Scones have been making the English happy since 1531, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
In this country, they only began appearing in bakery cases in the early 1980s. I remember sitting in Central Park eating my first Sarabeth's scone out of a paper bag, wondering where this more humble than a croissant, more tender than a muffin, this ying to coffee's yang, had been all my life.
We are very late to the tea party.
Jane Ward, of the always delicious and literary blog "Food and Fiction," was not. She grew up breakfasting and snacking on an often savory version of her Scottish grandmother's scones.
In most of England, scone rhymes with "John." Scone parlance is so colorful the names alone should have been a credible import. "Rock Cakes," "Fat Rascals," and "Singing Hinnies" are all ways you could order a scone in Great Britain. "Tattie Scones" are a Scottish variation made with potatoes.
Ward's grandmother's scones are actually "girdle" cakes, an old, pre-baking powder recipe cooked on a griddle pancake-style. While Ward's updated recipe bakes in an oven, the Amesbury resident pats her version into a round which she scores into wedges before baking. In correct scone terminology, the whole round is called a "bannock," the wedges are the scones.
The physics of a good scone is the same as good pie pastry: keep the fat very cold, work the dough very gently, blast it all with high heat and the cold layers separate, trapping steam in between them, thus finishing with a tender layered mouthful of buttery flavor.
Traditionally, raisins, currants, or cheese come whistling along those flaky layers, but this is where Ward chucks her Scottish roots.
Why settle for bits of dried fruit when there are dried cherries and white chocolate in your pantry?
Ward's scones aren't just homey partners to a cup of tea; they are scones exalted. They are scones that have come to America.
Dried Cherry-White Chocolate Chunk Scones
Makes 8 scones
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup (51/3 tablespoons) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup white chocolate chunks or chips
1/2 cup dried tart cherries (such as Montmorency)
1 large egg mixed with 1 Ttablespoon water for an egg wash
bakers' sparkling sugar*
Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a sheet of parchment.
1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Using a pastry cutter, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is the size of tiny peas and evenly distributed.
2. In a small bowl, or glass measuring cup, mix together the cream, egg, and vanilla with a fork until they are well blended.
3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the cream mixture into it. Using the blending fork, gently incorporate the flour into the liquid until barely mixed together.
4. Add the white chocolate and cherries and continue mixing by hand only until the dough holds together. Knead dough lightly in the bowl for a couple of turns, then turn the dough out onto a floured cutting board or pastry cloth. (Note: It is important to keep from over mixing scone dough for a tender and crumbly scone.)
5. Pat the scone dough into an 8- or 9-inch circle that is approximately three-quarters of an inch thick. Transfer circle to prepared baking sheet.
6. On the baking sheet, cut the circle into 8 wedges using a sharp knife. Brush the top of the scone circle lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Set in the preheated oven to bake for 17 minutes.
7. After 17 minutes, remove the baking pan onto a cooling rack. Re-cut the scone wedges and gently separate these so there is at least an inch of space between each wedge.
8. Return the baking sheet to the oven for an additional 2 minutes. Scones are done when there is no sign of wetness at the edges, or when a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out fairly clean, with only a few crumbs sticking to it.
9. Remove scones to a cooling rack and allow to cool and set a bit before eating.
*Sparkling sugar is a large crystal decorating sugar that will not melt when baked. It is available through baking supply stores.
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Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at email@example.com. Follow her blog at www.heatheratwood.com.