Related post: Baking with Locally Grown Grains
Having experienced first-hand during his apprenticeship in Ireland how light and flaky scones could be (nothing like the sturdy and mealy-greasy items that often pass for scones on this side of the pond), Jeffrey Hamelman resolved to recreate the recipe for his bakery in Vermont and while his version isn't likely to meet with the approval of the cholesterol police, it is still packed with wholesome nutrients since it relies exclusively on whole wheat flour. In case you are partial to scones, as I am, you are likely to be wowed if you try it at home.
If you are concerned about the amount of fat the recipe contains (Hamelman even advises using full-fat buttermilk if available), you can try taking out some of the butter, replacing some of the cream by more buttermilk, using a bit of sour cream, or mixing yogurt and buttermilk. I haven't tried any of these skinnier suggestions but I will once the fourteen scones still waiting for us in the freezer are gone. The number of scones the recipe yields depends upon the size of the scoop used to shape them. In class we used a scantily filled 2.5 inch scoop and we got 16 scones. At home I used our regular 2-inch ice-cream scoop and I got 22 smaller ones.
Jeffrey uses Vermont white whole wheat pastry flour. I used Fairhaven white whole wheat pastry flour which is sold in bulk at my local natural food store. Other sources can surely be found in other parts of the country. It will be interesting to see if they yield the same results.
Scones can be scooped out and frozen raw close to each other on a sheet pan (covered with plastic) then bagged once frozen. There is an almost imperceptible flavor loss but the convenience makes up for it. They should be taken out and put on a sheet pan (spaced properly this time) in the refrigerator overnight for baking first thing in the morning (although I know some bakers bake them directly from the freezer, presumably adjusting the baking time accordingly). Don't egg wash and/or top with sugar the scones you are planning to freeze (the dough would absorb it all).
Now for the funny part: I do not relish sweets and although I loved the scones we made during the class, they were a bit too sweet for my taste (I actually like savory scones best). But it was my first time trying my hand at the recipe at home and, contrary to my rebellious nature, I decided to follow it scrupulously.
In the best culinary school tradition, I did what we French call the "mise en place", that is to say, I scaled all the ingredients and got them all lined up in little bowls on the workbench. I mixed the flour and the baking soda, I incorporated the butter as indicated. I poured in the liquids with the egg and mixed until just combined. I scooped out all the scones: 8 nicely spaced on one half-sheet pan, 14 closely packed on the other. I egg-washed and pearl-sugared the ones I intended to bake right away. I reached for a plastic bag to cover the sheet-pan destined to the freezer and that's when I did a double-take: a hot pink bowl was sitting forlornly on the counter. It was full. Of sugar. I hadn't added a gram of sugar to my dough. Freud was right: the subconscious rules! My scones were going to be savory indeed.
Nothing to do at this point but go forward. So I went ahead with the baking. My scones didn't spread as much as the ones we made in class and I had to leave them in 5 minutes longer. I don't know if that had to do with the lack of sugar or with the different absorption capacity of the Washington flour or with my oven... No way to know. What I do know is that my first bite into a cooled down scone was very tentative... I had completely skewed the formula. Would it still work?
Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is a resounding yes. So my advice to you is to do as you please with the sugar amount. The pearl sugar and the currants provide enough of a sweet hint to make the scones attractive to sugar lovers (who can always lather them with jam or honey later on) without displeasing those of us who have less of a sweet tooth. Leaving the sugar out or reducing it could potentially be a sure way to make everyone happy in the family. Think of the smiles around the table on Thanksgiving morning!
Ingredients (for 22 small scones):
- 545 g white whole wheat flour
- 136 g sugar (optional as it turned out. Can also be reduced instead of just taken out)
- 33 g baking powder
- 3 g salt
- 136 g butter, unsalted, diced, pliable
- 109 g currants, tossed in a little extra flour
- 60 g egg (1 large one)
- 204 g cultured buttermilk (full-fat if available. I made mine at home using full-fat local Guernsey cow milk)
- 289 g heavy cream
- egg and milk for egg wash
- Pearl sugar for decoration (optional) (I bought mine at Ikea)
- Pre-heat oven at 375°F/190°C
- Dice cold butter and leave at room temperature until pliable/soft. Toss currants in a little extra flour
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and add the buttermilk and heavy cream
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend the dry ingredients to combine
- Add the diced, pliable butter to the mixing bowl and, using the first speed, paddle into the dry ingredients until pea-size
- Add the currants, then the wet ingredients all at once to the mixing bowl. Still using the first speed only, blend until just combined.
- Portion with scoop of desired size onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- Egg wash tops of scones and sprinkle with pearl sugar (if using)
- Bake (with no steam) for about 13 minutes or until tops are barely springy (I baked mine for a total of 18 minutes).