Okay, confession time: I love scones. No, seriously, I loooooooooove them. Muffins are tasty, but always too sweet and squishy. Biscuits are good, but are an ideologically different creature from the muffin or scone. I just can’t put them in the same mental category. The scone, though, is perfection: not too sweet, not too moist, not too dry, not too crumbly, and best of all, it goes perfectly with coffee. If you know anything about me, you know that if something “goes with coffee” it will be a staple in my life. Coffee is so much more than a beverage to me – I like to say that coffee and I have had a loving, caring relationship for 16 years. I’m an insufferable coffee snob, of course, but I’m not ashamed of it at all. People accuse me of being a goth because I wear so much black, but really, it’s because it hides the coffee stains (I’m clumsy, and have a tendency to wear my food).
But I digress…
Back to scones, or I should say, the perfection that – in its earthly incarnation – is called scone. Like everything else in my life that I’m passionate about (coffee, beer, music…), I’m a snob. Snobbery gets a bad name a lot of the time, but when I use it to describe myself, it is merely a manifestation of the highest form of flattery. I love something so much that an inferior version of it makes me sad, because I know in my heart how good it could be.
The perfect scone is hard to accomplish. More often than not, the scones we run across (particularly here in the states) are more like flat, lumpy muffins… or dry oversized flavorless biscuits – never quite achieving that balance I’m always harping about in food. The “great” scones I’ve had in my life I can count on one hand. Frankly, only two come to mind. Sadly, one location is since out of business, and the other will probably soon be (and is inconveniently located a couple thousand miles from my house, damn them!). So I’ve been on the quest create the perfect scone for a while now, when I need that scone fix. I’ve yet to create the perfect one, but I’m happy to admit that I’ve come damn close!
Where did I find this recipe? Two words: Alton Brown. I’m very conflicted about dear Alton. I vary between loving him, and wanting to strangle him. At times he comes up with the most ingenious, brilliant solutions to cooking’s biggest mysteries. At other times, he zealously goes so far beyond the realm of practical or realistic that I want to know just what kind of crack he is smoking and will he share it with the rest of us. Case and point? Hot Wings. The man took a 5-minute prep time bar food and turned it into a multi-hour circus of cooking techniques requiring construction of a multi-layered wing-steaming device, and periods of chill-time between each step… lets just say by the time you finish preparing the paltry little pile of the damn wings, you will probably have already ordered take out – twice – and aren’t hungry any more.
In the case of scones, however, dear Alton is right on the mark. Bless him! His recipe is not only easy (win!) and delicious (epic-win!), but I have yet to BREAK it, despite my dubious tampering (double plus win!). I can’t leave a recipe alone, it’s true. Even after I subbed half and half for the heavy cream, replaced half the flour with whole wheat, swapped out a different sugar and added handfuls of additions (some of whom were liberally soaked in delicious booze!), it’s still golden! The original is lovely, of course, but give my rendition a try and you’ll see why I love them so very much and will try my hardest to make a batch of them every weekend.
Adapted from Alton Brown
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp. margarine/shortening
- 3/4 cup half-and-half
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
- 1/4 cup brandy (optional)
- 1/2 cup almonds, slivered or sliced
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp OTHER extract (almond, orange, more vanilla, or if you’re me, Fiori di Sicilia)
- demerara sugar, for sprinking (optional)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.
Take your diced apricots (or cherries, blueberries, mango, raisins, currants, cranberries… you get the idea) and place them in a small bowl with the brandy (if omitting the brandy, you can use water or fruit juice). Heat this in the microwave for only about 10-15 seconds, until the liquid is warm. Smoosh the pieces around in the bowl so they’re all covered and soaking up the lovely stuff.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well. Add butter and shortening in small chunks, and “cut” into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or if you wanna get dirrrty, your fingers (clean, of course). You want this to end up as a kind of powdery, crumbly mixture – not a “dough” by any means, and not a bunch of flour with a couple chunks of butter floating in it. In fact, you don’t want uniformity at all. You want some of the butter to have disappeared into the flour to make a coarse meal, but you also still want some pea-sized clumps of fat in there too. If it looks messy, you’re doing it right!
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the half-and-half, egg, and extracts and whisk them with a fork until combined and uniform in color. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients – no need to make a fancy well or pour it in bit by bit, just slop it in there! Drain the liquor or water from the fruit (and if you’re me, you drink it right there! woot!) and add them to the bowl as well. While your at it, throw in those almonds (or pecans… walnuts… heck, whatever you got on hand). Get yourself a big wooden spoon and stir this stuff together until you have a loosely formed goopy mass. Don’t overmix! Don’t wait for it all to be perfectly uniform and un-clumpy. The less mixing the better!
Turn this mixture out onto a floured surface (or if you’re me and don’t want to get your counters sticky, into a Pie Dough Bag). There’s no need to ROLL out the dough or any such nonsense like that. Just moosh it all together into a pile so that none of the flour or clumps is left lying about. Form that dough pile into a rough circular shape, maybe an inch thick or so. Slice it into pizza-triangles and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle the tops with demerara sugar if you’re feeling fancy! Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Try and wait for them to cool long enough to eat them. Fail. Eat them anyway. 🙂