Perfect Scones

May 22, 2009

 

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There' s a billboard here in Houston that reads, “You wouldn' t take a sword to a gunfight.”It' s an ad for fire-ant killer, but I think it applies where scones are concerned. If you' re going to have a scone, have a scone. Forget the temptation to bake some kind of healthy version thereof: whole-wheat flour and buttermilk does not a scone create.

I recently tried to do something of the sort, substituting all sorts of healthy ingredients for the ones that really matter to a scone—butter, white flour, sugar. Using what I thought was a magnificent mix of low fat buttermilk, wholesome flour and apricot jam in lieu of your typical lipid-white refinement, I managed to create about a dozen brownish hockey pucks that glistened with jam on top. They were bland as a biscuit and tough as a shoe.

It was a valuable lesson, though. I' ll save my wholesome baking ingredients for recipes they can complement like breads and muffins. I' ve come up with some extraordinary batter without wheat, butter or sugar, so it really is possible—admirable, even. Just not in a scone.

As disappointed as I was initially, realizing that there' s just no such thing as a healthy scone was actually quite liberating: I was free to discover the best possible batter, no holds barred. A few recipes later, I came upon the definitive, knock-your-socks-off, bang-your-head-on-the-table-good scone.

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This batch was adapted from Ina Garten' s recipe for Strawberry Scones, although I substituted several ingredients and flavors, and plan on doing so with a wide variety of mix-ins. Other combinations I think would be delightful include: apricot vanilla, candied ginger and dried cherries or even savory varieties like bacon cheddar or parmesan chive.

Perfect Scone Batter

4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (set aside)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cold heavy cream
½ c toasted, chopped pecans
½ c dried cranberries
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of water

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Using a hand mixer, or a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend in the butter at low speed until it is crumbly and pearl-sized.

Mix the eggs and cream together and quickly add them to the flour and butter mixture, until just mixed—don' t stir the batter more than 12 times.

Toss the pecans and cranberries with the remaining tablespoon of flour and quickly fold them into the dough. Don' t worry—it will be sticky and hard to work with. If you have lots of trouble, wet the palms of your hands slightly with water.

On a well-floured surface, with a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough to about ¾ inches thick. It will be lumpy with butter. I cut mine into circles using the lid of a Ball jar, though you can use a traditional square shaped cutter, too.

Arrange on a baking sheet with parchment paper and cut down the middle to create half-moon shapes or triangles. (I recommend doing this on the baking pan since the dough is really sticky and hard to move… cutting beforehand would mean transferring twice as many scones.)

Brush the tops with egg wash. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are golden brown.

On a final note: these scones really are best the day of. Time toughens even the crumbliest scone—and it doesn' t take much. I made these for my dear friend Louisa to send as a birthday gift, but realized they would be a pretty formidable weapon by the time they reached her doorstep, even if mailed overnight.

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