Today I was lucky enough to get a lesson from the Sconemaster a.k.a. my friend Gabriel. Gabe is one of those people with a passion for one particular food, and that food is scones. She has used this passion to fuel her search for the perfect scone.
Gabe could compile a guide to the top 5 scones in New York City, complete with a comparison chart of their attributes, but for the time being I am more interested in the making of scones. My earlier forays were not best-sellers – let’s just put it that way. Fortunately, she is also a collector of scone recipes and agreed to share her favorite with me.
I was surprised when Gabe whipped out the the Once Upon A Tart Cafe cookbook, the cafe a few doors down from my former apartment in Soho. I had a ritual of rushing in there before catching a flight, because they had good, pre-made roasted eggplant and fresh mozzarella sandwiches for half the price of a mushy, airport tuna salad stamped with the day of the week. But otherwise, I had no interest in the place. None of the baked goods had ever really caught my eye.
As soon as I arrived and settled into her tiny Chinatown kitchen, Gabe was underway with the lesson (she is serious about scones). We would be preparing three types: coconut, candied orange and date; mixed berry; and whole wheat, pecan and raisin. She got all the add-ins from Something Sweet, a little shop around the corner on Hester St.
The dates shone like rubies, the coconut came pressed into small, delightfully chewy cubes, and the mixed berries were so moist that they plumped right back up to normal size in the oven. They were the best quality dried fruits I’ve ever tasted, but out of my budget. Still, worth it for a special occasion.
It could not believe how differently scones and muffins are prepared.
First of all, the milk and butter have to be ice-cold, whereas with muffins everything has to be room temp. The add-ins are mixed in with the wet ingredients, not the dry. The butter is cut into the flour, like for pie dough, but only slightly so there are still large chunks of butter.
Scones are are also mixed by hand, quite sensually, and with finesse. But they are literally barely mixed, or more accurately; swirled. To the point that there were pockets of unincorporated flour in the bowl, and chunks of dough falling off the mounds placed on the baking sheet. At times I wondered if what she was making would even turn out – but Gabe just cackled with glee as she pointed out a big chunk of butter poking out the top of one of the mounds.
In the end, I was floored by the result.
The scones were perfectly moist and soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside (thanks to an egg wash and sprinkling of sugar), and crumbly without falling apart. They were flavorful and satisfying with just enough sweetness to go with some plain (but delicious) “white monkey” tea that Gabe prepared, and that she’d bought from that same store.
Best of all, they didn’t have that annoying cloyingness or dryness of my previous scones, and the addition of buttermilk made much more of a difference in richness of flavor than I’d expected.
I was relaxing into the couch with my scone and tea when it suddenly occurred to me just how much butter we’d used; about a stick and a half per batch! So, basically this recipe is a bit “out of my league” health-wise, but completely revolutionized my concept of mixing. It is going to be fun coming-up with an equally delicious, less-buttery counterpart. Wish me luck…
*UPDATE* I had a brainstorm this weekend! Stay tuned for my upcoming Macaroon Scones recipe!