A long, long time ago, I bought a book about becoming smarter. Long story short: it didn't work for me - I can't even remember its title or its author which goes a fair way to proving my point.
In saying that, I do remember one thing - and I always say "If you learn one thing, then [insert activity here] is worth it." (I have modified that sentence to have the word "learn" swap out for "teach" for all my friends who know everything).
The one thing I remember from this book was the practice of not finding out how to do something before embarking on the task, but to discover how to do something by doing it.
An example might be that you need to drive to an address in a part of town you're not familiar with, and instead of looking up a map, figuring out where it might be, then proving or disproving that by going there - then problem solving until you find the address. That sounds sort of weird to me when I write it down, but I've tried it and it's an interesting and not completely unrewarding experience. On a smaller scale, and another example would be to look at the weather each morning, and estimate the temperature - then checking later in the day to see if your guess was close to the actual temperature. Over time, you ought to get pretty good at estimating the temperature.
So with that in mind, and the desire for afternoon tea, I attempted to reconstruct my Aunt's delicious pinwheel scones, without looking up a recipe, or calling her to find out how.
I thought about it for a bit (let's call this the "discovery" or "planning" phase). I remembered those lovely spirals of sugary goodness, and deconstructed them in my mind. First of all, the base is a scone dough. I've made scones lots of times, so thought this would be a piece of cake (is that a pun?). With traditional scones, after pulling together the ingredients, one rolls the dough and cuts it into cubes. With pinwheels, the dough is not cut until it has been rolled up and around a filling made of brown sugar, sultanas and cinnamon. It is then cut to form spirals of dough, inter levered with the sugary spicey filling, laid flat on a baking tray with enough room to expand and plump up - the filling melting and melding the entire thing together.
Sounds simple enough. I have the ingredients. I believe I have the skills required. I feel confident I can make pinwheel scones just like Aunty Pat makes. I will make them without a recipe, and expect to be successful. I spent a little bit of my discovery/planning phase projecting that outcome of success, visualising warm, sticky, spirals of sutana'ry goodness to share with housemates and neighbours, who praised me between mouths full of delicate scone.
Life tells me things. It tells me these things over and over again. One particular life lesson that continues share itself with me is that practical application of a theory will cause a gap - sometimes the gap that appears between theory and practice is small, sometimes it is as if the earth has split asunder. Sometimes that gap is represented by a hard crusted, dry sugar clump of cooked dough that cannot be saved by smothering with cream and being renamed "dessert".
Where the wheels fell off my scone wagon:
My theory included the fact that I knew how to make scone dough. This information was correct. I, in fact, know two ways to make scone dough - one 100% successful every time, the other way, not so much.
In practice, I used the other way to make my scone dough. While it's considered the "traditional" way to make scones (rub butter into flour, add milk, knead, roll, cut) it has more variables therefore more dubious outcomes.
My first variable was the flour - I think it might have aged in the pantry, and it's rising properties become less active. The second variable was milk - not the quality in this case, but the quantity. I didn't use enough. My dough did not become particularly sticky and, to make matters worse, I knew that at the time, and did nothing to correct it.
(this is beginning to play out like a work project)
When I was thinking about how to construct my pinwheel scones, I have to admit to skipping over the filling part concentrating more on the dough (but not that much) and the temperature and time in the cooking phase (quite a lot more time running those numbers). I thought: brown sugar, cinnamon, sultanas. That's pretty much all I thought, expecting the sugar to melt due to the temperature of the oven, and the sultanas to plump up and become moist juicy during the cooking process.
Two problems with that: for sugar to melt to liquid, the temperature during the cooking process needs to be quite high. The second problem is that heat will draw out moisture and cause evaporation, causing the thing that used to have moisture in it, let's call that thing a "sultana" to become smaller, tougher and chewier.
- Stick with what you know - now is not the time for reinventing the pinwheel
- Good quality, fresh flour with a good "shake" to make sure rising agent evenly distributed through the product
- Concentrate - if in doubt, check - adjust quantity of liquid. Don't move on to the rolling-out phase before the mixing phase is completed perfectly.
- Mix brown sugar with cinnamon, then with softened butter. This will help spread the mixture more evenly over the dough, and the butter will melt during cooking, dissolving the sugar rather than melting it.
- Soak the sultanas for a few hours in fruit juice. They will absorb the liquid, giving them a store of hydration for the cooking process.