May 12, 2010

On scones and simplicity

Time for scones again, scones full of butter and cream and a lot of lemon zest. I love a good scone, one that isn't overly worked with a lot of unnecessary ingredients. Sometimes I wonder if scones chock full of nut, fruit, and/or spice combinations or more are just a disguise, a cover up, for a bad, bland tasting base. One or two extras at a time are enough to enhance a tender, fluffy crumb. More than that detracts from the scone itself. At least that's what I've discovered so far in my scone making ventures. If something different comes across my path and defies these carefully assessed notions, it would have to be really good.

This recipe is based on the ginger scones featured here way back in February, which is an excellent base for cream scones, with or without the ginger, although the ginger is highly favored around these parts. The flavor additions can be easily changed by swapping in a ground spice or another citrus for the lemon zest and either leaving out the ginger or replacing with a bit of chopped, dried fruit. I should have used lemon extract (as a tiny bottle was just sitting there in the cupboard, lined up behind other teeny bottles of extracts, patiently waiting to be used) instead of vanilla with this batch. They weren't quite as lemony as hoped for, even with the extra zest, but I played it safe with the vanilla. Next time, it'll be lemon. Keep in mind, though, that a mild lemon scone isn't a bad thing. It's still perfectly edible. Pair with fresh strawberries, and you're set for breakfast.

Also keep in mind that these scones are high in buttery, creamy goodness unimaginatively known as fat, and eating one every morning several days in a row could be considered decadent. But don't deprive yourself. Although typically lower in sugar than other breakfast pastries, scones aren't meant to be a health food and should be enjoyed every so often for just what they are: a warm welcome to a lazy morning. Besides, baking a batch of scones is a great way to gather people in the kitchen for breakfast where they can then ooh and ahh over your baking skills. Make sure you also provide freshly brewed coffee. Then they'll be really happy.

Lemon Cream Scones
Adapted from Epicurious

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
10 Tbsp (1 ¼ sticks) cold butter, cubed
¾ cup heavy cream or half-and-half, plus extra
¼ tsp lemon extract
Raw sugar, such as turbinado

Preheat oven to 400° F. Place rack in middle of oven.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Add the lemon zest and butter, mixing with a pastry blender or two knifes until the consistency resembles fine meal.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in cream and extract. Using a wooden spoon, carefully mix together until just combined, forming a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead a few turns to form into a ball, adding a little more flour if dough is sticky. Pat dough out into a circle roughly ¾-inch thick. Cut into ten wedges and transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Lightly brush tops of scones with a little cream, then sprinkle generously with the raw sugar.

Bake until edges are golden, about 18 minutes. Cool scones on a wire rack for a few minutes, then transfer to a towel lined basked to keep warm.

Update 9/21/10: I just made these again but with the lemon extract, half-and-half instead of cream, and a half cup of dried cranberries, skipping the sugar topping -- they were even better than the first batch made some months ago. I wasn't sure how the half-and-half would work, but the scones seemed a touch lighter, a bit fluffier even (and more lemony), so the half and half is a fine substitute.

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