On the quest to bake the perfect scone, I've baked batch after batch of flat, hard, and dry scones. But as the saying goes, the third time's the charm. On my third try I created the fluffiest, most tender, high-rise scone. I have a great love for scones. Some of my best memories have been made while eating scones over tea with friends. I love them spread with clotted cream and jam. I remember the first time I had a scone was at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens in London. A group of us had the full English afternoon tea treatment with cucumber sandwiches, pots of the best tea from India, scones, and other tea cakes. Since then I always have room for a scone with hot tea on a blustery winter afternoon.
Typically scones are made plain or with sultanas, which are what the British call raisins. But any dried berry or chopped dried fruit works well. I especially love currants, cranberries, golden raisins, or chopped apricots. Chopped nuts also work well. Spices such as ground cinnamon, ginger, or cardamom lend a festive touch. Lemon or orange zest in the batter adds a nice citrus fragrance. Whatever combination you choose, scones are always well received around the holiday time. They make an ideal offering for whenever family or friends stop by to visit. Best of all they can be whipped together in minutes.
In England cookies are commonly called biscuits; biscuits, scones; and scones, rock cakes. Biscuits are flat like cookies. Scones are cut out round while rock cakes are free-formed, but typically wedge shaped. I tried baking both round ones and triangular ones and found that the triangular ones when cut with a sharp knife rise higher than round ones cut with a biscuit cutter. A bit of baking soda in addition to a good amount of baking powder helps in creating the perfect rise too.
Rock cakes in England are so hard that they could be used as lethal weapons in a food fight. Luckily I've created ones that are much more docile. First, there are no eggs, which create that stereotypical rock-hardness. For very tender, fluffy scones, pastry flour is the best, but since it's sometimes hard to find, a half-and-half combination of all-purpose and cake flours does the trick. The addition of heavy cream also helps to create tenderness. If not at hand, a full cup of milk can be used. Buttermilk also works well. A recipe is always up for reinterpretation, but I've found this one to work the best.
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
3/4 cup dried currants
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix together with a whisk to aerate.
Add butter and work with a pastry blender until mixture resembles course meal.
Add zest and currants. Mix with a fork to combine and coat the currants with flour.
Make a well. Pour in cream and milk. Use a fork to fold in the dry ingredients.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead a few times until a ball forms. Pat the dough into a rectangle about 3/4 inches thick. Brush dough with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into wedges. Place on baking sheet an inch apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool completely on a wire rack or serve warm. Yield: 12 scones.