A scone revolution is baking up in Oakland
on January 15, 2011
A couple of months ago, the power for Remedy Coffee’s baking oven shorted out. Instead of cookies and pastries, people were served other goods to eat with their coffee, like boiled eggs, granola and frittatas baked off-site. But the missing items that made customers really upset were … scones. “It was mutiny,” says Todd Spitzer, the owner of Remedy, which is an art café that serves high quality coffee in Temescal. “People came in and if we didn’t have any scones, they’d just walk out.” The day the power for the oven was fixed and they started serving scones again, Spitzer says the café filled back up.
Typically when people think of scones, they think of the muffin’s inferior pastry sibling—a dry, crumbly thing that tastes like flour. But Remedy’s scones are not typical. With flavors like huckleberry cream, cheddar scallion, chocolate cherry almond and blood orange along with a texture that’s buttery and flaky, they melt in your mouth more easily than a cupcake.
Celeste Cooper, a tall woman with short dark hair and tattooed arms, is the brains behind Remedy’s scones. She was trained through the California Culinary Academy’s pastry and baking program, and explains that there are two types of scone: the original English scone, which is bready and meant to be eaten with butter or jam, and the Scottish scone, which is generally sweet, flaky and meant to be eaten plain. “Texturally, I don’t like English scones because they’re tough,” she says. “I like the biscuit texture. I like layers.”
As Cooper stands behind Remedy’s coffee counter wearing a black t-shirt, jeans, boots and a red and white checkered apron, she carefully chops up yams with a butcher knife. Next to her, an assistant measures out flour, salt and spices into large clear plastic bins. “For this week, I’m doing sweet potato sage scones, which will be on the sweeter side,” Cooper says. “Pumpkin was starting to get redundant.” She is also making kumquat scones using a fruit called a mandarin-quat, which she says have a sweet skin and are tender on the inside.
With scones, “I’ve found the perfect vehicle to put anything into,” she says excitedly. “I could even put meat in it. Pork would be the meat of choice, of course.” Cooper has made bacon cheddar scallion scones before and has experimented with other unusual flavors, like kalamata olive with ricotta salata or plum with cardamom. “I’m like a mad scientist,” she says. “A lot of times, I come up with my recipes on the fly.” Usually when she’s working on new recipes, she goes to the farmer’s market to see what’s in season, fresh and local, and then makes her inventions with those ingredients.
Once baked, Cooper’s scones are triangular, lightly golden browned on top and soft and flaky on the inside. She says the key to a good scone is to use good ingredients and lots of butter, and to be careful not to over-mix the dough, which makes the scones tough. Using a high ratio of cream and butter to flour, she says, creates a more layered and rich scone.
Cooper first started baking scones to sell when she was operating a guerrilla coffee and pastry stand one block from the Temescal farmer’s market nearly two years ago. (She couldn’t get a license to sell inside the farmer’s market, so she set up shop down the street.) Using the business name The Cake Ladies (she has since it changed to Butterfat Bakery), she sold coffee, cupcakes, and other pastries. “The whole scone thing is kind of an accident,” she says. “I was experimenting with biscuits—fruit biscuits. And then I realized what I was making was a scone.”
From the beginning Cooper’s scones were a big hit. Spitzer says he would pass by her stand to chat and check out what types of treats she was hawking. “One day she made scones and I was like ‘Holy crap!’” Spitzer says remembering the first time he tasted them. “And I don’t even like scones.”
In the meantime, Spitzer was busy starting up Remedy, which opened in May, 2010. He decided he needed Cooper’s baked goods in his coffee shop—especially the scones. They worked out an agreement and now Cooper exclusively bakes for Remedy.
Remedy is not the only place in Oakland serving up scones; several other bakeries also have people lined up waiting to taste different recipes. One of the original local favorites is Arizmendi, which first opened on Lakeshore Avenue and uses recipes from the Cheeseboard cookbook. Arizmendi serves a regular rotation of flavors like corn-cherry, currant and (sometimes) cheese. Another favorite is Bakesale Betty in Temescal, which routinely serves ginger pear and almond apricot scones. “They are inspired by a James Beard recipe from the Fanny Farmer cookbook and we’ve added our own dried fruits and flavors,” says Michael Camp, co-owner of Bakesale Betty. “We are just looking for good chemistry and good flavors.”
Other scone sellers include La Farine bakery in Rockridge, which has orange currant and raspberry walnut scones and Good Chemistry Baking in the Grand Lake neighborhood, which makes gluten-free scones.
Cooper’s scones are one of the newer entries into the scone pack, but they are drawing a highly devoted fan club. Her goal is to continue to increase production and maybe one day have a bigger kitchen of her own. Spitzer fully backs this idea as long as Remedy can keep getting Cooper’s scones; he believes no one else can bake quite like she does. “She has this little special touch. She has some magic,” says Spitzer. “There’s a difference between the sensei and the master.”
In addition to scones, Cooper also makes sweet breads—like gingerbread with stout beer and espresso caramel, different kinds of galettes, a light pastry with fruit on top similar to a tart, and savory frittatas with flavors like kale with baby zucchini and caramelized onion. Although Remedy sells these other baked treats, none are more beloved than the scone. “I love them first thing in the morning when they are fresh out of the oven and warm,” Spitzer says.
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