What’s Cooking Blog – Entry #14: The Perfect Scone…
One morning Pat L. surprised us with homemade scones. After generously praising his time and effort he told me that (before temporarily returning to Poughkeepsie for work) he’d spent some time in the kitchen of a small Mom and Pop bakery and scones were one of his favorite things to bake. During our conversation I referred to myself as something of a scone connoisseur but disclosed that I’d never made them myself. Shortly after we spoke, I received an encouraging text from Pat with a recipe for Christopher Kimball’s “Triple Ginger Scones with Chocolate Chunks.” Pat said Kimball’s recipe was a good place to start. He also recommended listening to the Milk Street podcast episode discussing the scone approach. I thanked him and told him that I’d let him know how things went. Here we are months later and well into the New Year…
Like most dishes I’ve never made, I wanted to know as much as possible before I was knead-deep in dough. Aside from striving to attain a palatable texture what, quintessentially, differentiates a scone from a biscuit? Should the flavor-profile be slightly sweet and fruity or rich and savory? Is a wash or glaze really necessary? Are there benefits to sprinkling one type of sugar on top over another? When serving scones should they be room temperature or warm and, what’s the best way to reheat them if they’re not fresh out of the oven? …With or without butter, jelly or jam? These are all questions this blog probably won’t answer simply because ….every answer is correct.
Kimball’s “Triple Ginger Scone with…” recipe was available online if I signed up for his newsletter, which I did. Since then, I’ve received daily emails with cooking tips, recipes, free online courses and promotional materials. Indirectly, this piqued my interest and because the two weren’t mutually exclusive I tangentially found myself researching Milk Street and scones.
It wasn’t hard to find Kimball’s work on the shelves in the Poughkeepsie Public Library or to request them from other libraries within the Mid-Hudson Library System. He’s been proactive throughout his career and his web-presence and printed publications make him seem as prolific as Oprah Winfrey or James Patterson. After reading the introduction in one of Kimball’s earlier cookbooks I found myself relating to the northern European fare he described as the food from his New England childhood.
“…a cuisine based on meat, heat, bread and root vegetables…almost entirely devoid of spices, one that uses a limited palette of herbs, fermented sauces, chilies and strong ingredients…”
This, in turn, was the catalyst and ultimate impetus in the evolution of Milk Street’s breadth yet ubiquitous approach to cooking. The photographs weren’t bad to look at either but, I digress.
Because I was interested in modifying the ingredients Kimball suggested I needed to find a few other recipes for comparison. Why reinvent the wheel? After reviewing recipes written by British and Irish bakers, famous pastry chefs and a few less known resources on the internet, I was filled with good intentions. The two recipes I made were delivered, and enjoyed as belated Valentine’s. Pretty sweet, right?
Title of Cookbook/Recipe:
(listed chronologically in the order they were prepared)
- Cranberry-Orange Scones (Sara Gonzales)
- Triple Ginger Scones with Chocolate Chunks
Author of Cookbook/Recipe:
- Duff Goldman and Sara Gonzales
- Christopher Kimball
What prompted you to check out this cookbook/recipe?
I wanted to compare a few recipes before making any changes to the one I’d been given. Baking is like Chemistry, I’ve been told, and the ratio between liquids and dry ingredients is a fairly important component.
Other [very influential] variables…
- I don’t bake dessert often and when I do, I prefer to use fresh or frozen fruit. However, in addition to natural sugars fruit contains liquid/volume, probably more when it hasn’t been thawed. Based on previous experiences, experimentally substituting dry ingredients for what I thought were comparable liquid alternatives has negatively affected the bake time and sweetness.
- I’m always interested in making traditional recipes with the cleanest ingredients possible. Because I give away most of the desserts I bake I also try to observe common allergies when/ if possible. FYI: scones aren’t necessarily gluten- or dairy-free but can be egg-free. *Mine were distributed with a disclaimer.
What did you like about this recipe?
Both recipes required few, very attainable ingredients. Based on the feedback I received, the cranberry orange scone recipe was moist and considered a classic flavor combination. In contrast, the blueberry scone was preferred because the texture of a ‘scone should be a bit on the dry side.’ Whatever your preference, they’re always good with a cup of coffee or tea.
