How impressed I was, I remember well; impressed and a little overawed by the magnificence of the breakfast offered to us. (Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca)
I sometimes think breakfast is my favourite meal. Not breakfast as I eat it on workdays at home – my daily unvarying routine of porridge in the winter months and muesli and yoghurt in the summer – but breakfast at weekends or other occasions when I have time to lavish on it.
There is something particularly pleasurable and even decadent about starting the day with a long, lazy meal – a meal with more than one dish, a meal that might be eaten alone accompanied only by the weekend papers, or one shared with friends, whether at home or at a cafe.
And one of the highlights of the new job I started last autumn, which involves a fair amount of travel, is the opportunity to indulge in hotel buffet-style breakfasts, where every day offers the opportunity to try something new.
This idea of a breakfast of choice and plenty appears in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. In my last post I wrote about Max de Winter’s rather perfunctory marriage proposal uttered whilst he was eating toast and marmalade in the hotel in Monte Carlo where he and the protagonist meet.
But here we have a very different breakfast. The narrator and Max are now married and, after their honeymoon, have travelled to Max’s permanent residence, Manderley, in Cornwall. In this passage the narrator recalls her first morning at Manderley – and her first breakfast. The sentence quoted above – with the repetition of ‘impressed‘ and her choice of the terms ‘overawed‘ and ‘magnificence‘ – illustrate what a ‘big deal’ this breakfast is to her. It appears to be like nothing she has ever experienced before. And she proceeds to delineate in detail all its elements:
There was tea, in a great silver urn, and coffee too, and on the heater, piping hot, dishes of scrambled eggs, of bacon, and another of fish. There was a little clutch of boiled eggs as well, in their own special heater, and porridge, in a silver porringer. On another sideboard was a ham, and a great piece of cold bacon. There were scones too, on the table, and toast, and various pots of jam, marmalade, and honey, while dessert dishes, piled high with fruit, stood at either end.
The breakfast higlights Max’s wealth and the world he inhabits which is so far removed from that of the narrator. She will have a lot to learn and many adjustments to make in order to find her place in this new world.
But first she has a breakfast to eat.
In fact the narrator never tells us what she does eat, only that she ‘lingered long’ over it, but I know where I’d start – with the scones. Scones are not a typical breakfast item, but they are one of my favourite foodstuffs, and my regular Saturday morning breakfast with friends after I have done my 3-mile parkrun on Hampstead Heath is a scone and a flat white at a local cafe.
I’ve been making scones as long as I can remember, inspired by my Mum who often used to whip them up for a Sunday afternoon tea. They take very little time, so can easily be made for a weekend breakfast – as the ones photographed here were – and are best eaten warm from the oven with an excess of butter. The recipe here is for plain scones, but you can throw in a handful of dried fruit or glace cherries to ring the changes. I recommend the buttermilk – it gives a light texture – but you can replace with normal milk, or a mixture of milk and yoghurt.
Ingredients: (makes 8 – 12, depending on cutter size)
225g self-raising flour (or plain flour and 2 tsps baking powder)
40g unsalted butter at room temperature, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
a pinch of salt
1 egg beaten and made up to 150ml with buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 220C / fan 200C / gas mark 7.
Grease a baking sheet.
Sieve the flour (and baking powder if you’re using plain flour) into a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and salt. Then, with a knife, mix in the egg and buttermilk mixture until you have a soft but not sticky dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and, using a rolling pin, roll it out to a thickness of approximately 2cm. Use a fluted pastry cutter to cut out scones – if you don’t have a cutter, don’t worry, you could cut the dough into triangles.
Place the scones on the greased baking sheet, brush with a little milk and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack before eating.