Today I made scones. As some of you know, I started working on a cookbook last year. It is a cookbook/memoir of sorts. The idea is to trace the way cooking has played out in, and shaped, my life and career. So, it is a bit of my approach to cooking (experimental), some of how cooking was influenced by or influenced my professional relationships, and a lot about how the two ultimately came together in my pragmatic approach to social science. I *love* working on it. But I am also finishing another (more academic) book, have several other professional responsibilities and projects, and elderly parents to attend to, so I have taken a pause. I hope to get back to it on my sabbatical next year. Often as I make something, though, I think about whether it will be in my cookbook and the story behind it. Scones will definitely be there. So, I decided to write a little preview today.
My fascination with scones began in graduate school. I shared an office with Hendrik Spruyt and we both treated grad school pretty much as a job. We would arrive around 8:30 or so and say to the other “Cappuccino?” We would talk about what we were working on that day as we sipped our coffee and be back in the office at work by 9. I figure we shared well over 1,000 cappuccinos in our time at UCSD. The conversations we had helped us digest course material, develop ideas for our dissertations, and work though problems as we wrote. They cemented what has become a lifelong friendship. I wish I had a picture of us from that time, but here is one at a conference a few years back.
The coffee shop we would walk to also had amazing scones. They were huge, irregularly shaped, and delicious. Crispy on the outside but softer, almost custardy inside. As long as I was at UCSD I got my scone fix there as I needed. But then I moved to Albany, New York for my first job. I did not find great scones in Albany. So, I began experimenting with making them. I found several recipes that were okay, and I made them off and on, but they were not the ones I had hoped for and I slowly stopped. I am not sure I made them even once when we lived in DC. Then we moved to Laguna Beach and there was another café with amazing scones. This time I was determined to figure out how to do it. I began trying different recipes. All had flour, butter, heavy cream components but with different variations on sugar, egg or no, leavening, buttermilk, etc.
I discovered my recipe by accident – it was kind of a Hirschman “hiding hand” moment. I did not have buttermilk and substituted yogurt. Bingo. The yogurt activates the baking soda (as buttermilk would) but it also helps create a creamy interior without the somewhat rubbery effect of the buttermilk. I have added a few other techniques over the time since – especially freezing and grating the butter, which makes them even better and easier. They are really, really good.
I especially like them with lemon zest (from one lemon) and blueberries, but you can just make them plain or add whatever you like. I have made them with strawberries and rhubarb, pecans, orange zest and walnuts, and blackberries but the possibilities are endless.
Try it and tell me how they come out!
2 c flour
I tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1/3 c sugar
Mix (if using zest, add it in with the dry ingredients).
8 tbsp butter, grated (freezing it for 20-30 minutes makes it easier – you can freeze it for longer too, it is just a little harder to grate but I often keep a cube frozen just in case I want to make them)
Work butter into flour with your fingers until it is crumbly (I does not take long).
Meanwhile, mix together in a separate bowl with a fork or whisk:
¼ c yogurt
½ c heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and then add the wet all at once. Stir gently and add:
½ c of fruit and/or nuts as desired.
Stir until it just barely comes together. It will still be crumbly. If it is too dry to come together easily, sprinkle on a little more heavy cream. Gather and press into a circle on lightly floured cutting board. Cut into eight pieces (you can also cut the eight in half again if you want smaller ones), place on cookie sheet, and sprinkle with raw (or turbinado) sugar.
Bake at 400 until brown and crispy (about 15-18 mins).
-Don’t mix them too much. As you pat the dough into a circle it will come together.
-Don’t take them out too early. They are best when they get really brown.