Sunday, January 25, 2009


It seems scones get a bad wrap these days. A lot of us think of the dry, over-sized clumps of cooked dough sitting under the lights behind the glass of the coffee shop counter. Then we here how fattening they are, causing some of us to avoid eating them altogether so the same coffee shop resorts to making an even less tasty, just as over-sized low-fat version. Yum. There's no denying that the coffee shop scone is high in fat, but it has more to do with their being unnecessarily over-sized than with the nutritional content. My local Starbucks sells a blueberry scone for example, that has 12 grams of fat and 370 calories. One serving is 121 grams! What I was very happy to see and to their credit is they also sell a "Petite Vanilla Bean Scone". They call it "petite", but it is actually a normal sized homemade scone or one purchased anywhere outside the US. One serving weighs 31 grams. Of course they also have to sell a three-pack of these, because one is just not enough for some of us super-sizers. (Perhaps we will see more down-sizing as a positive side effect of the slowing economy?)

As you might have guessed, I have never actually tasted the blueberry or the Petite Vanilla Bean Scone sold at our local Starbucks. Not only do I restrain from spending money at the big corporate coffee houses, I know that I can make them better and get them fresher if I make them at home... and eating them freshly baked is what makes a scone taste truly great.

A few years ago, after a trip to London, I was missing the scones that were served with the ritual teas which we indulged in almost daily. I experimented with a few unique recipes I had found, using more or less liquid and changing them as seen fit to get a lighter, flakier texture. I ended up with what I would call a pretty good scone, but it didn't "wow me". It wasn't something we craved and my lack of enthusiasm for it's taste and the difficulty of its preparation caused me to set the recipe aside. About a year ago, I found some dried currants at the market and thought... scones! Instead of going back to that old recipe, I started anew with a fresh perspective. I went back to basics with the ratios that Betty Crocker suggested. After only a few trials, bingo, we had it... a tender, flaky, flavorful. Exactly what a scone should be. With very few tweaks and some improved techniques, this is the recipe that I will make again and again.

This recipe is truly basic not only because it uses simple ingredients that most of us have on hand but also because you need no fancy equipment for it. You may use a food processor or a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, but I get great results by using my fingers to rub the butter into the flour mixture and a simple table fork for stirring. For baking, no fancy partitioned scone pan is necessary, just cut with a bench scraper or knife and place on a baking sheet. Note that a pastry brush will come in handy if you choose to brush the scones with the egg wash. It's an optional step that results in only a cosmetic improvement so don't delay making these for lack of a pastry brush. Dried currants may prove difficult to find, and when you do find them, they may be expensive, so I suggest dried sweetened cranberries as a fine substitute. They both have a strong pungeant flavor with just the right level of sweetness.

1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
1/3 cup unsalted cold butter, cubed
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup dried currants or sweetened dried cranberries
4 or 5 Tablespoons milk

optional- 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together with a fork. Add the cold cubes of butter and rub the butter into the flour mixture with the tips of your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. With the fork, stir in the beaten egg with 4 tablespoons of milk and the currants or cranberries. Dough should come together and away from sides of bowl. Add another tablespoon of milk if necessary.

Lightly flour a small area on your countertop and dump the dough out onto the flour. Sprinkle a very small amount of flour onto the top of the dough and knead the dough by pressing into it and away from you with the heals of your palms, then folding the dough in half, turning it 1/4 turn and repeating this another 7 times. Don't over-handle the dough. Pat it into a rectangle that is aproximately 6 X 12 inches. With a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the rectangle in half so you have two 3 X 12 inch strips, then cut 6 triangles from each of those strips to get 12 equally sized scones. Place the scones on an ungreased baking sheet and brush with the egg wash if desired. Place on the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until browned. Remove from baking pan and cool before eating if you can stand the wait.

I calculated the fat content of one scone to be about 6 grams if you make 12 scones in total.

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