Whoever said scones were easy? Easy to make, yes - they usually only require +/- 15 minutes to throw together and another +/- 15 minutes to bake - but trying to develop a recipe from scratch? Not so easy. I spent numerous mornings (and evenings) mixing flour and making a mess of the kitchen trying to make a perfect scone. In all, I think I made 5 or 6 batches over the past 3 months and each one failed in their own way (they were edible, but not perfect). Mostly they were too cake-like. Scones should be flaky and tender, not have the consistency of a muffin. They should also have a crisp top so that when you bite into them the tops crumble a little bit and give your teeth something to crunch on. Scones should also be light instead of heavy and only subtly sweet. So many variables to get right! In the end, I finally consulted my new favorite cookbook: "Cook's Illustrated: the science of good cooking." If you don't have this brilliant kitchen reference, I highly recommend it. Not only does it contain a ton of crazy-good recipes, it also tells you why a recipe works. Take the scones, for example. The blurb after the blueberry scone recipe tells you that grating the frozen butter keeps it colder than it would if you rubbed the butter into the dough with your fingers. Just like in making a flaky pie crust, you need to keep the butter cold! I also learned that folding the dough helps to make layers of "striated flakes" kind of like puff pastry. You don't want to work the dough too much or else it will become tough, not tender, but you want to fold it a couple times to make layers that then make delicious, flaky scones.
Once I read the why of scone-making, my scones turned out infinitely better. I played with the recipe a bit, substituting some white flour for whole wheat pastry flour and adding maple syrup because I'm from Vermont and maple syrup makes everything better. The scones came out light, tender, and exploding with flavor (thanks, in part, to the gigantic, delicious blueberries we picked this summer). I think the only thing I would change next time would be to brush the tops with a bit of milk instead of butter. I think they would stay crisper.
// Blueberry Oat Scones // makes 6-8 scones
As I mentioned above, the key to making good scones is to keep everything cold, which is why I say to put everything in the fridge until it's needed. If I know I'm going to make a batch in the morning, I'll throw a stick of butter in the freezer the night before so it's nice and frozen. You can also play around with different flavorings such as other berry types, almond extract, orange zest, dried fruit, etc... These scones are best eaten fresh out of the oven with a good cup of coffee.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) of frozen, unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oats
1 tablespoon sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons butter (or whole milk)
1 tablespoon coarse sugar
2 tablespoons oats
1. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet
2. Grate frozen butter into a small bowl using the medium-sized holes that look like raindrops. Try to hold on to the wrapper as much as possible to prevent your warm hands from touching the butter. Place grated butter back into the freezer until needed
3. In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, 1 tablespoon of sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir well, then place bowl in the refrigerator until needed
4. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, sour cream, maple syrup, vanilla, and lemon zest. Whisk until well combined. Place bowl in refrigerator until needed.
5. Clean off a large space on your counter and dust liberally with flour. Keep bag/container of flour handy so you can dust your hands. Take the flour mixture and butter out of the fridge/freezer and toss the butter gently into the flour mixture with your fingers. The butter pieces should be well coated. With a rubber spatula, barely stir the milk mixture into the flour. The dough should look quite raggedy and a bit wet
6. Dump the dough onto the floured surface and pat into a rectangle. You may need to dust your hands with flour to prevent them from sticking. Fold the dough in half, using a pastry cutter to unstick the bottom, then flatten the dough out into a rectangle again. Rotate a quarter turn clockwise. Fold, flatten, and rotate 3 more times, then place the dough on a plate and transfer to the freezer for 7-8 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 425°. While the oven is preheating, melt the two tablespoons of butter (if using) and set aside or measure out two tablespoons of milk. Measure out the coarse sugar and oats and have ready. Measure out the blueberries and keep in freezer until needed.
8. When the oven is ready, take the dough and blueberries out of the freezer. Dust your surface lightly with some flour, and place the dough back on the counter. Work quickly! Pat dough into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle, then spread 1/2 of the blueberries lengthwise along the left edge of the dough and press them in firmly. Fold the left side of the dough (with blueberries) towards the center like folding a letter. Spread the remaining blueberries on the right edge of the dough and press them in firmly. Fold the right edge over the left to finish folding the "letter". You should have a long log with two layers of blueberries.
9. With a pastry cutter, cut the dough into 6-8 triangles. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter/milk and sprinkle with oats and coarse sugar. Bake at 425° for 18-22 minutes. The tops should be lightly browned and still soft when pressed.