real life test kitchen: brunch-perfect scones

This is a favorite recipe from our archives. Enjoy!

There are few baked treats I love more than a scone hot from the oven. They’re light, fluffy, flaky, and completely irresistible. Unfortunately, I’m too often faced with the generic, coffeehouse variety: stale, heavy, and hard as a brick. But I don’t blame them – the truth is that even the best scone is only good the same day. Day-old scones can be rescued with a brief stint in a toaster oven, but it’s still not the same…and after that, it’s best to use them for doorstops instead of breakfast.

So, I’ve found a solution: baking my own. Don’t panic — this is easily one of the simplest, never-fail recipes in my file. My go-to recipe is from the queen of all things baked, the Barefoot Contessa. The whole process (including rolling and cutting) takes about 10 minutes, and the dividends are utterly delicious. If you’re hosting an Easter brunch this weekend, I can promise these are a favorite your guests will adore. Best of all, they freeze brilliantly, so you can either make them ahead for a party (as I often do) or bake one to go with your coffee and newspaper every Sunday morning.

Weekend Scones – (barely) adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

What You Need:

4 c. flour
2T sugar
2T baking powder
2 tsp kosher salt
3 sticks (3/4 lb.) unsalted butter, diced
4 eggs
1 c. (1/2 pint) heavy cream
3/4 c. dried fruit, mixed with 1T flour – I love raisins, currants or dried cherries, but anything is great. Just chop larger dried fruits into raisin-sized chunks before coating in flour.
1T lemon zest (optional, but delicious).
1 egg blended with 1T water (egg wash) and sanding sugar or raw sugar, to top

How To Make:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 deg. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and zest (if using) in the bowl of a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix lightly to blend. Add diced butter, and turn mixer on low, letting it work until the butter has broken down to about the size of peas, and the mixture starts to look sandy (2-3 mins). Meanwhile, combine eggs and cream in a bowl, whisk to combine. When the flour/butter mixture is ready, add egg/cream mixture all at once – the mixture will come together almost instantly. Add in dried fruit and mix just until incorporated. Do. Not. Overmix.

2. This is a very sticky dough, so be sure your counter is well-floured before dumping the mixture out. Pull the mixture together on the counter, then roll (or really, you can just pat) to about 3/4 to 1 inch thickness (though I sometimes go as thin as 1/2 inch to get more scones from the recipe). Cut using a square cutter (my favorite is a 4-inch fluted square I bought in Paris(!), but any will work) or a round biscuit cutter. If you use a square, cut each square into triangles before baking, so that they’re pretty. Re-roll scraps, but no more than once, to preserve tenderness.

3. For the scones you want to bake immediately, place on a parchment-covered baking sheet, top with egg wash and sanding sugar (you can use table sugar, but I love the crunch from the sanding sugar). For the rest, place onto a cutting board or cookie sheet and put in freezer until hard, then transfer to storage bag until you’re ready to use. Bake at 400 for 20 to 25 minutes (15-18 minutes if you roll thinner, or aren’t baking a full batch at once), until scones are a deep golden brown on top – underdone scones are not good eats.

Serve with your favorite jam, some lemon curd, or a bit of unsweetened heavy cream, whipped just past stiff peaks, but just short of butter.

Depending on the size cutter and the thickness of the scones, you’ll get anywhere from 15 to 25 scones from this recipe. Enjoy!

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