Joanne did, too, but she had another take on baking as balm. Think about what you do when you bake, she said when we chatted by phone recently. You choose a recipe, it has a list of ingredients, it’s all laid out for you: You gather them; you measure them; you arrange them. Then, you follow the instructions to combine them in a particular way. “You have to focus,” she said. “It’s the focus that makes baking the perfect funnel for angst.”
Joanne knows a lot about baking; she’s been doing it ever since she left her job as a consultant, the job she got with her degree from Harvard in applied mathematics and the one she quit to become a pastry chef some 25 years ago. She started Flour in 2000 and told me that these last few months have reminded her of when she opened her first bakery, when she would do anything to keep it going. As was true for thousands of restaurateurs, the pandemic forced Joanne and Christopher to close their businesses and furlough their teams. “I gave a minute’s thought to using the down time to clean my closet,” Joanne said, but instead, she and her executive pastry chef, Jes Morris, headed back to the kitchen. The bakeries were shuttered, there was no staff, no money coming in, but donations to Flour’s fund to feed needy Bostonians allowed them to bake for those on the front lines and, in the process, begin rehiring staff to bake with them and to make deliveries. A donation of $5 bought a breakfast, $10 bought a lunch. It still does. It’s a continuing round robin of generosity and hard work that feeds hundreds of people each day. Hospitals, soup kitchens and shelters have been getting sandwiches and snacks, cookies, drinks and the bakery’s famous breakfast pastries, among them scones, one of my favorite things from Flour.
I’m partial to Flour’s maple-blueberry scones. They’ve got whole-wheat flour, but they’re hardly “health food” — they’ve also got crème fraîche and plenty of butter, and they’re glazed. They’re a little sweet, but maple-syrup sweet, which means that there’s a slight tang. There’s also tang from the fresh berries and buttermilk. The scones are big, unusually big. And they have a texture that’s unlike any other I’ve had: tender, like a layer cake, but also flaky, like a traditional scone. It wasn’t until I made them myself that I realized that their texture is different because the technique for making them is different.
Most scone recipes call for the butter to be rubbed into the flour mixture until it’s coated with flour and you’ve got lumps and pieces of butter the size of everything from a cornflake to a pea. In Joanne’s recipe, half the butter gets this treatment, and it’s what gives the scones their characteristic flakiness. The other half of the butter gets the reverse: It’s beaten into the dry ingredients so that it becomes the coating for the flour. It’s a way of protecting the flour from absorbing liquid, and it’s what makes the scones so tender.
The recipe is brilliant and original. It’s easy to follow, but you have to focus. It’s the perfect thing to bake when you’re looking to funnel some angst into something delicious.