Doeden: Gentle hand, good recipe secrets to great Strawberry-Rhubarb SconesI watched intently as Katie Novotny, owner of St. Paul Classic Cookie Co., dumped dry ingredients into a large metal mixing bowl. She used a knife to slash chunks of chilled butter into the same bowl. It seemed making perfect scones would be quite simple.
I watched intently as Katie Novotny, owner of St. Paul Classic Cookie Co., dumped dry ingredients into a large metal mixing bowl. She used a knife to slash chunks of chilled butter into the same bowl. It seemed making perfect scones would be quite simple.
Novotny had graciously agreed to share some of her baking expertise with our group of seven food-and-fun-loving females in her small shop on Territorial Road in St. Paul. After running her bakery in the skyway in downtown St. Paul for 3½ years, she moved to her current location and opened up shop in January 2010. Besides taking special orders for custom cakes, she keeps the glass bakery case full of made-from-scratch muffins and pies, scones, brownies, cupcakes and a variety of cookies, including her snickerdoodles, which were named the best in the Twin Cities by Minnesota Monthly magazine in 2011.
“I love the smell of flour and butter,” said Novotny as she dug her fingers into the bowl, her fingertips working the butter into the dry ingredients. “Hands are the best (kitchen) tools. You can feel the mixture changing. I want this mixture to feel like sand.”
I appreciated Novotny’s home-style baking techniques. My grandmother taught me years ago to use my hands to mix bread dough, pie crust and dumplings. It was the only way to learn how the dough should feel to get the best result.
Next, Novotny used a light touch to blend cold milk into the flour and butter mixture. “A scone is just a biscuit. It’s totally how you handle the dough,” she said. She stressed the importance of working quickly and handling the dough as little as possible.
When the dough felt just right, Novotny patted it into a rectangle on her work surface. She pushed chunks of frozen rhubarb and strawberries into the soft dough, then folded each long side into the center, covering the frozen fruit. Like an experienced surgeon with a scalpel, she sliced through the dough with precision, forming four squares, and then cut through each square to form eight triangular shapes.
Novotny can’t share the recipe for the scones that fly out of her bakery. She makes at least four dozen a day to keep her south St. Anthony Park neighborhood customers happy. But I sent her an email message from home after I’d used my own tried-and-true recipe for scones that I shape by dropping them onto a baking sheet with a measuring cup. When I tried her flatten, fill and fold method, my tasty scones did not hold their perfect triangular shape as they baked. I asked for her help.
On the next try, I drastically reduced the liquid and cut back on the sugar as Novotny suggested. I don’t remember ever making a decent biscuit, but I gently mixed and patted, filled and folded. I had high expectations. Novotny’s expert tips for creating the perfect scones were clear in my mind – be sure the butter and the liquid are cold, work quickly and handle the dough gently. Use frozen fruit. It will hold its shape during baking and won’t color the dough as soft fruit can do.
Novotny is a good teacher. My Strawberry-Rhubarb Scones were puffy, moist and light. Next time I know they will be even better. Novotny assured me that great scones come from lots of practice. She speaks from experience.
For more information about St. Paul Classic Cookie Co., go to saintpaulclassiccookie.blogspot.com.
Sue Doeden is a food writer and photographer from Bemidji, Minn., and a former Fargo resident. Her columns are published in 10 Forum Communications newspapers.