They’re so simple — just a mixture of flour, butter, sugar, baking soda and powder and milk — yet the possibilities for the humble scone, from sweet to savory, seem endless.
While scones are of Scottish origin and traditionally reserved for tea there, Americans prefer them for breakfast or a mid-morning snack. As the popularity of gourmet coffee drinks, such as latte, cappuccino, espresso and the like, has skyrocketed, so has the quest for snacks to go with them. In the past decade, the scone has captured a greater share of the snack market, giving its French cousin, the croissant, a run for its money.
Erika Tebbens of Ballston Spa, a member of the From Scratch Club, added scones to her baking repertoire about three years ago. And the ones she bakes vary by season and when she’s serving them.
“I like to do a lot with seasonal ingredients,” she said. “Mostly, I like to use whatever is fresh and in season, because it tends to taste better.” Summer brings scones with berries and other fruits from local farms, while in the fall, she might be baking scones with pumpkin puree, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Scones are a signature offering at The Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa.
Sweet scones — like the most popular flavor, mixed berry — are popular for breakfast; savory scones — bacon, cheddar, scallion — are a good accompaniment to soup or with dinner.
“Scones are pretty easy to make once you have the right base recipe,” said The Whistling Kettle president, Meahgan Borowsky, who develops all of the restaurant’s recipes. “Be creative and experiment with different flavors.”
You can exchange the milk with juice or water, or vary the add-ins, adding, for example, chocolate, peanut butter or different fruits.
Points to consider
There are a couple of tips to take into consideration when baking scones. Don’t overmix the dough, and always use cold butter, which won’t get completely mixed in.
“You want pockets of whole butter, because when they bake, it releases steam and you get these fluffy pockets of air,” Borowsky said.
Gazette food writer Elaine Jackson Cape shares her scone recipe here.
Overbaking and drying out the pastry is another mistake to avoid. “Some ingredients, like berries, contain more moisture, which needs to be taken into account,” she said. “It’s really all about finding the right texture of batter and knowing your oven.”
To shape scones into triangles, Tebbens presses the dough into a half-inch-thick circle, then cuts it into wedges with a pizza cutter. Or you can press out your dough and use a biscuit cutter for round scones.
Tebbens brushes the tops of the sweet scones with milk and sprinkles them with coarse sugar before baking. She tops the savory ones with herbs or cracked pepper.
How they are served makes a difference, too. Cream, said Borowsky, is to a scone what butter is to bread. “We wanted to serve our scones like traditional English scones, with clotted cream and preserves. It’s a product of southwest England, and finding it in the States in large quantity is pretty much impossible,” she said. Instead, she created her own recipe that mimics the clotted cream with less fat than the original.
Blueberry Peach Whole Wheat Scones
Recipe from Erika Tebbens of Ballston Spa
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1⁄3 cup sugar
2 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup whole milk or cream (plus extra for brushing tops of scones)
1 cup frozen blueberries (fresh are OK but they will bleed during the mixing process)
1 small to medium peach, diced small
coarse sugar for dusting tops of scones
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl mix flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a fork. Add in the cold butter pieces and use your fingertips to quickly mix it into the flour mixture. It’s OK if there are still small chunks of butter in the mixture — they will help make the scones flaky.
Pour in the milk and mix it in with the fork until everything is moist, but don't overmix.
Gather the dough into a ball and place on a floured surface. Press the berries into the dough and knead briefly, just until everything comes together and the dough no longer looks “shaggy.” Split the dough into 2 equal pieces.
Press each half into a round disk a half inch thick. Divide up diced peaches evenly between the two disks and press into the tops of the dough.
Cut each disk into 6 equal triangles. Place triangles about an inch apart on a baking sheet linked with parchment. Brush the tops of each triangle with a little whole milk or heavy cream and then sprinkle coarse sugar on them.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until tops are a golden brown. Let cool slightly and serve with butter.
Devonshire Cream for Scones
Recipe from www.yummly.com
1⁄2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
3⁄4 cup sour cream
Whip cream until soft peaks form, then add powdered sugar and whip to incorporate. Add sour cream and continue beating just until fluffy and well-combined. Serves 2.
Recipe from www.yummly.com
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons salt
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh chives (finely)
5 ounces cheddar (coarsely grated 11⁄2 cups)
2 cups heavy cream (additional for brushing)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add chives and cheddar, tossing to combine. Stir in cream with a fork until a sticky dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead eight times with floured hands. Halve dough and form each half into a 7-inch round. Brush tops of rounds with additional cream and cut each into eight wedges.
Arrange wedges about 1⁄2 inch apart on an ungreased large baking sheet and bake in middle of oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. Serves 16.