On Thursday, we chatted about my favorite tea time ritual. There’s nothing I love quite as much as a good cup of Earl Grey. That is, unless it’s accompanied by a good scone.
The recipe I reach for every time I’m craving a batch of scones comes from an episode of Baking with Julia with guest Marion Cunningham. My local PBS station played cooking shows all weekend long when I was a kid, so I watched a lot of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin. As a result, I developed an interest in simple food prepared with exacting technique. And that’s where this recipe comes in. It isn’t difficult to follow, but the more you practice, and get a feel for the technique, the better the results will be.
Cunningham’s recipe uses each ingredient to its fullest potential. These scones have rich flavor thanks to a generous amount of butter, a little sweetness from a minimal amount of sugar, tanginess from the buttermilk and lemon zest, and a generous rise thanks to hefty leavening. I generally stick to the original recipe, but I’ve reproduced it with minute variations below:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest (zest of approx. 1 lemon)
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk OR 1 tbsp lemon juice + 1 cup milk*
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar (I like raw sugar, but granulated is fine)
Preheat oven to 425℉ and place racks in upper and lower third of oven. Stir flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add lemon zest and stir. Work small pieces of cold butter into flour mixture with fingers or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add buttermilk, and mix until all ingredients are just moistened.
Gather dough into a ball, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. The goal from this point forward is to add as little additional flour as possible, and to handle the dough as little as possible, to prevent scones from becoming tough. Divide dough in half, and pat each half into a 1/2-inch-thick circle. Brush each circle with half of the melted butter, and sprinkle with half of the topping sugar. Cut each circle into 6 triangles.
Place scones onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Space at least 1-2 inches apart to allow room for rising. Bake for 10 minutes or until tops begin to brown. I usually bake them until they look like the picture above. Because I tend to re-heat them in the toaster oven, they get a bit more brown, like the picture below.
*If using lemon juice and milk in place of buttermilk: add 1 tbsp lemon juice to measuring cup, and add enough milk to bring total volume to 1 cup. Let mixture rest for 5 minutes, and then stir before adding to the dough.
The best thing about this recipe is how perfectly balanced it is. It doesn’t need any additions, but it pairs well with so many things. The scones are delicious by themselves, or with jam and butter, clotted cream, or crème fraîche. In this batch, I added a mixture of raisins and dried cranberries to the dough along with the lemon zest. I’ve also used orange zest, although I don’t enjoy the more mild flavor as much as the sharp tang of lemon zest. For my next batch, I’m planning to use the lavender-infused sugar I mixed up from last summer’s abundant lavender harvest. Maybe I’ll sprinkle some lavender buds on top as well. Mmmm. I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.
Do you love scones? If you do, give this recipe a try, and let me know what you think. If you have any recipe suggestions or ideas for exciting additions, share them in the comments below. And have a cuppa tea while you’re at it! Whenever you’re reading this, you can be sure I’ll have a cup of my favorite brew in hand.