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It is only in the past ten years that the scone (pronounced “skawn,” as in gone) has appeared on the breakfast scene, threatening to upstage even the bagel. Catherine G. Brown, in her book Scottish Cooker (Mercat Press, Edinburgh, 1999), writes that these small “tea cakes” go back at least to the eighteenth century, when the poet Robert Burns “rightly described them as ‘souple [soft] scones, the wale [choicest] of food.’” The Chambers Scots Dictionary suggests that the word scone is from the Gaelic sgonn, meaning a shapeless mass. Any way you slice it, one can’t ask for a more perfect breakfast, tea, or coffee break bread.
These flaky scones are ample and comforting—crisp on the outside, soft, moist and layered inside with a pure butter flavor and just the right touch of chewy-sweetness from the currants. I’ve tried and rejected many other recipes. These, from master baker Patty Jackson of Tuscan Square, in New York City, are the best. They are prepared by layering butter pieces into the dough much in the style of puff pastry, giving the scones a slightly flaky texture. But since they contain only about one-third butter to flour (puff pastry uses equal parts) and are made with heavy cream instead of water, they offer a far more substantial, soul satisfying texture.
If you want each scone to be a perfect even triangle, there will be some waste. Personally, I prefer to use every scrap of the delicious dough and embrace the rustic misshapen ones along with the classic three-sided variety.
- 1 cup (8 ounces/ 227 grams) unsalted butter, cold
- 4 ¼ cups (21.25 ounces/608 grams) unbleached all purpose flour, preferably Hecker’s
- ½ cup (3.5 ounces/100 grams) sugar
- 2 teaspoons (9.6 grams) baking powder
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 grams) baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon (1.7 grams) salt
- 2 liquid cups (16.3 ounces/464 grams) heavy cream
- 1 cup (4.5 ounces/131 grams) currants
- 2 half sheet pans lined with nonstick liners such as Silpat or parchment
- A baking stone OR baking sheet
Oven Temperature: 400°F
1. Chill the butter. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes.
2. Mix the dough. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and with your fingertips, press the cubes into large flakes. (Or use an electric mixer, mixing until the butter is the size of small walnuts.)
Stir in the cream just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together in large clumps. Stir in the currants. Knead the dough in the bowl just until it holds together, and turn it out onto a lightly floured board.
3. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven rack at the middle level and set a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating.
4. Shape the dough. Lightly flour the top of the dough (or use a floured pastry sleeve), and roll it out into a long rectangle 1 inch thick and about 8 inches by 12 inches; use a bench scraper to keep the edges even by smacking it up against the sides of the dough. Fold the dough in thirds, lightly flour the boards again, and rotate the dough so that the closed side faces to the left. Roll it out again and repeat the “turn” 3 more times, refrigerating the dough, covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes as necessary only if it begins to soften and stick.
Roll out the dough once more. Trim the edges so that it will rise evenly. (To use the scraps, press them together and roll out, giving them 2 turns, then roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick square and cut it into 2 triangles.)
Cut the dough in half lengthwise so you have 2 pieces, each about 4 inches by 12 inches. Cut each piece of dough into triangles with about a 3-inch-wide base and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. (The dough will rise but not expand sideways.) If the dough is soft, cover it well with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 1 hour before baking.
5. Bake the scones. Bake the scones one sheet at a time: cover the second sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you bake the first one, then bake the second pan directly from the refrigerator. Place the pan on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet and bake the scones for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and the tops are golden brown and firm enough so that they barely give when pressed lightly with a finger (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a scone will read about 200°F). Check the scones after 10 minutes of baking, and if they are not browning evenly, rotate the baking sheet from front to back. Do not overbake, as they continue baking slightly on removal from the oven and are best when slightly moist and soft inside.
6. Cool the scones. Place two linen or cotton towels on two large racks and, using a pancake turner, lift the scones from the baking sheets and set them on top. Fold the towels over loosely and allow the scones to cool until warm or at room temperature. (Since linen or cotton “breathes,” the scones will have enough protection to keep from becoming dry and hard on the surface but will not become soggy.)
Dried Cranberry Scones Substitute dried cranberries for the currant for more tang.
Lemon Poppy Seed Scones Omit the currants and add 3 tablespoons (1 ounce/28 grams) poppy seeds and 2 tablespoons (0.5 ounce/ 12 grams) finely grated lemon zest to the flour mixture.
Pointers For Success:
To reheat frozen scones, bake them in a preheated 300°F oven for 20 minutes. The outside will be crisp and a cake tester inserted briefly in the center will feel warm.
Hecker’s flour has a protein content that is higher than Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose (averaging 10.5 percent) but lower than King Arthur all-purpose (11.7 percent). Any of these three flours will produce excellent scones, but Hecker’s is my preference because it results in the best compromise between tenderness and flakiness.
The dough percentage:
Water: 49% (includes the water in the butter and cream)
Fat: 57.7% (includes the fat in the cream)
© 2003 Rose Levy Beranbaum
Nutritional information is based on 16 servings.