mostly, the laughter

renee's book- renee and the oysters

I have a not-so-secret crush on Renee Erickson. It’s okay. Danny understands. It’s not a romantic crush — my heart rests in the heart of my darling husband who grounds me. Besides, like most people near Seattle who love food, Danny has a crush on Renee Erickson too.

If you don’t know her yet, Renee Erickson is a chef and restaurateur who has calmly helped to create the feeling of the Seattle restaurant scene today: collaborative, not overly fussy, full of good cheer, and kick-ass delicious. Renee’s food is rooted in her heartfelt desire to gather good folks around a table set with food. And on that table? Pacific octopus salad with grilled beets, chermoula, and shaved fennel. Harissa-rubbed roasted lamb with yogurt and olive oil. Marinated olives with thyme, garlic, and lemon peel. Grilled zucchini with a pickled tomato salad and cilantro vinaigrette. There’s probably a clutch of chilled bottles of rosé from Corsica too. From Jim Henkens’ stunning, immediate photographs in A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories, you get the clear sense: Renee knows how to live.

renee's book- book

Renee’s food is simple, direct, and so delicious you want to lick the plate. Each meal we’ve eaten at The Whale Wins has stayed with us for months after. Sometimes Danny looks at me and says, “Remember that chicken?” Chicken slathered in harissa and roasted in a wood-fired oven, the skin crackling, delivered to our table with a stack of napkins. That was a fine anniversary meal. Sadly, Renee has closed Boat Street Cafe since the book was published — only because she’s opening another two places in Seattle and needed to focus her energies on them — but we’ve eaten many a meal in the dappled light near the front window, happy.

I wrote a piece about Renee’s restauarant career and her ethos of food and family for the Washington Post. It was published back in December, yet I haven’t shared her cookbook with you here. Time to take care of that.

renee's book- whale wins

A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories — named after her first three restaurants — is a chef’s tale written for home cooks. Our friend Jess Thomson, a writer you must read now, co-wrote the book, helping Renee to translate her passionate ideas into recipes scaled for home kitchens. Every recipe we have made from this book works.

I’ve been writing a life of food for more than a decade now. I’m still amazed. The longer I’m at this, the more and more interested I am in the kind of humble food that gathers us all to the table. Boiled crab, just caught in the Sound that day, squeezed lemon wedges, newspapers spread across the table, maybe some fresh mayonnaise. Hands reaching, voices singing and interrupting, forks hitting glasses, the laughter. Mostly, the laughter. The food? It’s important. The food is what makes it all happen. Let’s pay attention when we cook it, then let go of the need for it all to be good, and just eat.

renee's book- blue water

With all the savory foods that make me want to sit down and laugh at the table with friends — eating messy spot prawns with piment d’esplette — Renee’s baking recipes call me back to the book. Her mother, Shirlee, was the baker at the original Boat Street Cafe, and her personality is still in these recipes. As Renee describes her: “…organized, sweet, and stable, and spicy only when necessary.” That’s a good description of the baking recipes in the book too. Feel like making something right now? Long sunny morning, friends over, nowhere to go? Let’s make some cream scones.

renee's book- cream scones

gluten-free cream scones, adapted from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories

Cream scones are just lovely, really. Traditional scones, made with cold butter and buttermilk, require a little pulsing in the food processor or cutting fat into flour by hand with a gentle touch. Certainly, they’re not hard to make. But these cream scones are even easier. Blend the dry ingredients, add little flecks of currants and enough lemon zest to give the mouth a pucker, then pour in cream and slowly move them together. That’s about it. 

Except, there’s a little trick, guaranteed to make your gluten-free scones even better. Freeze the scones before you bake them. That’s right. Freeze them. This gives those wedges a little hesitation in the oven, a beat or two of baking the outside before the heat reaches the insides. That means they hold their shape. You can, as I’ve written the recipe here, freeze them for a bit before popping them in a hot oven, if you want to feed a visiting friend scones before she has to leave. Or, if you plan ahead, you make these in the evening, heat up the oven in the morning, and have warm scones for breakfast without doing much at all. 

515 grams (about 3 1/2 cups) gluten-free all-purpose flour 
100 grams (about 1/2 cup) organic cane sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup dried currants
grated zest of 2 large lemons
2 cups heavy cream (for dairy-free alternative, see the note below)
1 large egg, beaten (optional)
2 tablespoons demerara sugar (optional)

Make the batter. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the currants and lemon zest. Stir to combine.

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the cream. Using a small rubber spatula, stir from the center of the liquid, slowly, until you have incorporated all the flour from the sides of bowl. The dough should be shaggy and a little rough hewn, not a smooth ball. Pat a small amount of flour onto the palm of your hands and move the dough around in the bowl, patting it a bit, until the dough holds together.

