Thursday, July 22, 2010

Beyond any muffin.

I never liked scones.
They are almost always too dry or too doughy, usually too dense and inevitably resemble crumbly lead balls. Appearance is no help either - generally the more appealing they look the worse they taste. If I bothered to eat them more frequently I may occasionally stumble across one worth eating but, since the odds are never in my favor, I usually don't chance it.

In spite of this, my dad brought home freshly baked blueberry scones from Fairway a few weeks ago. He piled them in a basket along side the croissants and a few oversized muffins and plopped them on the counter with a grin. We usually agree that Fairway's baked goods are not very good; but these came out of the oven just before he scooped them up and maybe it was my imagination, but they were almost still warm when I broke into one.

They had a crisp sugared exterior and instead of the typical smooth triangular cut, they had rustic craggy shape. They looked better than any scone I've ever seen which, if going by my past scone experiences, means they should have tasted awful. Yet against all better judgment I took a bite and unleashed a new found love for scones.

I'm almost sorry I did. 

The perfectly crystalized crust yielded to a tender crumb and the blueberries whispered their praise for summer with each plump berry. The contrast of crust to to crumb elevated it way beyond any muffin and I happily ate one, completely plain, while thinking of all the scone recipes I've skimmed and never really given a fair chance. Now I remembered one in particular that caught my eye. 
I settled on this recipe over all the rest because it uses buttermilk instead of cream which adds a nice tanginess and rounds out the flavor. It also cuts down on the fat but that's really only a drop in the bucket since there is still a full cup of butter per twelve scones. I also like that it recipe doesn't require rolling out the dough. This means less mess to clean up plus the less you handle the dough the less likely the final result will be tough. 

If we're being honest, I also just really like pictures. I'm far more likely to make a recipe if the picture looks good and, as I've said before, The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook is one of the most beautiful around. 
Blueberry Scones
I replaced some of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour with no trouble, next time I will probably cut out all of the white flour and replace some of it with rye flour or regular whole wheat flour. If you don't have buttermilk you can replace it with the usual milk/vinegar combination. Just place 1 cup of milk in a cup with 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Let stand 5 minutes and use the required amount. The dough will seem a little dry at first and it ended up being much easier to forgo the wooden spoon and just mix gently with my hands. Try not to handle the dough too much to avoid tough scones. These are best eaten the same day.
Adapted from the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook/Makes 12 Large Scones

1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
extra turbinado sugar to sprinkle on the tops

About 2 hours before making the scones, scatter the berries on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer.

Put cubed butter, flours, 1 cup turbinado sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl, put the bowl in the freezer and leave it there for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (I ran out so I just sprayed mine pan really well with olive oil to keep them from sticking).

Using a pastry cutter, or in my case a potato masher - which i don't recommend, work the chilled ingredients together in the bowl until the butter cubes are the size of peas. Make a well in the center. combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a separate bowl, and pour the mixture into the well. Mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon to form a shaggy mass. Add the frozen berries and gently mix them in trying not to crush them.

To shape the scones, place a 3-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter on one corner of the prepared baking sheet. Take a handful of the dough and press it into the cutter patting it down so that the top of the scone is flat. Pull the cutter off the sheet leaving the scone behind. Repeat the process across the sheet, keeping enough space between scones for them to double in size, until you've use all of the dough. I fit 6 per sheet and made 12 scones total.

Sprinkle the tops of the scones with turbinado sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes, until they're golden brown along the sides but still tender inside. Transfer the scones to a cooling rack and let them sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

All pictures (excluding the last two) courtesy of Katherine Hamilton.

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