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Practicing the basics: scones

In British society, scones are sort of like American biscuits, but a bit sweeter; they are traditionally served with jam and “clotted cream” at afternoon teatime. They also have very little flavor of their own. In the United States, scones are more often than not breakfast pastries or a snack at a pastry shop, and they tend to come in all sorts of interesting flavors.

This recipe will turn out scones that would pass muster with most of my British relatives, but also forms a good foundation for trying all sorts of flavor variations.

Like many other butter-based pastries, this recipe relies on having small chunks of butter in the dough that give airiness to the final product.

Suggested reading:

Makes 8 scones. Time required: 40-45 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 1/4 cup cream (or half-and-half or whole milk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp. low-fat milk powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt, or 1 1/2 tsp. table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a half-sheet baking pan with parchment paper.

Cut the butter up into 1/2-inch cubes, then keep in the freezer until needed later. Keep the butter as cold as you can so that it’s easier to maintain pieces of it in the dough.

Whisk together the cream, egg and milk powder in a small bowl until the egg and milk powder are thoroughly incorporated (at least one minute).

Add the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add in the butter and pulse until the chunks of butter are about the size of a small pea.

Add the cream mixture to the food processor and process until it comes together into a ball of dough. Try not to overprocess it; again, we’re trying to keep small chunks of butter intact in the dough.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times. Using your hands, shape the dough into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 4 smaller rectangles, then cut diagonally across each of the rectangles to make two triangles.

Move the eight triangle-shaped scones to the prepared baking pan.

Bake at 400 degrees F until brown on top, about 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through baking.

Remove from oven. Let cool at least partially before serving. They are still a bit fragile right after baking and can fall apart easily; cooling helps them to hold together better.

Tips and suggestions:

  • You can glaze them by adding toppings just before placing them in the oven. Brush on a thin layer of cream, then sprinkle on some brown sugar. Or brush on maple syrup. Or if you just want a nice shiny brown top, create an “egg wash” by beating together one large egg and 1 tbsp. of water, then brushing the egg wash onto the tops of the scones.
  • There are endless options for flavoring scones. Cinnamon, lavender and nutmeg are great options for spice and herbs.You can also add raisins, cranberries or currants. Fruits such as small berries, tiny pieces of apple, or even canned pumpkin can be good add-ins too, but be careful because fruit contains a lot of water and can make the dough watery — or worse, the fruit can start releasing its water when the scone is in the oven and can create squishy, underbaked parts of the dough. Freezing the fruit before folding it into the dough will prevent them from getting squished up while you’re rolling out and cutting the dough, and will keep them solid longer while the dough is baking. And in general, tiny pieces are better than larger ones.
  • You can vary the amount of sugar in the recipe to your liking.