Bits of the old country weave in and out of my cooking. My mother was British, and while she became adept at frying chicken parts and stuffing Thanksgiving turkeys to feed her American family, from her kitchen occasionally came treats like sausage rolls, trifles, and Bakewell tarts. Her scones were plain, lightly sweetened, and usually dotted with raisins.
Recent years have seen scones become a mainstay in American coffee shops, but those bland and leaden wedges are imposters. Real scones are light and tender, and not exactly biscuity. They might get a cinnamon glaze or a sprinkle of sugar, but not icing. Can we start a movement now to rescue scones from mediocrity? They really are a transcendent treat when made from scratch and couldn’t be easier to assemble.
I keep several different scone recipes in rotation. Last week I made these for tea with my friend S. I didn’t realize I was out of all-purpose flour until a few minutes before her arrival. (First-born has been baking up a storm on recent visits! And eating kale! I am gobsmacked!) Punting in this situation meant substituting self-rising flour for all-purpose and omitting the baking powder and salt from the recipe. (Self-rising flour contains those additions already.) Reminded me of the time one of my daughters absconded with the shampoo from my shower, leaving me with two soaked choices: make the long and watery walk to their bathroom to retrieve my bottle, or stay put and use the dog’s shampoo, which was on the shower shelf and promised to leave my coat silky and shiny. What worked for the dogs worked for me. And the scones turned out fine, too.
Cranberry-Orange Scones, adapted from a recipe from an old issue of Bon Appetit magazine (unknown date), published by Condé Nast.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling on a cutting board
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling over the scone tops
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cut into pieces (This should be chilled, too, but I never remember in time before I’m ready to make scones.)
1 fresh orange, rinsed and dried
1 cup chilled buttermilk, plus extra for brushing on the scone tops
About 3/4 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 425°F. Position rack in oven center. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk thoroughly. Cut in the chilled butter and shortening with a pastry blender for several minutes, until the texture is crumbly and coarse. With a zester, grate the peel of the orange over the bowl so that the zest falls onto the flour and the bowl catches any spray of orange oil, which is so very flavorful. Use all of the zest. Add dried cranberries and toss with a fork to combine. Clear a bare area at the bottom of the bowl, and pour in the buttermilk. Mix gently but thoroughly with fork, until all the flour mixture has been incorporated into the liquid.
Sprinkle extra flour on a cutting board large enough to hold the patted-out dough. Scrape out the dough onto the flour, and sprinkle additional flour over the top. With floured hands (and maybe the help of a bench knife), shape the dough carefully into a round, making sure there are no sticky spots underneath and that the dough holds together. Pat out the dough with your fingertips to an even thickness of about 3/4-inch. Cut with a large chef’s knife into triangles and place scones on the baking sheet with a little space between each one.
Brush tops with buttermilk, then sprinkle lightly with more sugar.
Bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Makes 8 satisfyingly large scones, or 16 smaller ones if you’re prissy. Serve with a pot of hot tea, pinkies up.