Form the scones. Cut the ball of dough into 2 pieces. Put one piece of dough down onto a cutting board lightly dusted with the gluten-free all-purpose flour. Gently, fold the back edge of the dough onto the front edge of the dough. (If the dough is sticky, lift it with a bench scraper.) Turn the dough 90°. Fold the front edge onto the back edge of the dough. Continue this a few more times until the dough has been folded onto itself a few times. This will help to make the scones flaky. Form the dough into a disc, about 6 inches across and 1 inch tall. Cut the disk into 6 equal pieces. Put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat the process with the remaining ball of dough.

Freeze the scones. Put the baking sheet into the freezer until the oven has fully come to temperature, at least 15 minutes.

Prepare to bake. Heat the oven to 400°. When the oven has reached temperature, wait another 10 minutes for the oven to truly be heated. Take the scones out of the freezer. Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg and shower them with a bit of the demerara sugar. (You can bake the scones without either one of these and still have delicious scones.)

Bake the scones. Bake the scones until they are browned and quite firm to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then serve immediately with good butter and jam.

Makes 12 scones.

Make these Danny’s way. If cream is mean to your system, as it is for Danny, you can make these dairy-free with a few small adjustments. First of all, make coconut cream. Put a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, just before you make the scones, remove the lid of the coconut milk. Spoon out the thick coconut cream from the top 2/3 of the can into a large bowl. (The coconut water should be on the bottom of the can.) Whisk the cold coconut cream until it is thick and rich. Add it to the flour mix where you would add the cream in the recipe. This might be enough for you. However, I found that making the scones with coconut milk instead of cream can leave the scones a little crumbly. So, I add 3 or 4 tablespoons of vegetable shortening to the flour and work the fat into the flour before adding the coconut milk. This makes for a flakier scone. And hey! Now they are vegan scones.

10 comments on “mostly, the laughter

  1. Amanda

    Hi, I live in Zwitserland so I would like to know what you use as flours in your mix, so I can try and make my own mix. Love your site make many recipes, thank you Amanda

    1. DamselflyDiary

      Check out this link: https://glutenfreegirl.com/2012/07/how-to-make-a-gluten-free-all-purpose-flour-mix/ where Shauna shows you how.

      I make up a big batch to store and use in the future. Generally I include: almond flour, brown rice flour, sorghum flour, rice flour, oat flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, corn starch. I like to use a lot of different flours and starches as it gives it more complexity.

      She also talks about her ingredients and ratios in this post: https://glutenfreegirl.com/2014/10/gluten-free-girl-purpose-gluten-free-flour-blend/

      Good luck!

  2. paul

    Scones makes an excellent menu for breakfast and I always take them every day in the morning with my daughter .

  3. Annie

    I so would love to come to one of your cooking clas but I live as far on the east coast as you do on the west. Only difference is I live on a peninsula instead of an island. But you do have to cross a bridge in any direction to get off of this small penisula I live on. Just wanted you to know how you inspire me. Had a question about if you might be teaching in NY again sometime soon. Thanks for your dedication, inspiration, and sharing your passion for food.

  4. DamselflyDiary

    I made these today. Here is what I did (and didn’t do).

    I made them grain-free using Shauna’s grain free blend recipe included in her kickstarter cookbook. I am not comfortable sharing that publicly since it was a reward for a donation. Maybe she will share here or give me permission to do so.

    I used canned coconut cream (not coconut milk that had been chilled and skimmed) that I had bought at Trader Joe’s. I did not whip it up per recipe instructions. I did add 3 T of Spectrum shortening.

    I did not fold back edges. I mixed the dry ingredients in my Kitchen Aid and then added the wet and tried to not to over-mix.

    I divided into two balls, made the rounds and cut them into six pieces. I sprinkled Sugar in the Raw lightly over the top of each but didn’t use an egg wash. I then wrapped and froze one round for future use and put the other uncovered in the freezer for an hour or so.

    I live at altitude and that may be the reason they took longer to bake. Maybe it was because they had been in the freezer for an hour. Maybe it was because I made them grain-free. Maybe my oven isn’t as hot. My only point, you may need to cook yours longer too.

    They turned out moist, dense and nutty – almost a cinnamon flavor due to the buckwheat. Of course I ate one hot out of the oven so I can’t attest to how they will taste tomorrow but I am hopeful my morning tea will be embellished with a yummy scone. I just need to keep from eating another right now or I will spoil my dinner!

    Thanks Shauna for another great recipe!

    1. shauna

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for all the meticulous tips. Yes, high altitude will definitely affect baking, pretty profoundly. So I’m glad to know they worked for you.

  5. Heather

    Oh Shauna!! Thank you so much for the dairy free alternative note at the bottom of the recipe. I’m struggling with a recent dairy issue, and skimmed the recipe (with my cystic-acne covered face) and almost dismissed it until I saw your note. Bless you for taking the time to add that. You and Danny are so good to us. 🙂

  6. Kimberley

    I went looking for GF muffins this morning and stumbled across your recipie and thank goodness I did. So hating this FODMAP lifestyle right now and these scones have eased the journey a bit.

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