Irish. And something that I’ll want to eat. Scones. Perfect. Plus, it’ll use up some flour before Passover (do the holidays ever end???).
Cinnamon Chocolate Scones
I found a Scottish scone recipe — close enough to Irish? — that didn’t call for fancy flour or buttermilk. This recipe does use a LOT of butter. 3 sticks! I’ll keep playing with some of the proportions, but this makes a really nice, moist scone that is not dry. I replaced whole milk with skim milk, increasing 3/4 C to 1 full C. Replaced raisins with cinnamon chips and chocolate chips and added some cinnamon to the batter.
If you’re going to bake with butter, you might as well use Plugrá or another European style butter with a slightly higher (82-84% vs. 80-82%) butterfat content than American-style butter. The cinnamon chips (parve) I used are from Peppermill, a high-end cookware and bakeware with gourmet products. The Schokinag semi-sweet baking chunks (dairy) are available at Williams-Sonoma (thanks, Mom!) — and have a nice half-barrel shape. Really, any good chocolate chunk will do. My other alternative was to chop up some Callebaut (see the Resources page about this chocolate).
Makes 12-16 scones
4 C all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
3/4 unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (YES – THIS IS 3 STICKS OF BUTTER)
1 C skim milk
1 C chips (I used 1/2 cinnamon chips, 1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chunks)
Turbinado sugar aka”sugar in the raw” for sprinkling (or, for you, Ro – sprinking)
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment (or grease baking sheet).
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl.
Cut cold butter into dry mixture with pastry blender, 2 knives, or my personal favorite, your hand. Resulting mixture should resemble a course meal.
Add in beaten egg and milk – stir until well combined and then knead in bowl until smooth, about 5-10 minutes. This is not a tough dough, but it is a bit sticky. Add a little extra flour as necessary.
Add chips and a few dashes of cinnamon — so there are swirls of cinnamon, but not a brown dough.
Refrigerate dough ~3o minutes so it is easier to handle.
Shape the scones.
Option 1: Make triangles that are just barely attached — like the proud Irish dancers standing in close formation. To shape into triangles, take out ~ 1C of dough and flatten into a 1-inch thick round patty on a floured board. A good estimate of an inch that I learned from my architect sister: distance from most adult thumbs to the first knuckle is approximately 1 inch (obviously depends on the size of your hands). Cut patty into quarters and transfer onto parchment-lined (or greased) baking sheet, separating quarters by a finger width (~1/2 inch) because scones will rise and spread a little – I think it’s nice for the quarters to meet a bit in the middle, but not so much that they need to be pulled apart. As they bake, they will make a 4-leaf clover, er, shamrock, for good luck – and who can’t use a little extra luck (random interesting note, most shamrocks are 3-leaf clovers and are said to represent the Trinity)
Option 2: Make “drop scones” with a small ice cream scooper (should be ~1/4 C). You might need a second spoon (or your hands) to get the dough out. Flatten a bit with a floured hand to 1-inch thickness (see “Option 1″ for thumb measuring stick approximation).
Sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar so the scones will glisten slightly after cooking, but not so much that there will be a hard sugary crust.
Repeat with rest of dough. I had to make 2 batches.
Bake for 25 minutes. I had to move my first batch from the middle rack to the top rack for the last 5 minutes because the bottoms were getting a bit too dark, so check your scones after about 15-20 minutes and adjust position as necessary.
Cool on rack.