For years, my sister, Sandy, has been working to develop the perfect scone. It’s a mission to satisfy a taste of home for her mother-in-law, Nora, a gentle woman born and raised in Ireland. Now 91, Nora grew up in an era when life was measured by what happened in between cups of tea and the most common form of entertainment was conversation, not watching television. “TV ruined the talk,” she says in her sweet Irish brogue. About a dozen years ago, Sandy and Nora were in Michigan having tea in a bakery when they ordered a batch of scones. Nora just sighed. “If there’s one thing I wish for, it’s a good scone, like the ones my dear mother used to make.” My sister never backs down from a challenge. Here’s her recipe. The hands you see belong to her, working in her kitchen in St. Petersburg, Florida.
I’m a fan of this recipe for a number of reasons. It’s easy enough for non-bakers, plus flexible enough for any taste. If you whip up a batch of these on a Sunday morning, you’ve got a lovely weekend treat, plus something to grab-and-go inexpensive breakfasts for the rest of the week. These keep best if left on the counter covered with a dish towel. They’re good at room temperature, but warm up best in a low oven or toaster oven.
Grating frozen butter into the batter and then chilling the completed dough again after mixing is the secret to a flaky, soft scone so don’t skip this crucial step.
A great thing about scones is that they’re flexible when it comes to flavoring. Try studding them with frozen blueberries, chopped peaches, chocolate chips, chopped apples, chopped dried figs, crushed almonds — the possibilities are endless. Just be sure not to use any fruit that’s too wet such as fresh blueberries as that can introduce too much liquid into the dough and to thoroughly chill whatever you add in the freezer. You can also boost the flavor by spreading a light layer of jam or marmalade once the rolled out flour.
My sister uses fat-free milk and sour cream; I use low-fat as they tend to have less artificial ingredients. Yields about 15 scones.
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), frozen
1 teaspoon of grated lemon or orange peel
2 cups white unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup low-fat milk
½ cup low-fat sour cream
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons orange marmelade
Before starting, put your butter in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 F degrees. Then, grate the frozen butter with a cheese grater. Place it back in the freezer.
In a bowl, whisk the milk and sour cream together and then put into the fridge. Grate the skin off a lemon or orange into a large bowl. Add in the the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and ½ cup sugar and stir together. Lightly dust the countertop with flour.
Get the grated frozen butter and toss it with the flour mixture until all the butter is coated. Fold in the child milk and sour cream mixture and combine until the batter is quite wet. Turn out onto the floured countertop and with floured hands, knead it about six times. Do not over knead it.
Roll the dough with a rolling pin into a 12-inch square. Fold it in half, and then fold again, like folding a napkin. Put it on a plate or similar and put into the freezer for about five minutes. This will rest the dough plus slightly refreeze the butter, yielding a more flaky pastry.
While its in the freezer, dust your countertop with flour again and put a heavy cookie sheet or baking stone into your preheated oven to get it warm. (You might want to use these few minutes to make yourself a cup of tea.)
After five minutes, remove the doll and roll your square flat into a 12-inch square. Push the dried cranberries into flattened batter, then spoon the marmalade into a light layer over top. Roll up the dough and turn it over if necessary so the seam is on the bottom. Gently push the roll down until it’s about three inches wide.
With a sharp knife, cut the roll into a series of triangles. Brush the top with the beaten up and sprinkle lightly with the remaining sugar. Place the triangles on the preheated cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until medium brown. Let the scones rest at least 15 minutes before serving.