Tony and Gio are big fans of American coffee house scones, and a recent purchase of some lovely dried Bing cherries from Trader Joe’s has inspired me to play around with my recipe. American scones are usually sweeter than their British counterpart and are often enjoyed as a morning pastry, while British scones are typically served at tea time. And, while the Brits enjoy slathering their tea scones with heaps of butter and cream, over here we put those ingredients right inside our scones.
American scones are essentially a type of quick bread, like their other cousin, the southern biscuit, but they benefit from the addition of sugar and often an extra ingredient, or two, like dried fruits or chocolate chips. For practical purposes, (and in no disrespect to any British readers), I will refer to them from this point on simply as scones.
I confess that, until recently, I never quite understood the big attraction to scones, but, since I love baking and my guys love scones, I set out a couple years ago to find the perfect scone recipe. After trying out several versions, I’ve learned a few things along the way and have come to regard the scone with new respect.
First, (and best, in my opinion), scones are really easy to make, requiring basic pantry staples and very little skill. In fact, they are just another incarnation of flour, butter, sugar and cream, with a little bit of salt and baking powder thrown in for good measure. If you’ve ever found scones difficult to make, I urge you to try this recipe.
Next, scones are incredibly versatile. You can make them plain, or enhance them with a variety of add-ins like dried fruits, fresh fruits, chocolate chips and nuts. Currants, raisins and cranberries are common add-ins, but we’ve also used dried strawberries and today’s special feature, dried cherries. I also like to throw in half a teaspoon of lemon or orange zest, just enough to brighten up the flavor without taking over.
Fresh berries can also be heavenly in a warm scone, and Gio loves to pick raspberries straight from our garden when they are in season.
You could even reduce the amount of sugar and make a savory scone, with add-ins like cheddar cheese and chives.
There are a few key factors to know when making scones, and I cannot stress enough the importance of using cold butter, which creates wonderful steam pockets while baking. This enhances the overall texture of these scones, which are crispy-crumbly on the outside, and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside.
To ensure this result, I cut the butter into ¼-inch cubes and place it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before using, and once the scones are ready to bake I’ll place them in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes before putting them in the oven.
Another tip for success is to handle the scones as little as possible, which is why I prefer to cut them into wedges versus other shapes. I’ve found that shaping the dough in a round cake pan first allows me to get consistent portions with minimal handling, but you can shape it by hand, too.
Tony likes his scones plain, while Gio prefers his with a simple glaze over the top. I love that I can fill my freezer with them, baked or unbaked, and have a favorite treat on hand for breakfast or an after-school and work snack.
Cherry Vanilla Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes and chilled
1 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
For the egg wash, beat together:
2 teaspoons milk
For the icing, mix together:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons milk (adjust to desired consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl or food processor and use a whisk to mix, or pulse 10 times. Add the butter and cut in with two forks or a pastry blender if making by hand, or pulse in the food processor about 12 to 15 times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the dried cherries and lemon zest, and pulse again just to incorporate. If using a food processor, transfer the dough to a large bowl.
Mix the cream and vanilla together and gently stir into the flour-butter mixture, using a fork for best results, until a dough begins to form. Turn out the dough onto a countertop or work surface, and gently knead by hand for about 15 seconds into a sticky, rough ball.
Lightly flour a round cake pan and gently press the dough into the pan, handling it as little as possible, then flip the pan over and turn the dough out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a sharp knife to cut it into 8 wedges, and space them out along the sheet, 2 inches apart. For best results, place the sheet in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.
Remove from freezer and brush to the top of each scone with the egg wash, then bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are a light, golden brown. Remove and transfer to a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Drizzle icing glaze over tops if desired.
To store: Scones can be kept fresh for up to two days if stored in a metal container or covered with aluminum foil.
To freeze unbaked scones, freeze them first on a baking sheet for one hour, then transfer to a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Bake without thawing (amount of time to preheat oven is just fine), adding 2 to 3 minutes to baking time if needed.
To freeze baked scones, wrap each individually in plastic, transfer to a freezer bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw at room temperature before unwrapping and, for best results, warm in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until warm.
“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. All previous recipes can be found athttp://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.