My youthful summers in the United Kingdom could be described as a succession of church fetes featuring scones accompanied by strawberries and clotted cream. Imagine my shock to discover that in the U.S. even premium coffeehouses serve scones that can best be described as floured hockey pucks and better used as door stops. Such a disservice for a noble delight.
My youthful summers in the United Kingdom could be described as a succession of church fetes featuring scones accompanied by strawberries and clotted cream.
Baked by one or another of the ladies of the church, these pastries were as light as the cumulus clouds overhead and delicious. My mother, one of the church ladies, baked weekly her exquisite ethereal scones. Highly coveted by neighbors and relatives, many would find any excuse to pop by on baking day.
So, imagine my shock to discover that in the U.S. even premium coffeehouses serve scones that can best be described as floured hockey pucks and better used as door stops. Such a disservice for a noble delight.
When I opened a coffee shop within my wife's bookstore, Annie's Book Stop in Framingham, I wanted to introduce scones to the menu, but couldn't find a supplier of a scone my mother would have deemed edible. So I decided to bake them myself.
My mother's classic recipe begins with rubbing a large mountain of butter into flour, and then mixing in cream to create a soft dough that is folded and lightly kneaded on a heavily floured surface. The dough is gently rolled out with a floured pin, then cut with round cutters, then placed on a greased baking sheet and baked in a hot oven.
Success requires a real delicacy of touch, as being overzealous with the mixing and kneading will lead to the development of the gluten in the flour, which in turn creates a hard scone. Even twisting the cutter can prevent the scones from fully rising. In addition, this method requires a large countertop and a hot oven.
Being a small coffee bar with little space, there's no room at Espresso Paulo for a large counter or a restaurant-caliber convection oven. So it required some experimentation to make my own scones.
Instead of a full-size oven, I use a convection toaster oven, which neatly fits tucked up on a shelf in the window. I also modified my mother's recipe for space and better heart health.
That meant the butter and cream had to be replaced, but without losing flavor. For the butter, I use canola oil, which is almost tasteless and receives high marks from cardiologists. The scone's flavor is enhanced by additives matched to its fruit. For example, with raisins, I use vanilla; with apricots, almond; etc. In place of the cream, skim milk is suitable.
To make my scones light as a feather, a rising agent is important. The traditional method folds and kneads the dough, leading to flakes of butter and shortening in the dough, which release steam when baking and give a flakiness to the scone. Baking powder was OK, but I had much better results using baking soda.
Using soda meant that there must be an acidic component to activate it. Most pastry cooks use buttermilk to achieve this, but I wanted to stick with the ingredients I already had on hand, so I add white vinegar to the skimmed milk. This works really well, and the scones climb the sides of the pans faster than Spider Man on a skyscraper.
American customers expect triangular scones, not the circular ones with which I was familiar. This presented another challenge. The toaster oven is too small to house a baking sheet. However, it can accommodate two 8-inch straight-sided cake pans. I can bake two large circular scones which can be cut into eight triangular scones.
If you prefer crusts on all sides of your scones, specially designed scone pans are available. With these, the 8-inch circular pan is divided into eight sections. They cost a heck of a lot more than straight sided, plain aluminum cake pans, and are single taskers, which I try to avoid in my kitchen.
While the recipe calls for cooling the scones before eating them, there is no way you will be able wait quite that long, and I must admit, they taste really scrumptious warm. If you must, slice them and slather with butter and strawberry preserves before devouring. This works best with the raisin vanilla type.
For an extra special treat, make vanilla scones with no raisins and serve with sliced strawberries which have been macerated overnight with a little confectioner's sugar and a slug of kirschwasser (cherry brandy), accompanied by homemade whipped cream, also with a little confectioner's sugar and a slug of kirschwasser. A little white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc would be a good substitute for the kirschwasser.
Without the butter and preserves, these scones are about 250 calories per scone.
My customers like the results, particularly the pumpkin spice cranberry scone. I am frequently asked for my recipe, so here it is.
ESPRESSO PAULO FRUIT SCONES
Start to finish: 40 minutes.
4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup dried fruit
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Flavoring to match fruit (see list that follows)
To create different flavors of scones, use one of the following combinations:
Blueberry: 1 cup frozen blueberries and 2 tablespoons lemon extract
Cranberry-Orange: 1 cup dried cranberries and 2 tablespoons orange extract
Apricot-Almond: 1 cup dried apricots and 1 teaspoon almond extract
Vanilla-Raisin: 1 cup raisins and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon-Poppy: 1/2 cup poppy seeds and 2 tablespoons lemon extract
Pumpkin Spice Cranberry: 1 cup dried cranberries plus 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/4 cup molasses
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (This temperature works with my very crowded convection toaster oven. If you have a kitchen-sized convection oven, 355 to 360 degrees might work better. For a full-size standard oven, 375 degrees should be OK.)
Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking soda into a large mixing bowl and mix. Add the cup of dried fruit and mix. Break eggs into a separate bowl and whisk. Add oil, milk, flavoring and vinegar to the eggs and whisk again. Add the liquids to the solids and mix together until just combined. Use a folding action to minimize the working of the dough.
Grease two 8-inch round baking pans using cooking spray. This is critical to ensure that the scones rise and release easily from the pans.
Divide the dough equally between the two pans and place the pans in the pre-heated oven. Bake about 25 minutes (check with a toothpick; it should come out clean when fully baked).
If you like more of a crust, use a 2-ounce ice cream scoop to place small mounds of the batter onto a greased sheet pan. You should get about 16. Leave a couple of inches between each to allow for expansion. Cook about 20 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness.
If you have a convection toaster oven like I use, rotate the pans 180 degrees after baking 12 minutes. This is essential, as the pans almost fill the oven and severely restrict the airflow of the convection fan.
Remove the pans from the oven to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then turn out the scones onto the rack to cool completely before serving.
Makes 16 scones.
Note: Be careful with the orange and lemon extracts. The ones I use require 2 tablespoons. Yours may be more concentrated, so you might have to experiment.
In baking, unlike other types of cooking, quantities and pan sizes are critical. I use 8-inch pans with 2-inch straight sides. They work much better than the type of pan which has shorter, sloped sides.
Paul Ashton is the scone chef and owner of Espresso Paulo at Annie's Book Stop, 774 Water St., Framingham. If you have questions, visit and discuss scones and coffee, or email to: Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.espressopaulo.com.