Classic cream scones
British scones, unlike their American counterparts, are small, round, and perfect.
There's a royal wedding happening in Britain later this week, I'm sure you are at least marginally aware of this if you don't live under a rock. Faithful Royals followers already have their wedding-watching plans and menus set for Friday morning. I am at neither end of the spectrum and other than general well-wishing for Prince William and Kate Middleton, like I would for any other couple getting married, I have not been paying much attention to it other than what the news forces me to scan to get to other headlines (hey, it's not my wedding). However, I have enjoyed the footage from London as it brings back good memories of my trips there.
One of the items I've checked off on my foodie bucket list was to sample British food in – well, Britain. On my first trip to London almost 15 years ago, I remember enjoying buttery, sweet but not overly so, scones. They were small, round like a biscuit and served warm with an accompaniment of butter and clotted cream. They were almost the delicate opposite of the scones I'd grown used to associating with in the United States: thick, triangular slabs of scone in any flavor conceivable that was almost bound to end up like a rock in my stomach once I'd consumed it because they were big and often more heavy than not, with a crunchy top sometimes encrusted with rock sugar.
My Simply Scones recipe book has a variety of sweet and savory scones to choose from, ranging all the way from the fancy Banana Macadamia Praline Scones and Chocolate-Stuffed Peanut Butter Scones to the more savory Dilled Scallion Scones and Pesto Cheese Scones. There's even a chapter on spreads, including Chutney Cream Cheese Spread and Chocolate Nut Butter. But those all smack of an American love of variety and experimentation and seem a trifle gaudy to honor my London memories. So Classic Cream Scones it is. By definition, classic stands the test of time and is not a flibberty-gibbet kind of scone. Its simplicity and good taste speaks for itself without being so crass at to make grandiose claims of its superlative nature. It just is.
This scone was easy to put together and also mixed in the classic way: Mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, cut the butter into the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients in at once and combine. I used my hands to pat the dough into a disk rather than a rolling pin – the less you handle scone dough, the better. Cutting out the rounds of scone dough makes them look like biscuits after they've been baked but once you bite into them, all thoughts of biscuits will flee. The perfect scone is almost halfway between bread and cake – it's not as chewy as bread, it's not as fragile as cake but it will be tender, buttery, a bit flaky (but not pie crust flaky) and a little bit sweet.
I loved this scone. I ate half of one while it was still warm and didn't even need to add butter to make it good. Once it had cooled to room temperature, I ate the other half and enjoyed it just as much, also even without butter. Usually I've made breads or biscuits where it's optimal when warm and not as good at room temperature. This scone can go either way. The top has some crunch, the inside is mealy with the perfect texture and just the right amount of sweetness. I think even the Queen Mum would approve of this classic scone.
(See next page for Classic Cream Scones recipe)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup currants, optional
1 egg mixed with
1 teaspoon water for glaze, optional
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly butter a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissor fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together the cream, egg and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the currants, if desired.
With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured cutting board. Using a floured 2-1/2-inch diameter round biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out rounds from the dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Gather scraps together and repeat until all the dough is used. ightly brush tops of the scones with the egg mixture, if desired. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.4
Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the scones to the wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Carol Ramos blogs at The Pastry Chef's Baking.
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