The frost is not yet close enough to the pumpkin, but we are noticeably approaching the fall equinox, with shorter and cooler days. Spending some time in the kitchen and baking suddenly becomes more appealing. One of the quickest, easiest, and most delightful home-baked items are scones.
If you ever perused historical stories or novels set in the British Isles you must have noticed the protagonists setting down to tea at every opportunity, invariably accompanied by scones, preferably served with clotted cream and jam. It didn’t hurt to have a good cook who could come up with fresh ones on short notice.
While scones originated in Scotland probably before 1700s, today we can find them worldwide in various forms. Purists argue the differences between biscuits and scones on basis of flakiness and density. The main argument seems to be based on the presence or absence of an egg in scones. Having made them both ways, I find that an egg makes the scones heavier. Accurate measures of flour and light handling seem to be the trick to achieving both crumbly and light scones, which are good with a warm beverage any time of the day.
Most scones are sweet and can be made with dried fruit or nuts. Traditional scones were made with buttermilk, but they can be also made with milk. They can be made in rounds, squares, or wedges, but they must be baked in a pre-heated oven. The recipes here use a food processor for cutting butter into the flour mixture, but you can also sift together the dry ingredients and cut the butter in separately, before adding currants and the liquid.
1. Whisk together in a food processor: 3 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt.
2. Add 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut in 1/2 inch pieces and pulse until mixture is in pea sized lumps. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
3. Toss 2/3 cups dried currants into the flour mixture. If currants are very dry, steam them for 2 minutes and toss with 2 teaspoons flour before adding to the rest of the flour mix.
4. In a small bowl combine 1 cup buttermilk with grated zest from a lemon and 1/2 teaspoon lemon flavoring.
5. Slowly stir buttermilk mixture in the flour mix, stirring with a fork. When mixed, knead about 6 times until the mixture holds together and turn out on a floured surface.
6. Shape dough together without excess kneading, divide in half and flatten each half in a 1-inch thick round on a parchment-lined cookie pan. Cut each round into 6 wedges, brush with a bit more buttermilk and sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and separate the wedges on the pan while still warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Bacon, cheese, and oatmeal scones
In the days before the novel coronavirus ate our social scene and we would see friends for dinner, I liked to take scones to my host or hostess for their next morning’s breakfast. For anyone liking a savory breakfast, here is a savory recipe for breakfast in a scone: oatmeal, bacon, bread, cheese, and scallion.
1. Fry 2 thick slices of bacon, drain on paper towels and crumble. Shred sharp cheddar to 2/3 cup. Finely slice green part of 2 scallions.
2. In a food processor combine: 1 cup old fashioned oats, 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, and pulse 15 times.
3. Add 3/4 cup cold, unsalted butter cut in 1/2-inch slices and pulse until incorporated to pea size. Transfer to a large bowl.
4. Toss bacon, cheese, and scallion into the flour mixture.
5. Slowly stir 3/4 cups buttermilk into the flour mix with a fork. When mixed, knead 6 times and turn out onto a floured surface.
6. Shape dough together without excess kneading, divide in half and flatten each half in a 1-inch thick round onto a parchment-lined cookie pan. Cut each round into 6 wedges, brush with a bit more buttermilk and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.
7. Bake 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and separate the wedges on the pan while still warm. Serve warm or at room temperature with butter.
For a proper “cream tea” one requires scones, jam, and clotted cream. I’m willing to forego the clotted cream because it’s not readily available here and requires tedious 20+ hours of preparation. Still, scones are a delight for breakfast, lunch, or as a snack with butter and jam.
(I. Winicov Harrington lives in coastal Maine and is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)