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Opinion

Mothers spend 364 days of the year being useful. That's why one should always celebrate Mother's Day with the useless, the impractical, the gloriously gratuitous. Now is not the time to buy mom a dust-buster or a laundry hamper or a Canadian Tire gift certificate. Now is the time for flowers, chocolates, exquisitely overpriced soap or a messy handmade card.

Mom deserves something sweet and not strictly necessary.

Biscones with strawberry jam butter, and lavender shortbread.

ANDREA BOYCHUK / FOR WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Biscones with strawberry jam butter, and lavender shortbread.

And when it comes to Mother's Day food, is there anything more wonderfully unnecessary than afternoon tea? This not-exactly-a-meal is a departure from the ordinary three squares a day, and it hits just at that hour when one's energy level is drooping. It's also sociable, slow and conducive to sitting and chatting. Your mom could use more of that.

You need to start with the cup that cheers, of course, and the current craze for high-end tea can help with that. But the afternoon tea table also needs home-baking -- scones, tea cakes, tarts or cookies.

That's where Cheryl Day and Griffith Day come in. Their new recipe collection, The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, showcases 100 love-in-a-pan treats from their Savannah, Ga., bakery. This husband-and-wife team adore old-timey scratch baking, and they also adore their moms. (It says so in the acknowledgements.)

The cookbook features a tea-friendly recipe for what the Days call "biscones," a buttery cross between a southern-style biscuit and a British scone. Cheryl Day uses a mix of unbleached flour and cake and pastry flour, which comes close to the White Lily flour beloved by traditional southern bakers. She also skips the complications of kneading and cutting, making these biscones quick and easy.

You can top the biscones with the Back in the Day version of butter-jam, which combines soft butter and fresh jam for an all-in-one spread. And pass some lavender shortbread, a teatime favourite given a delicate flowery taste with the addition of dried lavender. (Just make sure you use culinary lavender: The lavender used in potpourri and sachets can be chemically treated.)

If you want something savoury -- which means you're heading toward what's called a "full tea" -- you can do finger sandwiches. Start with the basics but add something unusual (tuna with basil and toasted pine nuts; smoked salmon with wasabi cream cheese; Stilton with walnuts; egg salad with chopped green olives and fresh dill; roast beef with horseradish cream and chives). And, of course, make sure you get rid of the crusts.

And remember, presentation counts with afternoon tea. Mother's Day seems like a good day to break out all those good things that are passed down from mothers and grandmothers but often get neglected. Set the table with cake plates, china cups, silver -- yes, even if it involves polishing -- and vintage linens. (And again, this might involve ironing, but didn't your mom iron for you?)

 

Lavender shortbread

226 g (1 cup or 2 sticks) butter, room temperature

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla

1 ml (1/4 tsp) fleur de sel or slightly less table salt

310 ml (1 1/4 cups) icing sugar

500 ml (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

Andrea Boychuk/for Winnipeg Free Press   

Biscones with strawberry jam butter, and lavender shortbread.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Andrea Boychuk/for Winnipeg Free Press Biscones with strawberry jam butter, and lavender shortbread.

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) dried culinary lavender

about 60 ml (1/4 cup) granulated sugar for dusting

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter, vanilla and salt on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Turn down the speed to low and add the icing sugar, beating until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the flour in thirds, beating just until incorporated.

Sprinkle in the lavender and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Transfer the dough to another bowl and finish mixing by hand, making sure there are not bits of flour or butter hiding at the bottom and that the dough is thoroughly mixed. Use a small scoop to form the cookies, about 15 ml (1 tbsp) each, and place on the prepared sheets, leaving 2.5 cm (1 inch) between.

Flatten each cookie with a cookie stamp dusted with granulated sugar or gently flatten each cookie with the palm of your hand and then dust tops with sugar. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours before baking. Preheat oven to 175C (350F) and bake cookies, one rack at a time, in the lower third of the oven, rotating sheet halfway through baking time, for 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Let cool on a rack and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Tester's notes: I might have got my butter-flour ratio slightly off because these cookies spread more than other shortbread I've made. I used my grandmother's Scotch thistle cookie stamp, but as the cookies softened, the design disappeared. I ended up cutting the baked cookies into smaller, neater rounds with a cookie cutter.

The taste is intriguing and kind of ethereal, almost like edible perfume. Make sure you use culinary lavender -- other forms of lavender can be chemically treated -- and don't add too much or the results can be bitter.

 

Biscones

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) cake and pastry flour (not self-rising flour)

60 ml (1/4 cup) granulated sugar

30 ml (2 tbsp) baking powder

3 ml (3/4 tsp) fine sea salt, or 2 ml (1/2 tsp) table salt

1 ml (1/4 tsp) ground cardamom

226 g (1 cup or 2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 cm (1/2 in) cubes

250 ml (1 cup) dried fruit, such as dried cherries, dried cranberries or currants (optional)

375 ml (1 1/2 cup) buttermilk, or as needed

1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt, for egg wash

60 ml (1/4 cup) coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and cardamom, and whisk together until completely mixed. Add the butter and, working quickly, cut in with a pastry blender. You should have various-sized pieces of butter, from sandy patches to pea-sized chunks and some even bigger. Add the dried fruit, if using, and toss to distribute evenly.

Gradually pour in the buttermilk and gently fold the mixture until you have a soft dough and there are no bits of flour at the bottom of the bowl. Do not overbeat: You should still see some lumps of butter in the dough. If the dough seems dry, add a little more buttermilk. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky. Gently pat down the dough in the bowl until it resembles a loaf of bread. Dust the top lightly with flour.

Using a large ice cream scoop, scoop mounds of dough (about 60 ml or 1/4 cup) onto the prepared baking sheets, arranging about 2.5 cm (1 inch) apart. Lightly tap down the tops of the biscones. Brush the biscones with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans once halfway through the baking time, until the biscones are light golden and fully baked. Serve warm or at room temperature. These biscones are best eaten the day they are made. Yields about 1 dozen.

Tester's notes: Richer than a biscuit, with a fluffier texture than a scone, these are lovely and fairly easy to make.

 

Jam butter

340 g (1 1/2 cups or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

75 ml (5 tbsp) jam

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add jam and mix until combined. Serve at room temperature.

Tester's notes: Pretty in pink, this jam butter would be good with scones, quick breads and muffins. Unless you're cooking for a crowd, I'd consider making a one-half or one-third batch, especially since this jam butter only keeps for a week in the fridge. (Even I quail a bit at a recipe that kicks off with a pound and a half of butter.)

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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