Baking Scones with Julia

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In the late 90’s, it was really popular to go to tea with your daughters, granddaughters, bosom friends, or business associates. Southern California was peppered with little Victorian tea rooms in beautiful, historical homes. They had period appropriate china, hats, feather boas, and fake flowers (Also period appropriate… I said it was the 90’s). An afternoon of dress-up and finger sandwiches was the perfect break from life’s more practical responsibilities. My mom and little girls found them all.

This obsession with tea was happening simultaneously with the “Martha Stewart” phase of my young womanhood. Though I thoroughly enjoyed our adventures, I found one thing amiss during our afternoons of luxury. Most of the time, the food was not awesome. It seems that crust-less cucumber, finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and lemon curd would not be the most complicated fare to produce, but it does actually require some technique to make delicious. The hockey puck scones were nearly always disappointing. If you’ve gotten one with your coffee lately, even though the tea fad has passed, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Since I was already spending much of my time learning how to make everything one could imagine from scratch, with Martha instructing from the TV in the background, I tackled the scone. I knew they wouldn’t be so popular if they weren’t delectable in their ideal form.

The recipes below are adapted from one I found in Baking with Julia. Here Marion Cunningham shares her technique with my beloved kitchen companion, Julia Child. My version has morphed over the years into something personal and special.  These scones have become a traditional favorite with my family for special celebrations or Fridays that feel like the weekend. They are love in food form. The bacon scones were a customer favorite at our restaurant N7 Creamery and I was so proud to serve them with Andrew. I hope you use my tips and tricks to make perfectly tender, delicious scones, decorate a table (let’s use real flowers ok?), and enjoy tea with people you love.

Before we get into the recipe; a few important tips:

These scones can be made ahead of time and either refrigerated for up to 24 hours before baking, or frozen. Prepare the recipe all the way to the end and cover your cut triangles tightly with plastic wrap. You will need to add a few extra minutes to your baking time, but the final product will be much more professional looking since the cold butter reacts differently during baking. Freshly made scones will bake up slightly fluffier but will not hold their shape as well as those refrigerated or frozen.

You will need buttermilk for the lemon scones, but this is not something we tend to have on hand these days. To make your own buttermilk, add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice or vinegar to whole milk and set it aside while you assemble the other ingredients. It will curdle and develop the sour flavor that make the scones perfect.

The bacon scones call for cooked bacon. Please bake yours! It is super simple, much less of a mess, and creates a more evenly cooked product. If you haven’t made bacon this way before and give it a try, you’ll never go back to frying. On a foil or parchment lined baking sheet, evenly space 4-6 slices (about 3 ounces before cooking) of thick sliced bacon. Place your baking sheet into a cold oven, set the temperature to 400 degrees and cook for 12-15 minutes. You want the bacon to be relatively crispy when you remove it because it will not continue to cook inside the scones. Remove the cooked bacon and place onto a cooling rack lined with paper towels. Once cooled, cut it into small chunks. Now you are ready to make scones!

Buttermilk Lemon Scones

Ingredients
3 cups unbleached, all purpose flour (You may replace a half cup of white flour with sprouted whole wheat or spelt flour. This will increase the nutrients of your scones and give them a delicious nutty flavor)
1/3 cup raw sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (aluminum free)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
6 ounces or 1 1/2 sticks of very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup (approximately) buttermilk
zest of one lemon, Meyer lemons are especially delicious

If baking your scones right away, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place the racks in the middle.

Measure the flour, raw sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine.

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Add the cold butter and stir so that the flour begins to cling to the butter. Now begin to incorporate the butter into the flour by pressing and squeezing it with your fingertips. When the butter is well combined it will look like course cornmeal with some pea sized chunks of butter remaining.

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How you incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients is the most important detail and the difference between hockey pucks and scones you can’t wait to devour.

Now pour in one cup of buttermilk and gently stir with a fork to begin to combine the dough. When combined correctly the dough will have a rough look. Depending on humidity, you may need a bit more or less buttermilk. You just want the dough to hold together nicely.

Turn this dough onto a floured board and gently press together so that it clings into a rough ball. Knead the dough only briefly, five or 6 turns, just until it becomes smooth. Shape the dough into a 10 by 4 inch rectangle, about a 1/2 inch thick. Now cut this dough in half so that you have two thinner logs.  Cut back and forth down each rectangle until you have 12 triangle shaped scones.

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Place your scones onto a foil or parchment lined baking sheet. You may brush the tops with melted butter before baking if you like.

Bake the scones for about 6 minutes and then turn the cookie sheet and bake another 5-6 minutes for even browning. When the scones are just turning brown on the tops and edges, remove them and transfer to a cooling rack. Serve these with butter, lemon curd, clotted cream, or jam.

Bacon Cheddar Chive Scones

Ingredients
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
5 tablespoons of very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup (3 ounces) cheddar cheese (Try a variety of different sharp and milder cheddar cheeses for a more sophisticated scone)   
1/3 chopped chives (Green onions make a good substitute for chives but will not have quite the same bright, fresh flavor)
4-6 slices of crispy bacon, cooked and chopped using the instructions above         
1 cup (approximately) heavy cream

Measure the flour, raw sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine.

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Add the cold butter and stir so that the flour begins to cling to the butter. Now begin to incorporate the butter into the flour by pressing and squeezing it with your fingertips. When the butter is well combined it will look like course cornmeal with some pea sized chunks of butter remaining.

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Remember, this technique of rubbing the flour and butter together with your fingers, leaving some rather large butter chunks is key. Don’t do this with a pastry cutter or even think of using a food processor.

Now add the bacon, cheese and chives, and pour in one cup of heavy cream. Gently stir with a fork to begin to combine the dough. When combined correctly the dough will have a rough look. Depending on humidity, you may need a bit more or less heavy cream. You just want the dough to hold together nicely.

Turn this dough onto a floured board and gently press together so that it clings into a rough ball. Knead the dough only briefly, five or 6 turns, just until it becomes smooth. Shape the dough into a 10 by 4 inch rectangle, about a 1/2 inch thick. Now cut this dough in half so that you have two thinner logs.  Cut back and forth down each rectangle until you have 12 triangle shaped scones.

Place your scones onto a foil or parchment lined baking sheet. You may brush the tops with melted butter before baking if you like.

Bake the scones for about 6 minutes and then turn the cookie sheet and bake another 5-6 minutes for even browning. When the scones are just turning brown on the tops and edges, remove them and transfer to a cooling rack. These scones don’t need any accompaniment and can be served warm or room temperature.

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Just keeping it real here friends… The lighting in my kitchen sucks so I take a lot of food pictures on the floor. The cats were locked in my room while I fashioned my photos but Augustus thought all the fuss was for him. No scones were eaten by animals (barely) while I put all of this together. In my constant effort to reject the pressure for perfection, I thought you could have a good chuckle at my sweats, bun, and canine helper. Enjoy making your scones and serve them to humans that you love!

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