Little did I know when I bought an old, abandoned farm in the Loire Valley of France that it would come with a collection of locals. Properties in rural France are more than just a street number, and in most cases, they have no formal street address. They have names, with histories that live on through multiple owners. Our place is known as Le Clos de Bachet.
Soon after undertaking a renovation project that most of our French neighbors described as “la folie” (foolishness), I met Thierry Renault (no relation to the automobile family). Thierry comes from a long line of local landowners, and he has inherited the family “farm” business. Think of him as a gentleman farmer, who mainly oversees the operations, though he will drive the combine in a pinch during the wheat harvest. Thierry’s wife Betty is similarly atypical in terms of a farmer’s wife. Chic, well dressed and sophisticated, she has a passion, maybe an obsession, for healthy food and living, so much so that Thierry and Betty are on a perpetual diet of cuisine “a la vapeur.” This consists of steamed foods only, mostly veggies and grains, only poultry and fish, virtually no fat. Very un-French.
Soon after I arrived, Thierry learned on which side his bread was buttered. He became indispensable for me, when my French was almost non-existent, in working with the local artisans, in navigating the local bureaucracy and in fixing any minor problems I might encounter on a daily basis. He also liked the fact that my “American” coffee was not what the French normally think of in the pejorative as “jus de chaussette,” literally translated as the juice from socks. Many French still think that American coffee is what was served in truck stops 30 years ago.
Thierry discovered that I usually have on hand at any time something sweet and delicious for him to eat while his wife is not looking. What started out as a once or twice a week visit for coffee and a snack has morphed into once or twice daily visits – except for Sundays – when Thierry can indulge in all of the sweets he could never possibly eat at home. Thierry has also become my principal reviewer and critic, weighing in on some subjects that are hardly French, such as the quality of cheesecake, scones, brownies, carrot cake, banana nut bread and other American recipes that I make here.
Today was Cranberry-Orange Scone Day.
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder (aluminum-free)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- Zest from 1 orange
- 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 ᐤF.
- Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl and mix. Using a pastry blender,or your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter pieces. Stir in the dried cranberries and orange zest.
- Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla extract with a fork until the dough begins to come together but is very shaggy, about 30 seconds.
- With your hands, push the dough around the bowl to gently knead and bring it all together. Transfer dough to a lightly floured board or pastry marble and bring it together into a round. Flatten and dust the surface with flour. Using a rolling pin or your hands, make a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and ½-inch high.
- Use a cookie cutter of 2¾ or 3 inches in diameter and cut a round from the center. Then use a sharp, fine knife to cut equal size wedges of about 3 inches on the wide end. Place the scones on an ungreased baking sheet or on parchment paper.
- Bake until scone tops and bottoms are light brown, 13-16 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.