scones, four ways.

I first tried to make scones during a late-night baking binge about six months ago. At that point I was low on or out of most of the items you need to successfully bake anything, but I jerry-rigged the basic formula found here, dressing it up minimally with some lemon zest but otherwise aiming for a plain buttermilk scone. My boyfriend gets to sample more or less everything I make, so of course he received a piece of scone to eat. He took a bite, turned to me, and said, “This is the worst thing I have ever tasted. It tastes like death. Get me the water. Get me the water now. Never give me anything like this again.”

While I don’t think the flavor was quite as bad as he did – turns out some people don’t like lemon in their baked goods! Who knew? Not me! – we agreed whole-heartedly that the texture was abominable and besmirched the good name of scone. The basic formula suggested by goodLife {eats} (which, incidentally, is a pretentious blog with a major superiority complex that you should avoid at all costs, and if you couldn’t figure that out from the title punctuation alone then perhaps you need to spend more time around things that are awful) produces an extremely moist, extremely sweet, cakelike end product, and if you’ve spent any time in England, your face should now be right where mine is: curled up in revulsion. You see, both my boyfriend and I have spent time there, and when we say “scone,” we are thinking of the same blessed thing: a hockey puck of a breakfast pastry, crumbly as opposed to flaky or spongy and far more dry than moist, a breakfast pastry requiring a large cup of tea (or in my American case, coffee) to make it go down easy. But in that dry crumbliness lurks a light, pleasant flavor so subtle, so comforting, that it has long been my preferred way to start the day. If you think this doesn’t sound delicious, you can go fuck yourself, okay? You’re wrong.

I remember getting back from England the first time – I was 15, for which I ask you to forgive me – and being roundly appalled by standard American convenience food, specifically scones. Dunkin’ Donuts had just rolled out their new line, and I was stunned by their offerings: sweet as candy, full of chocolate, and either iced or topped with tiny sugar crystals. Real scones are, at most, studded with dried fruit. If you’re lucky, you’ll get more than one kind of fruit. These American scones didn’t taste like the comforting breakfast item I had hoped for. They tasted like dessert. And while I have serious issues with dessert-for-breakfast, I have much deeper and ragier issues with the American culinary obsession I like to call “is there sugar in it? ADD SOME.”

All this is a long way of saying that finding edible scones in the US is damn hard. The supermarket by me actually had great plain and raisin scones for several years, but they’ve recently either changed vendors, or changed recipes, or opted to fuck with me, and their scones are now too far into the sweet-and-cakey zone for me to really enjoy them. So my hand was forced. This weekend I tried three different scone recipes in an effort to find The One For Me.

The first recipe I looked at was Grapefruit Honey Yogurt Scones, a creation of my girl Joy that I proceeded to modify beyond recognition. For one, I didn’t have grapefruit and had no interest in getting one. For two, as I hope I have made clear, I do not put sugar on top of my scones. I am not a heathen. And for three, I subbed in barley flour for half the all-purpose. Why, you may ask? Because I had it, and I wanted to see how it would taste, and other flours are better for you than all-purpose, and I’m a crunchy long-haired hippie rebel, okay? I also shook in some powdered ginger because the recipe just felt kinda lacking in punch without the grapefruit to jazz it up.

The scones were fine. I was right about them lacking punch without the grapefruit, even though the combination of honey and yogurt in any context is usually a win. The ginger pepped them up a bit, but these were unexciting. In addition, their texture was way too close to soft-and-cakey for my liking. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t have happily eaten them for breakfast for a week and left it at that. I would have. But I never got the opportunity, because when I went out that night my mother and her friend ate all my damn scones. Tragedy, right?! I clearly had no options but to make two more kinds.

So the next day I turned to my never-fails go-to site, smitten kitchen, and pillaged two of Deb’s recipes: oat and maple syrup scones and whole wheat raspberry ricotta scones. Deb and I are kindred spirits when it comes to baked goods – I rarely feel the need to reduce the sugar in her recipes (unlike most other sweet recipes I’ve used) and she likes fruity, natural combinations. So I was pretty confident in both these recipes.