What didn’t you like about this recipe?
If I shaped the dough into a circle like both recipes instructed, the scones would have been of monumental proportions. To form smaller, somewhat symmetrical scones (and help ensure an even bake time), I remolded the dough into a narrow rectangle then cut it into triangles. Reshaping the first batch resulted in 12 cranberry orange scones instead of 8. Using the same method for the second batch made 18 blueberry scones instead of 6(!!).
What do people do with left-over egg wash? (I’ll never know.) Instead of worrying about throwing away unused ingredients, I opted for a whole milk wash.
Would you recommend this recipe?
Yes, I would recommend both recipes but they were so different I’m not sure which one I prefer. The texture of the blueberry scone tasted slightly different when it was still warm from the oven than it did at room temperature the following day. While the experience is still fresh in my mind I’d like to confirm this by baking another batch, and adding a Tablespoon of zest, but there’s only SO much time (and room in my stomach)… This may take a few years.
A few additional things to consider:
- In the narrative often accompanying a scone recipe you might read something like ‘they’re so fast, they could also be whipped up as an afternoon snack.’ They’re ‘an easy breakfast or snack any time.’ Or, ‘they emanate from one of those old-fashioned cooks who starts a batch the minute the doorbell rings at teatime.’ After assembling the ingredients, I’d estimate my first batch (ever) took about an hour from start to finish. As a somewhat flexible rule, I like to set aside a few hours to try a new recipe; this leaves plenty of time to start over, or Google/research how to make corrections and then clean up.
- Certainly not original advice but, try to have everything out and in arms reach before you begin. This will save you the few minutes it (literally) takes to wash the dough off of your hands each time you realize something is missing.
- Use a large baking/cookie sheet or more than one and leave space between the scones to allow room to expand as they bake.
- **Make note of the recipe’s unit of measurement (i.e. British metrics) and reference a conversion chart as needed. As a conscious decision, this wasn’t an issue for either recipe I made. It may not necessarily be a deal breaker for others but could be a small deterrent – especially if you have limited time to spend in the kitchen.
Did you alter the recipe or make any substitutions? If so, what were they?
- Instead of dried cranberries, I used fresh cranberries that I froze while they were in season. The frozen cranberries were cut in half to help distribute them throughout the dough. Fortunately, the added water content didn’t seem to affect the consistency/texture or bake time.
- The recipe called for one cup of heavy cream. With a little less than a cup in the refrigerator I followed advice gleaned from a number of scone recipes; I compensated by adding whole milk.
- Both batches were egg-free; a whole milk (only) wash was used. For comparison: one scone was left plain – unwashed and without sugar on top. Between the two batches, course granulated sugar was systematically sprinkled on top in varying quantities. The last scone currently resides in the freezer to facilitate experimentation and moderation. I intend to compare the taste and texture after the scone has been defrosted and test if freezing might be a viable option for the future.
- The first batch was completely remolded. Although one recipe suggested reshaping scraps of dough into an additional scone, I read ‘the key to a good scone is handling the dough as little (or as lightly and quickly) as possible.’ Drop scones might produce a more organic end result if you’re concerned with handling the dough too much.
- Blueberries were a substitution to ginger and chocolate in Kimball’s recipe. …Most of the scone recipes I found suggested adding 1 cup of fruit (regardless of the amount of dry ingredients called for). Maybe a little overzealous, I added about a cup and a half. I like blueberries. The extra fruit didn’t compromise the taste but the finished product may have been a little messier.
Have a photo of your completed dish, your creation mid-recipe, or happy eaters you’d like to share?
Duff Bakes: Think and Bake Like a Pro at Home / Duff Goldman and Sara Gonzales ; photography by Caren Alpert.
How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking / Nigella Lawson ; photography by Petrina Tinslay.
Real Irish food: 150 Classic Recipes From the Old Country / David Bowers.
Simply Baking / Sybil Kapoor.
Triple Ginger Scones with Chocolate Chunks (recipe) / Christopher Kimball.
A New Approach to Cooking / Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street (about page)
Milk Street Cooking School: Change the Way You Cook (Enroll Now)
Quick Subject links to the Library catalog:
“Milk Street” Kimball
Also try combining and truncating/shortening keywords like… scones, cook*