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The History of Scones

Scones are a type of quick bread, originally from Scotland. The name (might) come from the Scottish name for the Stone of Destiny where Scottish kings were (supposedly) once crowned. Another theory has it that the name comes from the Dutch for white bread or the German for beautiful bread. Or maybe the name came from the Gaelic "sgonn" meaning mouthful. The truth is out there.

Scones, being a Scottish invention, were originally made with oats, but today they are usually flour-based, though there are plenty of oatmeal scone recipes out there in the world. The first appearance of the word "scone" in print was in a Scottish version of the Aeneid (of all things), in 1513. Back then (hundreds of years before baking powder) the leavening agent was buttermilk, and the scones were cooked on a griddle rather than baked. Similarly, the scones were cooked in rounds that were then cut into wedges, rather than being shaped into wedges before baking as they are today.

The typical scone today is a triangular, biscuit-like quickbread leavened with baking powder, with milk or cream as the primary wet ingredient. Of course, the variations on this theme are endless. (Stealth Munchkin notes that the triangular scone is largely a USAn trapping, and that over in the UKoGBaNI scones are often lump-shaped, more like what Americans think of as a biscuit.) The recipe provided below is designed ot maximize your "classic" scone experience whilst minimizing your exposure to the Dark Side of the scone--the heavy, dry paperweights that so often pass for scones at places like Starbucks.

It's traditional to serve scones with clotted cream, but since I never have any of that handy, I just use butter. Plenty tasty either way.


Sources:

http://www.joyofbaking.com/SconesIntroduction.html
http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/Scones.htm
http://www.gti.net/mocolib1/kid/foodfaq2.html


Cream Scones with Currants and Sugar Glaze

This is a great recipe for scones, which happens to also be extremely easy. It's not hard to stumble through this recipe on a groggy Sunday morning; furthermore, most of the time I personally find that I need to buy but one ingredient that I don't normally have lying around the house. In fact, if you are a baker of any significant repute you will probably have everything you need to make hot, delicious scones in under half an hour.

These scones are far superior to any store-bought scone I've ever had. Most scones you find at a coffeeshop or bakery are dense and leaden, tough and flavorless. These scones are none of that, and yet they retain their sconeness entirely. They have the requisite crumbly texture and fissured rise, and a satisfyingly baking-powderish lilt to their taste.

This recipe is after one by America's Test Kitchen.

Ingredients

Special equipment

Procedure

  1. Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. If using cake pan, grease very heavily and dust with flour. Set aside.
  3. Soak currants in cold water for about 10 minutes, while preparing the rest of the ingredients. This will prevent them from drying out and getting bitter during baking. You should probably do this step for any other dried fruit you may be using instead of currants.
  4. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix the ingredients together well.
  5. Cut the butter into 1/4 inch cubes. If it has gotten soft in the process of cubing, you should put it back into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes before proceeding. (I usually use frozen butter, which tends to stay cold enough throughout the process, but it can be difficult to work with later if you are not using a food processor.)
  6. Cut the butter into the flour mixture. If using a food processor, the easiest way to do this is to combine the flour mixture and butter in the workbowl of the food processor, and give it about 10 one-second pulses. Otherwise, add the frozen butter to the bowl with the flour mixture and cut the butter with a pastry cutter or crumble it with your fingers. The mixture should have the consistency of coarse meal (grape-nut sized chunks) when you are done. If you used the food processor, return the flour mixture to the original bowl.
  7. Drain the currants well if you have been soaking them, and add them to the flour mixture.
  8. Add the cream to the bowl and combine everything with a fork or spatula. When sufficiently mixed, your dough should seem a little dry and there may be quite a bit of unmixed floury bits at the sides of the bowl.
  9. Turn out the bowl (including all floury bits) onto a work surface and knead for about 10 seconds until the floury bits are somewhat combined with the rest of the dough. Transfer everything to the cake pan, if using, and press into cake pan to shape into a circle. Remove circle of dough from cake pan and cut into 8 wedges. If not using cake pan, form dough into a rough circle about 1 inch in thickness and divide into 8 wedges.
  10. Spread the wedges evenly onto an ungreased baking sheet. (If you put the "tips" of the wedges inwards, they will be less likely to overbrown). Keep them spread out a bit, say, an inch apart, to stop the scones from touching as they rise. (Thanks, jessicapierce!)
  11. Brush the tops of the scones with cream, and sprinkle additional sugar over the scones. This will give the scones a shiny, browned glaze when done baking. (Yclept suggests Sugar in the Raw for this step for extra sugar sprinklyness and crunch.) You can skip this step if you're low on cream, or lazy, though you'll be missing out.
  12. Bake scones for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on top.
  13. Remove scones from oven to a cooling rack and let rest 5-10 minutes before serving. You should definitely do this step--it makes the scones more tender. They'll still be plenty hot after a few minutes' rest.
  14. Serve with butter or jam (or clotted cream, if you've got it). Yum! Actually, due to the flavorful ingredients in the recipe the scones are quite rich and delicious on their own and can be served unaccompanied.

Notes

  • The recipe calls for unsalted butter, but I always use the salted variety myself. It doesn't seem to adversely affect the recipe. If you're particular, but for some reason forced to use salted butter, it would probably be advisable to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe a bit.
  • If you're using a savory filling, like cheese, I would recommend (and this is totally a guess, since I've never done it) reducing the amount of sugar by half and doubling the amount of salt. Yclept says that the scones should still brown well without the sugar, due to the high cream content. Experiment--if you find something that works, let me know and I will add it to the writeup.
  • Update: Scribe reports success using fresh raspberries instead of currants. Yum!

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