Simply Scrumptious Scones

SUNDAY GOURMET

April 16, 1995|By GAIL FORMAN

A delicious, crumbly little biscuit -- crusty brown outside, soft and tender inside -- that's a scone. And it must taste "just right," an acquaintance who knows told me.

This acquaintance tells a story of when she was social secretary at the British Embassy. The ambassador's wife promised to provide scones for a charity function but the embassy had a new chef, a Japanese man, and "he didn't know what scones are supposed to taste like. He tried batches and batches. Finally, one of our footmen gave us a recipe from his mother and we were saved."

Scones are a kind of Scottish quick bread, but the name may or may not be Scottish. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word derives from the Dutch word schoonbrot, for beautiful bread, while the unabridged Random House Dictionary says the biscuit takes its name from Scone, a village in central Scotland where, until 1651, Scottish kings were crowned as they sat on the Stone of Scone.

However the scone got its name, most people agree it originated in Scotland. To be really correct, pronounce the word the way the Scots do: skonn, which rhymes with on.

Originally scones were working-class fare, easy to make and inexpensive. When wheat flour was scarce and dear -- more often than not up to modern times -- scones were made of oatmeal and barley meal. These days, scones have come up in the world.

Though scones fit into the "quick bread" category because they require no rising time, their stiff batter is stickier and more doughlike than a quick bread's. Scones also require a little kneading, unlike quick bread. After kneading, they can be rolled out with a rolling pin or patted out with the hands.

In the past, the favored scone shape was triangular, but today's scones are also cut out in round, square and diamond shapes. A time-saving trick is to make one large scone, called a batch scone, that can be served cut in wedges. There's also the puffy drop scone, sometimes called a Scotch pancake. It's made by dropping the dough onto baking sheets and patting it down with floured fingertips.

Unlike today's oven-baked scones, the originals were baked on a "girdle," or griddle, over the embers of an open fire. To achieve the same effect, a home cook can use a heavy-bottomed skillet or a cast-iron frying pan.

Mostly, Americans familiar with scones think of them as sweet, perhaps studded with currants, dates, dried cherries or cranberries and served with preserves or honey and whipped cream or clotted cream. But scones can be savory, too, made with cheese, onions, chives, leeks and herbs.

The following recipe for a breakfast scone comes from Nantucket cooking teacher Sarah Leah Chase:

CRANBERRY-ORANGE SCONES

2 cups flour

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup cranberries, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

1 large egg

1 large egg, separated

3/4 cup heavy cream

Place flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Stir in cranberries and orange rind. Lightly beat the whole egg and egg yolk together. Blend in cream. Add to flour mixture and stir until dough begins to hold together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until smooth. Roll out dough 1-inch thick. Cut out with a 3-inch round cookie cutter.

Place 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Beat egg white just until foamy and brush over top of scones. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake in a 400-degree oven until puffed and golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Makes 10.

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