cream scones, french almond cake, and more flowers

At the risk of calling the existence of this very blog into question, there are some moments of unparalleled food pleasures that cannot be adequately described in words. This past Sunday was such a day, one so filled with wonderful meals, happy spring sights, and lively conversation that I feel I can hardly do the memories justice in simple linguistic devices. The surest way to convey the same delight and happy atmosphere would be to recreate it in more decadent lunches, suppers, and afternoon teas, of course! At the very least, I invite every reader to stop and smell the roses, as they say, and take in the littler pleasures of spring and the new season.

Sunday morning dawned with more elegance than spring usually affords: birds chirping, sunlight filtering in through the curtains, cheerful cries from young children on their way to the still on-going cherry blossom festival. Even after a rather sleepless night (coffee after dinner–never again), I awoke bright-eyed and positively giddy with excitement for the afternoon lunch I had with the same wonderful two ladies of Ichi Hana flowershop where I bought the first of the season’s sakura. And since there’s nothing more lovely than showing gratitude through baked goods, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to whip up a batch of fresh cream scones to take with. 

The shop is pleasantly simple: a glass front, open walk-in with elegant basins, vases, and pots of flowers and green ivy climbing the iron gate along the sides. Inside the shop there is a single table and a tall wooden shelf partitioned into little cubbies, some holding old iron-worked candle holders, bouquets of dried roses, picture frames. On either side of the interior along the walls there is always an ever-changing display of beautiful stems–mums, dahlias, lilies, violets, and as we tiptoe toward June, hydrangeas. At times the shop is a pastel wonderland, at other times striking and bold with rarities such as black tulips or deep-umber chrysanthemums. And always, in the background, the lilt of an accordion playing.

When I arrived at the shop just past noon, carrying four scones nestled in a paper-lined box and a jar of the grapefruit marmalade I made a number of weekends ago, there was all the gentleness of spring and the feel of Easter in the opulence of pale pinks and pastel lavenders. I called out a hello, and the cheerful Ms Tsuji, the younger of the store’s proprietors, answered from behind the large shelf. She begged me to sit down as she and the senior of the flower shop, Ms Etsuko, brought down seemingly endless plates and bowls and platters of dishes. There was pale yellow rolled egg omelette cut into neat squares, sweet sauteed apples in a beautiful deep blue ceramic bowl, asparagus and cabbage stir-fried with thin strips of beef, single bowls of white rice dotted with soft, wrinkled green peas, a small helping of thinly sliced cucumber and fried tofu strips in a sweet and sour vinegar dressing, and a light broth of thinned shoyu with silken tofu and green onion. As we ate and shared stories of travel, cooking, and family, surrounded by forests of colorful blooms and the familiar accordion playing the background, it occurred to me that happiness is a three-fold pleasure: in the expectation, the materialization, and the recollection of it. It is a gift indeed to be in possession of our minds which so extend our experience of happiness! It is thanks to the wonderful ladies of the flower shop, with their ready kindness and eagerness to share the beauty of life’s simpler pleasures, that I’ve come to love the transient but incomparable beauty of flowers and food in season.

And as for the treats themselves, baking, as with happiness, is a multiplying pleasure–the joy of preparing the many ingredients, excitedly anticipating the finished result, and the exquisite luxury of partaking in said result are amusements better left to experiencing, not just writing… So I leave it to you, dear reader, to create an occasion for felicity and celebrate spring!

These cream scones are especially tender and moist, and the almond cake was lovely in all its simplicity. I tossed in a few scrapes of grated orange zest to the batter on a whim, though I’m sure lemon would be just as bright and lively with the sweet almond flavor.

Cream Scones

260 grams flour
1/4 tsp salt
10 grams (1 Tbs) baking powder
36 grams (3 Tbs) white sugar
70 grams cold butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 Cup heavy cream
extra sugar and cream for finishing

Preheat oven to 190˚ C (375˚ F), line a baking sheet with oven paper. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Add butter and rub between finger tips to work into the flour mixture until small pea-sized crumbs form. Cover and refrigerate for 20 or more minutes.

Whisk cream and egg together, add vanilla, and pour onto dry ingredients. Mix sparingly with a fork or spatula just until dough comes together. On a flour surface, lightly handle dough to form a flat disk and cut into 8 or 10 small scones. Glaze each scone with cream and sprinkle with granular sugar. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until tops are golden and a tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and serve.



Almond Cake
adapted slightly from Happy Home Baking 

74 grams butter, softened
80 grams sugar
2 eggs
60 grams almond meal
27 grams flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2/3 Tbs milk
1/2 vanilla
1 tsp orange zest
1 Tbs orange juice
1 Tbs sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 180˚ C (350˚ F) , line a circular 18cm (7 inch) pan with paper.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time. Mixture will look curdled, don’t worry! Add vanilla, milk, zest, and orange juice to the butter mixture and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and almond meal. Stir in flour mixture into butter mixture and mix with a spatula unti butter in fully incorporated and batter is a pale yellow color. Spread evenly in the pan and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to brown early, cover with foil to prevent burning. Cool in pan for a couple of minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack. Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar.


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