On Saturday night, Wheatfield's Frontier Fire Hall became an honorary outpost of Scotland, if only for a few hours.
Bagpipes skirled as the haggis, the quintessentially Scottish entree of oatmeal and offal, was ceremoniously welcomed into a chamber packed with waiting diners. There would be toasts made -- to the laddies present, to the lassies, to the Scot poet Robert Burns, and to the haggis itself -- all punctuated by wee drams of Scotch whiskey.
It was Riverside Presbyterian Church's Burns Dinner, an annual event that marks the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Held by expatriate Scots and other fans around the world, the Burns Dinner has become a celebration of Scottishness, as if the pageantry and pride the American Irish hold for St. Patrick's Day was packed into a banquet dinner.
Before the 300 or so attendees take their seats, though, they get a chance to shop for a taste of Scotland to bring home. That's when the scone mastery of Jackie Masters and her helpers is on full display.
With the assistance of other bakers, Masters has been making scones, the quintessential Scottish baked good, for the Burns Dinner for more than 15 years. Scones can be leaden when prepared by lesser hands, but Masters' scones taste like the real deal, said Margaret Smith, a Riverside Presbyterian member and genuine Scot.
Sure, there are bakeries that make scones here, said Smith, but the authentic items are "not as puffy," she said. "There's nothing here like it." That's why she used to travel across the Canadian border to buy Scottish-style scones from a Canadian bakery named Moody's, until it closed.
Now the scones on sale at the Burns Dinner, along with Welsh tea cakes, shortbread and other lovely baked goods, are as good as it gets. "They're so popular, when you come in in the beginning, before the program starts, most of the stuff is sold out," said Smith.
That included more than 300 scones last year, in more than 10 flavors, for a mere 75 cents each.
Jackie Masters agreed to share some tips on proper scone-making with News readers. Actually, most of her recipes come from Taste of Home and Internet sites, she said. But in 15 years, she's learned a lot about the care and handling of their dough to make the best scones.
Scottish scones are usually oatmeal and raisin, or sometimes with currants, she said. For the Burns Dinner, the bakers have been branching out, finding favor with fruit varieties like blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, pumpkin and apricot. There's also been gingerbread and cheddar cheese flavors, and Masters' daughter has made a chocolate chip version.
Two days before the Burns Dinner, Masters measures out the dry ingredients for the 10 or so batches she will make. "My dining room table is all covered with bowls and the recipes," she said. "I get anything together I can the night before, so when I get started I don't have to measure out the flour for this one and this one, just pick up a bowl, put the other ingredients in and bake them."
Setting up her scone assembly line the night before also gives her a chance to fetch any stray ingredients, she said.
Precision is key, she said, noting that she doesn't try to use one base recipe with different flavors. "I don't have any like Grandma had, 'a pinch of this and a pinch of that,' " said Masters. "I follow exactly what the recipe says."
Don't swap baking soda for baking powder, for instance. Otherwise, "You might have a dud," she said. "It might not taste good."
A dusting of flour allows bakers to work the dough without it sticking to the counter and their hands, but try to use as little as possible, Master said. Too much can change the scones' texture.
If you're baking a recipe that calls for frozen fruit like strawberries or raspberries, don't thaw the fruit first, she said. "Otherwise they're too squishy."
She always bakes her scones in a single piece, scored for cutting before it goes in the oven. After they're a lovely golden brown, she pulls them out and lets them cool, then cuts them into wedges.
Baking the dough in one round seems to keep the scones from becoming too dry, Masters said. "They're bound to be drier if you do them separately."
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup salted butter
1 1/3 cups large-flaked rolled oats
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup buttermilk
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and sugar. Work with room-temperature butter and rub into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
Stir in oats, currants and then buttermilk. Stir to a soft dough, then turn out on a floured surface and knead gently six times.
Roll out to a round, 1 inch thick. Using a floured knife, score the dough into 12 wedges, without cutting all the way through. Transfer to greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
Beat egg, then brush round with with beaten egg.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
After cooling, cut into wedges. Makes 12 scones.
>Cranberry Orange Scones
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
1 large egg
3/4 cup orange juice (not from concentrate)
1 cup frozen cranberries
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter, blend in shortening until lumps are the size of peas.
In a small bowl, beat egg with orange juice. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the mixture.
Add remaining orange juice mixture and frozen cranberries to dry ingredients. Mix just until combined. With well-floured hands, turn dough onto an ungreased baking sheet and pat into a 9- or 10-inch circle (it will spread while baking).
Using a floured knife, score the dough into 12 wedges, without cutting all the way through. Brush dough with reserved orange juice mixture.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
After cooling, cut into wedges. Makes 12 scones.