Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Flaky Currant Scones

Family dinners with an 8 month old... It's a lovely concept, in principle. You gather around the dinner table, tell each other about little incidents at work and school, plan the weekend outings, the baby is happily munching along through new and interesting tidbits of food you give her, she learns how to eat and socialize, and everyone is having a good time. That's what all my parenting books and newsletters have been trying to tell me.

And then there is the reality. Either Jason comes home after 7pm, or I teach at night, and even if both of us are home and willing to do an early dinner, we run into don't-mess-with-Sammy time. After 5pm, she gets tired and a little restless. She is a very easy going baby, but if she is hungry, she has to be fed NOW. By the time we get the adult dinner ready and set the table, the poor kid is screaming bloody murder. Somehow the parenting books forgot to mention that part. After one disastrous attempt at the "family dinner," we are going back to Mommy-and-Daddy dinner that happens after Sammy is asleep.

But family breakfasts are a totally different story. In the morning, Sammy is the happiest baby on the block, and she can wait very patiently while we are showering and getting food on the table. I am not normally a breakfast person, and I am definitely not a morning person. But since breakfast is now our special family meal, I wanted to lift it out of the monotony of yogurt and granola. I also thought it's a good opportunity to continue learning about baking. There was only one problem. I wanted freshly baked goods without freshly baked effort. In other words, work the day before is fine, but the morning of, I just want to pop something in the oven and take it out. I also wanted fabulous results. The smell of freshly baked something really doesn't do it for me if that something isn't perfectly delicious. That's why I went straight to Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Bread Bible." This book is not for the faint of heart. It's for seriously anal people who want seriously awesome results.

Once I decided that I didn't have more than an hour to spend on this breakfast extravaganza, I settled on flaky currant scones. The recipe looked relatively easy, but still way more work than I was willing to do on a weekday morning. Was there any way to make it in advance and still end up with piping hot scones in the morning? These scones called for baking soda and baking powder, which made delayed baking risky. What if the scones fail to rise and I end up with tough little hockey pocks? To mitigate the risk of a complete disaster the following morning, I baked one batch at night right after mixing the dough, and one batch the next morning after an overnight rest in the fridge. The results? Both came out great and Jason couldn't tell the difference in a blind taste test. I also tried freezing the baked scones and then reheating them in the oven according to Berenbaum's instructions. That too proved to be successful.

Sammy is too little to eat scones, but she was clapping her hands so enthusiastically, I figured she approved. Tender and buttery scones, strong black tea, and a smiling baby -- what else does one need for perfect happiness!

Flaky Currant Scones
Adopted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's book "The Bread Bible"

Makes 12 to 16 triangular scones 4 inches on the side and 1.5 inches high

About measurements: I am listing the measurements in grams, ounces, and cups. Pick whichever one you like. The reason there is no cup measurement for flour is because it's a bad way to measure it.

Flour: Rose suggests using Hecker's flour because it has a protein level higher than Gold Medal, but lower than King Arthur. I only had King Arthur, and the scones came out perfectly fine. On my second try, I used 3 parts King Arthur AP flour and 1 part Pillsbury Cake flour and the scones came out even more tender and delicious. But don't sweat this flour issue.

What if butter gets too soft: If at any point in the dough making process, the butter gets too soft, pop the dough in the fridge to cool for 15-30 minutes before continuing.

unsalted butter, cold (227 grams / 8 oz / 2 sticks)
unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably Hecker's (608 grams / 21.25 oz)
granulated sugar (100 grams / 3.5 oz / 0.5 cup)
baking powder (9.6 grams / 2 tsp)
baking soda (2.5 grams / 0.5 tsp)
salt (1.7 grams / 0.25 tsp table salt or 0.5 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
heavy cream (464 grams / 16.3 oz / 2 liquid cups)
currants (131 grams / 4.5 oz / 1 cup)

2 half sheet pans lined with parchment paper
Pastry scraper
Baking stone or baking sheet
Instant read thermometer

