We all have our reliable recipes – the chicken dish you make in a pinch when guests arrive, the cookie recipe that never flops and is always requested for parties – and some are just comfortable recipes that you know you can always make. It can be 8am or 11pm, and you know you’ll find the brain cells to whip it up. For me, those go-to recipes include biscuits and scones. Well, thanks to Sarah at In Praise of Leftovers, I have a perfect, repeatable biscuit recipe. For scones, I’ve had to work on it a bit and test quite a few versions over the last five or six years to find one that’s just right. I thought I had it, but the more I baked it, the more it felt just a bit … off.
To me, a scone should be authentic – so, heavy enough to satisfy a Scotsman – well-flavored but not too sweet – to be handled on its own or with jam, if I wish – but fluffy enough not to be mistaken for a hockey puck. The requirements sound straightforward, but the Goldilocks recipe has eluded me – until now. Many mornings were spent pulling so-so, tough, bland, or overly sugared scones from the oven. Until now.
My favorite time of the day to make scones is right after we wake up on a Saturday morning. The coffee pot is gurgling, the scent of hot, wet grinds (scented with ground cinnamon, always) fills the kitchen, and I’m just barely coordinated enough to handle a knife, measuring cup, and food processor. Yes, I use a food processor to cut the butter; I said I was awake, but not with enough oomph to properly handle a pastry cutter – at least not until I’ve had half a cup of coffee, minimum.
I love that feeling when the kitchen timer finally beeps and it’s time to take the baking sheet out of the oven. Usually by that point I’ve already downed one cup of coffee, and I’m waiting for a hot scone to pair my second cup. I can’t get ahead of myself in coffee consumption without putting food in my belly, too. What’s even sweeter is to share this anticipatory moment with my husband, who surprisingly enjoys scones; this is the same man who doesn’t like muffins or cakes – unless it’s a coffee cake. I knew I finally got the recipe right when he let out an “ooooh” as the scones emerged from their hot incubator.
Well, thanks to Cooks Illustrated I got the recipe right, I should say. I LOVE their book Baking Illustrated. Many a tip and keeper recipe have come from this, and I’ve only had it six months so far. I highly recommend buying it! Anyway, their version of “cakey scones” is ideal, especially if making for a weekend’s worth (or a few days’ worth) of eating. The cakey version, versus their standard eggless version, keeps fresher. The crumb is soft, there’s no resemblance to a hockey puck, and the flavor is perfectly balanced between sweet and basic bread. It stands up to both (softened) butter and jam, but it also pulls apart easily for popping bits into your mouth.
Here’s where the compromise came…. My husband doesn’t like baked goods – or anything – that have too many different flavors, so he didn’t want me to put in any dried cranberries or blueberries or lemon zest … or really anything. I’d been hankering for blueberry-cardamom scones, though. What to do? I simply mixed in the cardamom, figuring he’d like its subtle spice when baked (he gave me a non-committal “meh” when he smelled it in a jar), then divided the dough in half. The first half got shaped into a disc and cut into wedges – all for him. The second half got a handful of frozen blueberries (which I’d flash frozen a few months prior) mixed into. That dough was also shaped into a disc and cut into wedges. Into the oven they went, customized just for us.
He was happy about his version, though perhaps not as vociferously as I was. I felt as though I won a double victory: success in my previously elusive recipe quest AND in baking something we both liked. We just needed our own versions, that’s all. And I can live with that.
Scones: Blueberry cardamom and plain cardamom, Adapted from Baking Illustrated.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (lower protein is best, such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury; I’ve also used white whole wheat flour and enjoyed the results quite a bit)
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- less than 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup or so frozen blueberries (optional)
- half-and-half or heavy cream, for brushing
Preheat the oven to 425deg. Prepare a baking sheet with a Silpat (recommended), or leave ungreased.
Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (alternatively, of course, you can use a large bowl and cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers – I choose the easy path). Process these briefly with a few pulses.
Toss in the cold butter cubes, evenly distributing them. Pulse the processor about ten short times, until the butter seems to be well broken up but still in coarse crumbs. In a glass measuring cup, measure out the heavy cream, then add the egg. Whisk to combine. Pour the cream/egg mixture over the dry crumbs and pulse very briefly – just until the dough comes together. You could do this by hand in a separate bowl, but I find it quicker and easier to do it all in a food processor. However – do not overmix!
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and shape into a disc (or two). Cut the disc(s) into wedges, four or eight per disc (if two discs or one). Lay the wedges, spaced apart, on the baking sheet. Brush each scone lightly with cream; this helps them brown nicely. Bake for 15-18 minutes (use the longer end of the scale if using the frozen blueberries, since they slow down the baking) or until lightly browned on top. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes (Baking Illustrated says this improves the texture … we’ll see if you can wait!).
I love the variations you make with scones. I’m about to try a version with some lemon zest, and also with a nice dash of vanilla extract added to the heavy cream. Someday I’ll even try the actually authentic version with currants.