"It must be 4 o'clock somewhere!" Hmmm...that sounds slightly off, unless you're having a rough day. But when you consider that it's referring to the completely civilized English ritual of afternoon tea time with scones, it sounds right on. If someone offered you a warm scone every day at 4pm, you'd drop everything to observe ritual wouldn't you?
We're not talking about the hockey-puck-like pastry you grab at a kiosk when you are catching a dreadful early morning flight. It's that tender and flaky gem that comes your way so rarely and most likely at a bed and breakfast or high tea. There must be some secret law of bakers that scones can only be magnificent if they are made thoughtfully in small batches. Besides that, no rocket science degree is required.
Making scones is like making a pie crust. Aha! Right now you might be thinking that pie crust is no piece of cake. What renders scones into hockey pucks and pie crusts into bullet proof shields is too much handling. The less handling, the better. After you've mixed all your dry ingredients, add your butter and buttermilk and combine it just barely. It should look raggedy and imperfect. (How often is that a desired end goal?)
By the way, you are right... scones and pie crust are not cake. Cake calls for a smooth and well-blended batter. That same approach with scones and pie crusts makes them tough. While you do want all of your dry ingredients thoroughly combined, go for small and visible chunks of butter in your unbaked scones. In the oven, the heat melts those chunks and turns them into flakey pastry.
Portion out your scones with a large, sharp knife or a bench scraper, like the one in the photo. Our other favorite use for a bench scraper is to clean up all the bits and crumbs on the counter when we're done.
What flavor should you make? The sky is the limit. A tablespoon of grated orange zest might be all you need. Dried cherries and dark chocolate chunks could be sublime. Way in the back of our freezer, there was still a stash of summer blueberries that came from a proud and abundant harvest. A touch of dried culinary lavender buds ground with a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder) add a little something special. Whatever you choose, add the fruit after all the dry ingredients, but before the buttermilk.
A batch of warm scones would make you a welcome guest whether it's afternoon tea time or any time.
Blueberry lavender Scones
(Yields 8 scones)
Everything about making scones should be done with tenderness. Handle the dough gently, like it’s a sleeping baby. Don’t over-mix or knead it. Use your lightest touch. No lavender in your spice cabinet? No worries. Substitute orange zest for another fragrant and fruity combination.
8 oz (1-3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp dried culinary lavender, finely ground
1/2 cup blueberries
8 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup buttermilk, plus 2 Tbsp
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix in the ground lavender.
Add the butter and mix just until coated with flour. The butter chunks should remain fairly large - no less than half their original size. With the mixer on slow speed, fold in the blueberries.
Continuing with the mixer set on slow speed, add 2/3 cup of the buttermilk and mix until just absorbed. Immediately stop mixing when the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Scrape the dough from the bowl with a rubber spatula and shape it into a ball on a lightly floured surface. With well-floured fingers, pat the dough into a 7 inch-diameter disk. Cut the disk into quarters with a knife or bench scraper and then cut each quarter in half.
Set the 8 scones on a lined baking sheet and brush the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk and turbinado sugar. Bake about 20 minutes, until they are a deep golden color.
THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
Bench scraper, pastry knife, dough scraper... it goes by many names. It’s used by bakers to pick up, turn, and cut dough into portions without heating it up and working it excessively with your warm hands. Use the sides of it to shape your scone dough into a perfect circle and then use it to cut through and portion your scones. Slip it underneath each scone and deliver them onto your sheet pan. When it’s time to clean up, slide it along your work surface to scrape up bits of dough and flour.