We’re in a bit of a cold snap here. We don’t get a lot of snow and below freezing temperatures, but we’re in for more than a week of it. It started yesterday morning, when we got a nice dusting of 5 inches of snow. Since we don’t see it very often, it’s fun to see the beautiful blanket of white all around us. So, what types of things go well with snow? Staying inside, getting a fire going, brewing up some hot coffee or tea, and whipping something warm from the oven. Yes, this kind of weather gets me in the mood to bake. In fact, this is perfect scone weather.
Scone. The word has been around since about 1513, when it appears to have been first used by a Scottish poet. Depending on where you’re from, you may pronounce them ‘Skoons’, ‘Skons’, or ‘Skones’, (or if you’re Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, you may call them ‘Sconeses, my precious!’) You may also debate whether it was the Scots or the British who developed them. Rest assured, depending on who you talk to, the subject of these simple little delights can invoke a tremendously powerful emotional response. ‘Scones should only be served with Devonshire cream at High Tea’. ‘Scones shouldn’t be too sweet’. ‘Scones shouldn’t be too bland’. ‘Scones need to be made with Currants’. ‘Those things they sell at Starbuck’s aren’t really scones’. ‘Those scones they sell at Starbucks are my favorite!’ Regardless of your personal feelings, on the issue, one thing is certain, this seemingly simple recipe is one that you must have in your baked goods arsenal.
I have a friend who is a bit of a scone connoisseur. When I have a question about scones, she’s my go-to person. She knows what she likes and makes no apologies for her opinions on the matter. We’ve discussed the finer points of scones, from the ingredients, to the techniques, pros and cons of the various shapes, and the add-ins or toppings. I know if I can make a scone that meets her standards, I’ve done a fair job of it.
It’s interesting to me that for a recipe that is the rough equivalent of a drop biscuit, you can certainly exercise your creative muscle when tackling these babies.
Scones can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some have the appearance of a drop biscuit, while others take the shape of triangles or squares. Some folks like their scones sweet, while others prefer them fairly bland, requiring clotted cream or jam to be added later for the real flavor. In the US, we seem to prefer our scones in a variety of flavors, occasionally with a light, sweet glaze, almost like a pastry. Some may prefer them a bit on the dry side, while others may tend toward a moister version. I’ve sampled light and flaky scones and scones that were heavy and dense. I personally like them all. So far, I’ve never really had a scone that I would call ‘bad’. But, truth be told, I do like those slightly sweeter scones, especially with a light glaze on top. I also like a scone that is light, but moist and a bit flaky.
I made my first scones last year. I chose a basic recipe and combined it with ground hazelnuts to make a nice, nutty scone that I served with a homemade blackberry curd (I’m including a link to the recipe for this version at the end of this post). I did some study on the techniques and was pleasantly pleased with my first ever attempt at scones. Not long ago, I had a craving to try them again, this time with a different recipe, and two different flavors. I was not disappointed.
And so, I share with you today my most recent foray into Scottish/British quick bread: Cinnamon Scones and Blueberry Scones. I chose cinnamon because I simply love the cinnamon scones at Starbuck’s – I also have to say, quite honestly, that mine are better. As for the second flavor, blueberry, it is simply one of my most favorite fruits for baking. I did the cinnamon scones in triangle shapes and the blueberry as a more free-form drop scone.
While both scones were awesome, I definitely loved the blueberry over the cinnamon. I don’t know what it was, they were both tender and flaky, both sweet, but not too sweet, and both had just the lightest crust containing the soft insides. The blueberry just really got my attention. I could have kept eating them until they were gone. Thank goodness I do have some will power, but these suckers really put it to the test
If you’ve never tried making scones before, why not give it a shot and impress your friends and family? If I’ve convinced you to take a shot and give these a try, let me share a few techniques I find to be very helpful for scone making:
- Use only chilled, preferably frozen butter when preparing the scone dough. I will take a stick of butter, cut it into small chunks, place them in a ziplock bag and keep the bag in the freezer. I don’t take the butter out until I am ready to add it to the flour.
- While there are several methods for cutting butter into flour for baked goods like scones and pie crusts, my preferred method, hands down, is to use a food processor. This method is fast and consistent, easily providing the ‘pea sized’ pieces of butter you are typically looking for when incorporating the fat into the flour. As a bonus, this method is relatively clean, keeping your countertops just a bit more tidy.
- If you do choose to cut the butter in by hand with a pastry blade, knives or even by pressing it into the flour with your fingers, keep your hands as cold as possible. My grandmother would keep a bowl of ice-water nearby and use it occasionally cool her hands in order to keep from prematurely melting the butter.
- When adding liquids, such as water or milk, use only very cold liquids. Again, the idea is to keep the fats (butter) solid until it gets into the oven.
- Before baking your scones, cool them in the freezer for 10 – 15 minutes after you have shaped them, then put them right into the oven. Keeping the butter cold as long as possible will help give you the best possible texture. If I have space in my freezer, I’ll put the scones onto the baking sheets and place the sheets directly into the freezer – then it’s very easy to transfer the sheets to the oven when I’m ready to bake.
- Since we’re talking about the freezer, formed scones can be wrapped and frozen, unbaked, and saved for a later date. When you want a couple of scones, just toss them into a preheated oven and bake like normal. This is a great option if you want to make a larger batch, but only bake a few at a time.
- Don’t handle the dough any more than necessary. When mixing ingredients, only mix long enough to get the ingredients incorporated. Over-mixing can lead to tough scones.
There you have it. Follow those methods, use fresh ingredients, add a little patience, and I guarantee you’ll be able to turn out scones like a pro. Finally, I’m sharing with you two different scone recipes I particularly like. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands floating around out there. Feel free to go out and experiment, or tweak mine to your personal tastes. Believe me, once you try making your own, you’ll never want to buy another scone again. And, by the way, you don’t have to wait for the snow to whip up a batch of warm scones for yourself.
For a copy of the Cinnamon Scone and Blueberry Scone recipe, click here. For a copy of my Hazelnut Scone and Blackberry Curd Recipe, click here. Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.