  1. Cut the butter into 1 inch cubes. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or in the freezer for 10.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to distribute evenly. Add the butter and rub it with your finger tips to press the cubes into large flakes. Stop when butter is still very chunky (the size of cherries, but somewhat squashed).
  3. Add the cream and stir the dough with your hand just until the flour is moistened. Add the currants and knead the dough in the bowl just until it holds together. It's better to under-mix than over-mix. If some clumps just don't want to join the big happy ball, don't worry -- you can add them later when shaping the dough. If you over-mix, you'll get tough hockey pock scones.
  4. Place the stone or baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven and preheat it to 400F for 30 minutes before baking.
  5. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll it out into a long rectangle 1 inch thick, 8 inches wide, and 12 inches long. Smoosh in the sides with a pastry scraper to end up with an even rectangle.
  6. Folding and rolling procedure that will give your scones their flakiness (to be done 4 times):
    • Fold the dough in thirds like a letter (use your pastry scraper to help you fold).
    • You'll end up with a small rectangle. Roll it back out into a large 8"x12" rectangle.
    • Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the folding and rolling 3 more time, sprinkling the dough, rolling pin, and work surface with flour as necessary to prevent it from sticking.
  7. Cut the dough in half lengthwise to get two 4"x12" strips. Cut the strips into 4"x4" squares (you might have a bit leftover on the sides). Then cut the squares on the diagonal to make triangular scones.
  8. Place the scones on parchment covered half sheets spacing them 1 inch apart. If the dough is soft, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before baking. If more convenient, you can refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
  9. Bake the scones one sheet at a time, keeping the second sheet in the fridge while the first one bakes. Place the half sheet on preheated baking stone or baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the half sheet, and bake another 5-12 minutes. The scones are done when the tops are golden brown and they barely give when pressed lightly with a finger (instant read thermometer will register 200F in the center). Do not over-bake! The scones will continue to cook when they are out of the oven and they are best slightly moist and soft inside.
  10. Place linen or cotton towels on two large racks and transfer the scones on top with a spatula. Wrap the scones loosely in towels and allow to cool until warm, 5-10 minutes. The towels play an important role, since they allow the scones to breath and prevent them from getting either too dry or soggy. While they are good cold, they just melt in the mouth when warm, so hurry up, make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy :)
Cool leftovers completely. Wrap each scone tightly in plastic wrap and put them all together in a large freezer bag. To warm up, preheat the oven to 300F, place still frozen scones on a baking sheet or on a piece of foil, and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. They'll be as good as new.


Mimi said...

It's nice to see you discover an interest in baking. I'm enjoying reading your posts. I think you'll be a double threat now: You can cook any fish and bake! Awesome!

adele said...

Oooh. Nice job. :)

Diana said...

We really like Nancy Silverton for baked goods. Mind you, she's insane. She's the only cookbook author who uses extra large eggs, and whose muffin yields vary everywhere between 10 to 18, including what she claims is 12 but is really 24 (no kidding). But what comes out, after much swearing, is seriously delicious.

Most scones and muffins freeze and reheat perfectly (either baked or unbaked).

Helen said...

Hi Diana,

I've heard that Nancy Silverton is a great baker, but I haven't tried any of her recipes yet. Is there a particular cookbook you use?

You guys are my baking inspiration :)


liberal foodie said...

Helen, I love your blog. I read it religously but rarely comment. Question- what's your secret to really flaky scones and other baked products? I still don't have the correct combination.

Helen said...

Hi Liberal Foodie,

For flaky baked goods, you need HUGE chunks of butter. Ok, so maybe not that huge, but still most bakers overprocess their butter. You should still see pieces of butter when the dough is completely finished and ready to bake. The layering effect is achieved by folding and rolling. This layers the butter between the flour and gives you flakiness in the finished product. In the pie/tart dough, I achieve this effect by
smearing the flour with the butter. It's easier to show with pictures than to explain, so see the link above for all the necessary info. Finally, make sure to weigh the flour so that you don't put in too much.


Diana said...

The book we have is Pastries from the La Brea bakery.

lucette said...

This comes in very handy, since I just made some meyer lemon scones and was a little dissatisfied with them. The flavor was wonderful, but the texture was not so great--I think this folding technique could be the answer.

katskitchen said...

Great looking scones! I have yet to try the scone, I heard they are drier and that is why people aren't real fond of them but your description makes me want to give them a whirl.

Helen said...

Yes, scones are definitely drier than muffins, but the good ones are much more buttery, flaky, and pastry like. These are "moist" for scones :) But even these ones are only truly sublime straight out of the oven. Please don't feel obliged to consume all 16 of them as soon as they are baked (I am not sure that would be advisable considering they contain 2 sticks of butter and 2 cups of cream ;). I found that the best thing to do is to eat one right out of the oven and freeze the rest (after cooling them completely). To recreate the "just out of the oven" taste, pop them in 300F oven for 20 minutes and you'll get that flaky brittle outside that yields to creamy feather light inside.

It's a bummer all of ours are gone. I thought that 12 scones that I froze would last us at least a year (we are not normally big scone people either), but they disappeared in 2 weeks. We got kind of addicted to warming them up for breakfast.