Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Great Scone Experiment

My apron is my lab coat.  My kitchen, my lab.  The experiment?  Solving the equation for creating a perfect scone.

I've shared with you my deep feelings for breakfast.  All things starchy and sweet in particular.  However, in a sea of malted waffles and flapping jacks, I've always been particularly fascinated by what we call the scone.  It's a chameleon in the pastry case.  It's cakey, crumbly, dense...sweet then savory... almost always delicious but almost never the same.  

How curious.  I feel a call to experiment.   In the name of science (and yes, because I love love love scones) I decide I will work in a cloud of flour to discover the perfect mix of butter and sugar, trying currants, chocolate chips, herbs and cheese, tirelessly seeking out the ratio for a scone that embodies true...scone-iness.  

Trial 1.  I start with cranberries:

And ginger.  Hypothesizing that the shining example of a scone should have the ability to change with the times, I observe the times now call for holiday breakfasts complimented with scents of fresh pine and cold winter air. What better then, than ruby berries and warm spice.

But what about the meat of the scone?  Whirling around from the cutting board, facing the drawing board...I quickly remember it's blank.  With the number of scone recipes in the world as many as there are bakeries and breakfast buffets, I decide the most scientifically methodical decision is to spin the globe, close my eyes, and drop my finger.  

It lands on a new cookbook in my collection, "The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread".  Cream scones to be exact.  Alright I say.  We're off. 

Stirring together flour, spice, berries and brown sugar, a stream of heavy cream brings it all together in a gooey blob of a dough; as I mix it up to the morning croons of Otis Redding, I make an observation that thus far the recipe is simple enough to allow mixing and simultaneous shimmying.  A check in the plus column.

On the table it's a bit of a sticky mess.  Not unmanageable, just enough to get your hands dirty.  The cold creamy dough coats my fingers like a spa treatment, breakfast style.  Taking care to keep the dough fairly thick (the method reminds that the scones tend to spread significantly during baking), I slice six large triangles and send them into the oven.  Then I wash my hands.

One mug of coffee and a few eager peeks into the oven later, the first run of the experiment nears it's close.  Pulling the tray from the oven, pushing smart looking glasses up for a close look, I note the scones look soft, have spread slightly and smell, well, heavenly.  

I too note my rumbling stomach and commence the final phase of testing.  Tasting.  The result?A success for cakey scone supporters.  They are very light, slightly crumbly, very moist and happily, very tasty.

These winter wonderfuls are a good place to start.  I ate two and wished there were more.  But I wonder, should they have been firmer?  Thicker?  I ponder.  Is there such a thing as a perfect scone or is a scone a scone because of it's shape-shifting sweetness?  For the sake of research, and a little bit for my love of scones, the experiment shall continue.  

Stay tuned.  Until next time, I wish you cakey cranberry ginger scones, happy holiday breakfasts, a shimmy or two and lots of Otis Redding.

Cranberry Ginger Scones

3 1/2 C flour
1 T plus 1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t salt
6 t ground ginger
1 C dark brown sugar
2 1/2 C fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
2 2/3 C heavy cream
1 egg (for egg wash)
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1.  Preheat oven to 400.
2.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and ginger.  Stir in brown sugar until evenly distributed.
3.  Stir in cranberries.
4.  Make a well and pour in heavy cream.  Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until a soft dough is formed, strong enough to hold its shape without spreading.  If the dough is too stiff you can add a little more cream.
5.  Divide the dough evenly in two.  Gently shape each piece into a disk about 2 inches thick.  It will be VERY STICKY!  Go with it, enjoy it.
6.  Using a floured knife, cut each disk into six wedges.
7.  Place six on a sheet tray leaving as much space around each as possible.  Brush with egg wash (1 egg plus 1 t water), and sprinkle tops with turbinado sugar.
8.  Bake at 400 for 7 minutes.  Rotate pans, lower oven to 350, continue baking for 15 to 20 more minutes.  Scones should be golden brown and firm to the touch.  You can turn the oven down to 325 if your scones are browning too quickly.
9.  Do a shimmy and eat a scone!

12 large scones


krayery said...

Those treats look like a spa treatment for my appetite, delicious style! My eyes are shimmying as my mouth waters...

Erin said...

Kaitlin! I am so happy to have found your blog! I started my new one not too long ago...check it out if you have the time!

Hope all is well! We miss you in the basement!

Anne said...

I was in the middle of the recipe and do not see instructions to chop the cranberries till I go back to your pictures. Ok, so I go back and chop them.
Then I add the cream and mix. The result is a thick pancake batter like liquid that can not be cut in half and shaped and certainly can not be cut into twelve and baked. You can not cut a liquid in half.

So I add flour ( CUPS) and mix a while longer. Then I use a large floured ice cream scoop to plop the dough on to the baking sheets. Your statement about stickiness is a massive understatement.

Did you copy the ingredients exactly from the recipe?
I baked them and they turned out fine, but they were not cake like....
So what went wrong?

kaitlin said...


I'm so sorry to hear you had troubles with the scones.

To address the cranberries, that was a fuzzy mistake on my part- i will be sure to correct that in the method!

As far as the consistency of the dough- with the exception of the flavoring (ginger and cranberries) I did copy the ingredient volumes right from the cookbook. With excessively sticky doughs sometimes I put them in the fridge (or even the freezer for a quicker fix) to firm things up before working with them. It does sound as though that wouln't have helped if your dough was the end what was the final consistency of your scone like?

I hope I can help you. I know how baking frustrations always take away a little of the sweet joy of the product.