The whole wheat raspberry ricotta scones (what a fucking mouthful, seriously, luckily the scones are also a mouthful) I made pretty much as directed. The only thing I did was reduce the sugar from 4 tbsp to a scant 2 and use a full half-pint of raspberries, which is pretty close to a cup. The result, especially hot out of the oven, was completely delicious. The dough is … earthy? Grainy? Oaty? It tastes like whole grains while still being mildly sweet and laced with delicious raspberry bites, I can’t think of a good word for that. It tastes very nutritious but in the “delicious and nutritious!” way. The only problem with these in the scone department is the texture, honestly. Due to the vast quantities of milk products contained therein, they are very, very moist. I mean, you can’t even stack them on top of each other or they compress. (True scones are stronger than that. They are strong like bull.) This makes them a wonderful breakfast pastry, but not a very good scone.

The oat and maple syrup scones, though … hallelujah Jesus Mary and Joseph, the scone-eagle has landed. These are perfect. They are moist yet crumbly, almost sandy – I tried to break off a corner last night and it crumbled in my fingers. They are lightly sweetened by the maple syrup and taste deliciously mapley, but in no way do they resemble dessert. You can stack them on top of each other and they don’t crush each other. You could probably use them in a house-building scheme if you felt really crafty. The outsides are just ever-so-slightly crunchy, the inside is chewy but not overwhelmingly moist … guys, I’m starting to repeat myself, so let me just tell you: make these fucking scones. Everyone you feed them to will thank you.

Notes on the Preparation of Scones

So there are two huge pains in the ass I encountered while making scones this weekend. The first is the cutting-in of butter to dry ingredients. This is probably not even slightly annoying if you have a pastry cutter, but it’s kind of irritating if you don’t. I tried the grating-frozen-butter trick I keep reading about, but all that did was get butter all over my box grater and not remotely into my dry ingredients. I found it easiest to just make little slices in my stick of butter, peel off very thin sheets where the butter was closer to frozen, dice the bigger chunks, and really get in there with my fingers. All the recipes say the cutting in is done when the largest chunks resemble “coarse meal,” but I have no fucking idea what coarse meal is. I mostly decided it was done when there didn’t seem to be any more chunks for me to break up and I had done my best to integrate all the dry ingredients, even if they didn’t look integrated. I guess the finished mixture sort of resembles sand? Word to the wise, though – if you decide that your scone-making process could only be improved by watching season 2 of Downton Abbey on your laptop while you cut in butter, make sure that you at no point need to interact with your computer until the butter is fully cut in and your hands are washed. Then you’ll get a butter-and-flour covered keyboard.

Not that I did that. But if you do.

Anyway, the second huge pain in the ass in scone-making is the need to flour everything the scones touch. This is especially true for the raspberry scones, whose dough is insanely sticky. You should honestly flour your hands really well before even touching this dough, or else you’ll have to wash about 1/4 cup of dough down the sink just to get it off your hands. After that, you need to flour the surface on which you’re rolling out the scones (I found a tablespoon and a half of flour to be more than sufficient) and flour the blade of the knife you’re using to cut the dough. I found it easiest to just flour my cutting board so I didn’t have to perform ungodly cleaning maneuvers on the counter. You may find it easier to do something else.

Finally, a note on the oat and maple scones. The recipe says that you can add more milk if needed to make the dough come together, and while I initially felt I did need a splash just to be on the safe side, I think I’d have been fine without it once I took the time to really incorporate every bit of dry ingredient into the dampest part of the dough.

Guys, go forth and make scones. Your mouth will thank you.

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About Sara

I like to talk about media, food, and gender.
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One Response to scones, four ways.

  1. Pingback: thanksgiving dinner post mortem, part iii: in which i make pie crust for the first time. twice. | Ends and Leavings

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