Monday, July 18, 2011

simply delicious scones

     First, a silly story about my discovery of scones, followed by an easy-peasy recipe. The first time I tried authentic English scones with decadent Devonshire cream was in England at Hampton Court Palace, reported to be one of Henry the Eighth's favorite residences.
     My husband and I were chaperones on a youth leadership tour in the summer of two thousand-four. The summer skies over Hampton Court were ominous when we arrived. The know-it-all teenagers in our group were set on conquering the Maze Garden, an enormous hedge maze.  
     I on the other hand, was intent on avoiding the impending storm by visiting the cafe, a former conservatory, for a spot of afternoon tea. My husband really wanted to go with them, but at the last minute changed his mind.
     The optimistic bravado of youth carried the kids toward the maze. We had just poured our piping hot tea when the heavens opened. Minutes later, a raucous group of rain-drenched teens tumbled through the door.
     Our kids spotted us, cozy and dry, and began to laugh while mentally noting that Moms are usually right! After repairing their dignity (with a stop by the loo,) they joined us with cream tea of their very own. We all swooned over the biscuit-like scones served with rich, clotted cream and jam.
plain scones with jam and clotted cream
     The following recipe is very simple, using sour cream to bind the dry ingredients, instead of whipping cream. Many recipes I've tried either lead you through a myriad of difficult steps or come out like a glorified cookie. The true scone (actually pronounced sk-on, not sk-own,) is similar in texture to a biscuit or an old-fashioned shortcake.
   I don't even bother with the electric  mixer, but simply crumble the dry ingredients together with my hands. In a smaller bowl, whisk wet stuff with a fork... Clean-up is a breeze!
Ingredients
2 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2. t. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 c. dried currants
1/2 c. reduced fat sour cream
1 large egg or 1/4 c. egg substitute
2 T. milk
1 t. sugar
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, placing rack in the lower middle of oven. In a medium bowl, blend dry ingredients. Using a box grater, grate frozen butter into flour mixture. Crumble butter into dry ingredients with your fingers. It should resemble coarse meal when you are done working it in.
Toss in currants. With your hands, work them in until they are covered in flour.
In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and egg together until smooth. Add to the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until clumps form. Using your hands, press dough into a large ball.
Place on a lightly floured surface and roll or pat into rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. If making sweet scones, brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar, then cut with a small circular biscuit cutter or cut into small squares. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool for five minutes on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Yield 16 -20 small scones.
traditional currant scones
Mix it up a bit... make more than one batch at a time. Maybe one sweet and one savory. Here are a few variations to try: 
bacon-cheddar: Omit sugar and currants. Stir in 1/4 c. crumbled bacon and 1/4 c. sharp, grated cheddar to dry mixture, after butter is worked in, but before adding wet. Brush top with milk just before baking and top with coarse-ground black pepper instead of sugar.
ham and chive: Omit sugar and currants. Add 2 T. snipped fresh chives and 1/4 c. chopped ham to dry ingredients after working in butter. Brush with milk before baking and top with a little cracked black pepper instead of sugar.
lemon-blueberry-rosemary with a lemon glaze: Add the zest of a lemon and 1 T. fresh rosemary leaves to the dry ingredients after the butter is worked in. Replace currants with dried, fresh or frozen blueberries. Work them in before adding wet ingredients. For lemon glaze: Stir together 2 T. lemon juice with 1 c. powdered sugar. Drizzle over warm scones before serving.
cherry-almond: replace currants with dried cherries. Add 1/4 c. chopped almonds.
orange-cranberry: This is one of my faves! Change the currants to dried cranberries. Add the zest of an orange to dry ingredients. Then, add 2 t. orange baking emulsion or 1 t. orange extract or orange oil to egg and sour cream mixture.
apricot-thyme: Substitute dried apricots for the currants. Add 2 t. fresh thyme leaves to dry ingredients.

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