As the Christmas holiday approaches, those of us who exchange gifts come closer and closer to putting this question behind us: What shall I get them this year that they don’t already have?
Now our thoughts turn to the next question if we’re expecting guests: What shall I serve them that they haven’t already eaten numerous times this season?
If you’re planning a tea or a brunch, how about handmade homemade scones?
Handmade beside the Range
Food is something I don’t normally write about, even though it can indeed be art. Consider this my holiday gift to you: how to make scones that are lighter and more tender than you probably thought scones could be. If I had a dollar for every person who tasted mine and told me “This is the best scone I ever ate,” I could fund one more Christmas dinner for a needy family.
I have an advantage over the best of bakeries. Everyone who eats my scones does so within four hours of when they come from the oven. After four hours, the quality slowly declines. Even freezing within the first four hours doesn’t save all of the initial lightness and tenderness, although the scones can still be enjoyable after a gentle warming.
The good news is that it takes less than 15 minutes to prepare them, and about 15 to bake them. A holiday breakfast that will have your guests sighing with pleasure is within reach.
The ingredients? They’re standard in my kitchen. You might want to check your own supplies to make sure you have all of those pictured at left above: nutmeg, sour cream, a full stick of salted butter (more on that later), an egg, and golden raisins. The full recipe with measurements follows shortly, but first let’s look at the process.
The “How-to” of It
Measuring and mixing the dry ingredients comes first. If I’m going to make scones for breakfast, I do that the night before. Every step done ahead helps. It helps, too, to get out all the equipment needed: a small bowl, a pastry blender, a whisk, a cutting board, and a sharp knife.
Getting out the butter, on the other hand, is a last-minute step. It’s got to be cold to give the scones the right texture. Yes, butter is hard right from the refrigerator. But if you cut it into pieces no thicker than a half inch, you will be able to use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour without too much difficulty.
Never used a pastry blender? Press straight down through the butter and into the flour. When you pull up the pastry blender from the bowl the first few times, butter will cling to it. Holding the blender over the bowl, run a scraper or a table knife along the inside and outside of the metal curve to clear off the butter. Rotate the blender several degrees and press down again so the blender will cut through the butter in a slightly different direction.
Keep rotating and cutting until the mixture in your bowl looks like the sample in the spoon at left. Notice that the mixture looks crumbly and uneven, not fine like the flour and sugar by themselves.
Use another bowl to whisk the egg and then the egg with the sour cream. Pour this new mixture all at once into the center of your bowl of butter and flour.
For scones with the best texture, gently mix everything together with a table fork. Instead of stirring as you would with a spoon, toss the ingredients gently — almost as you would a salad. Add golden raisins when the dough starts looking lumpy. If the dough becomes dry and you can’t get all the flour incorporated into it, use your hand to press the dough gently against the bowl until there’s no loose flour.
Now grab a cutting board and dust it lightly with flour. If you’re used to making biscuits, you’re expecting to knead the dough next. No, just divide the dough in half and make a circle 1” thick with each half. Sprinkle the two circles lightly with granulated sugar and cut them into sixths. Your scones are ready for the oven!
Hard as it will be to wait, let them cool for at least five minutes after baking. These super-tender wedges crumble if you try to handle them hot from the oven.
Before I move on to the recipe, I’d like to thank T.S. Berger and Mike Wilkinson for loaning me their handmade items for this post. T.S. threw the mixing bowl on a wheel, and Mike created the cutting board from cherry, walnut, and maple. Both of these artisans have similar items for sale at Trimble Court Artisans in Fort Collins.
And Now the Recipe . . .
My recipe assumes that your scones will be baked at 5,000 feet above sea level. If you’re not that high up, try adding an extra ¼ teaspoon of baking powder. If that doesn’t work let me know; there are other tricks to try, too.
Nutmeg is my unique twist to this classic. Some of your guests may not realize it’s there – it’s just enough to give the scones subtle but exceptional flavor. By the way, I add a pinch of nutmeg to pancake batter, too, for the same reason.
One more word about butter . . . Scone recipes usually call for unsalted butter. Purists would insist on it. However, salted butter affects taste, not texture, and unsalted butter doesn’t keep as long unless you freeze it. It’s more important to me to have the ingredients always on hand and ready to use. So I use salted butter in all my recipes and adjust the salt content of each recipe as needed.
Enjoy! And let me know the results! If you have questions, send me an email at Sally@FrontRangeHandmade.com.
Scones Handmade on the Front Range
2 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ cup chilled salted butter
½ cup sour cream
1/3 cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 400⁰. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt, and nutmeg. Cut in butter with a pastry blender.
Whisk together egg and sour cream. Add all at once to the flour mixture. Stir gently with a table fork. When partially combined, add golden raisins. Continuing stirring until the dough forms a ball. If mixture seems too dry, press the dough gently against the side of the bowl by hand to incorporate all the flour.
Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured cutting board, shape the dough into two circles 1” high. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Cut each circle into six wedges. Place separated wedges on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake 14 minutes or until very lightly browned. Cool at least five minutes to prevent crumbling. Serve warm or at room temperature.