Scones: Here are the secrets to making the perfect flaky treat
How ironic. It’s early Sunday morning. The kids are sleeping soundly, tucked tightly in their beds recovering from an active weekend. The spring sun is peaking through the bedroom windows and I am fighting the calling to get up and begin my day. I have an urge this crisp morning to bake something warm, comforting for the family before our day commences, but I am not quite yet ready. I grab one of my favorite culinary memoir books written by Molly Wizenberg, one I have read at least three times. I pull back the shades, exposing the sun, move onto the couch and nestle into a random chapter. I have read this book so many times, it doesn’t matter where I jump in. I find that I get lost in a chapter describing the author as somewhat boring and too routine when it comes to favorite recipes. She talks of comfort and satisfaction in knowing what you like. Almost a contrary behavior of a real foodie, she claims.
Chefs, even home chefs, are expected to be everchanging, fusing flavors and creating awe. We are not supposed to accept routine or normal. As I read on, Wizenberg states that each time she branches out and tries new recipes she finds herself falling back to the comfort of a few of her favorites. This particular chapter is a short one and anchored by a family favorite scone recipe. Perfect. Scones it will be. Scones are relatively quick and one baked goodie everyone in my household loves.
Inspired, I hop off the couch. I find myself in the pantry grabbing ingredients, preheating the oven and mixing away. Before I know it, I am making Wizenberg’s version of her sister’s best and family’s favorite scones. I quickly assemble the scones, being mindful of keeping the butter cold and careful not to knead the dough too much. My little ones sleep on.
The timer chimes just as my husband enters the kitchen with the look of hunger and anticipation. He grabs a plate and a hot triangular scone. He gently pulls the scone apart and takes a bite, the steam sailing into the air. He looks at me with that oh-so-familiar curious look while tilting his head.
“These are good, but why don’t you just stick to our favorite,” he says. He approves but makes it clear he prefers the usual.
Moments later, my daughter saunters down the hall into the warm kitchen. Her eyes perk up upon seeing scones. She grabs a bowl, knowing it will be a crumby affair. She takes two bites, cringes and says, “These are not your normal scones. Why don’t you just make our favorite?” Cleary disappointed, she retreats to the pantry in search of cold cereal.
I have created monsters. Scone snobs at the least. Who are they kidding? These scones rock. They are perfectly dry, crumbly, with a hint of orange zest and dotted with warm, plump currants — one of the variations Wizenberg offers with her recipe. They are visibly flaky and the texture yields to just the right amount of butter with a hint of sweetness. I am happy, why aren’t they?
Convinced the fresh baked smell has awakened him, my 6-foot-tall, long-haired 13-year-old son slowly emerges from his teenage coma and, without a greeting, grabs a warm scone as he sidles up to the island. He polishes off one hot scone, then another. He looks at me as I wait for some critical comment.
“I am still hungry. What else can I have?” he says.
I ask if he liked the scones.
“Yeah, I ate two of them, didn’t I?” he responds.
I cannot help but laugh. At this very moment, I am grateful for the abruptness, almost matter-of-fact rudeness of my teenage son.
Well, that’s that. Stick to what works. I should stick to what I know is satisfying, but I can’t help it. I love experimenting in the kitchen. Consider it an addiction if you must. The thought that somehow I may find that perfect recipe or the best of the best is always lingering in the back of my mind. However, just when I have found that “favorite,” I quickly become skeptical. Undoubtedly, I will continue experimenting with recipes, however, I do now agree. When you have found something that everyone in your household agrees on and it makes them happy just as much as you, you should stick to it. Some things are better left unchanged.
■ With any scone recipe, be sure to start out with very cold butter. Work quickly as to not let the butter melt. Do your best to not overwork the dough. Work it just until it sticks together, then let it be. If you get distracted, place the dough in the refrigerator until ready to continue. Keeping the dough cold before placing the scones in the oven is key to creating the flaky, layered (biscuit-like) texture we crave.
■ Scones can be made ahead — overnight even. Refrigerate the dough until the oven is ready. Bake the scones on the rack furthest away from your heating element so as to not over-brown the tops or bottoms.
■ Scones can be baked plain, with a simple egg wash for a shiny appearance, sprinkled with turbinado sugar or lightly coated with cream and sugar. Go big or go home, right?