I learned how to make these scones in a small coffee shop in California that doesn’t exist anymore. The building that housed it is still there, but it’s changed hands and names a few times in the intervening period. I don’t know anyone who still works there, and I don’t think that anyone who may once have objected to my publishing the recipe would get worked up about it much now. These unassuming breakfast pastries were one of our signature items, you see. I think I promised once to keep the formula a secret. I believe, however, that now is the time to share them with you.
I do not know where the recipe originated – probably a magazine or a webpage instead of someone’s great aunt or Granny’s Dog-Eared Cookbook. They were in production when I took the job as one of the morning bakers, and their cult-like popularity still held long after I left.
Wherever the source, I was initially impressed by the recipe for two reasons.
- This recipe can accommodate almost any flavor one might dream up. Yep. One formula, endless variation. At the café, our scones were the first and most important thing to get into and out of the oven in the morning.
- If correctly executed, it makes a shockingly good product. There is a distressing quantity of bad scones in the world – those too dry and flavorless to be edible, no matter how much jam, butter, or coffee is at hand; and those trying to be muffins or cake: over-frosted, too sweet and usually <gasp> jam-filled. Abominable, both.
Upon my 4:30am arrival, I would take three pounds of butter from the fridge, light the convection oven, and take stock of potential flavorings. If there were oranges, I could make Dark Chocolate Orange scones. If not, I just moved on down the list of approved flavors my boss had posted on the wall of the kitchen. Though the list was twenty five or so long, it was understood that the more popular flavors (Ginger Coconut) would be produced more regularly than the less-loved varieties (Mushroom Onion). White Chocolate Raspberry were to be made everyday, if we had the necessary ingredients. Pumpkin Spice and Apple Cinnamon Oat were seasonal favorites. Ginger Pear and Strawberry Black Pepper were both very dear to me, but never really caught on like I thought they should have.
Sometimes folks called ahead to reserve a scone, afraid that they wouldn’t make it to the shop early enough and have to take Cinnamon Walnut instead of their preferred Iced Lemon Poppyseed. One couple, who always brought their ancient pet Dachshund (clad in a sweater and with her own pillow to lay on), invariably ordered one Raspberry and one Golden Raisin Pinenut. The dog, I recall, was content to lazily lick foamed milk out of a Dixie cup while her owners ate their scones. Another man, who I was fortunately never able to identify in person, called around ten a.m. one day to ask if we had made Blueberry scones that morning and if we could please hold one for him. We had not and were done baking for the morning, which I politely apologized for, promising to hold one for him the next day. “What am I going to do?” the gentleman asked. He sounded slightly panicked. When I said nothing, he repeated himself and then added, “I don’t need this; my therapist is even out of town!”
Last Monday morning, I rose early, in a mood to make a breakfast more decadent than the coffee, toast, and fruit that has become the standard in my dining room. The half flat of strawberries I very foolishly purchased the day before was appealingly fragrant and, more importantly, needed to get used. I tossed in toasted almonds, per a recommendation in one of my favorite cookbooks. The only tricky thing about these, which you should know when you set to make yourself some, is that you will need to add more or less buttermilk depending on which flavoring you choose. Berries, being moist things, will contribute to the overall wetness of the dough, which is very important to control. Too-wet dough will ooze out of shape and make goopey, lumpy and generally unattractive scones. If your dough is too dry, however, you’ll end up with the aforementioned type that sucks all of the saliva out of your mouth when you attempt (and ultimately fail) to eat it. It may take a batch or two to nail them, but I promise they are worth the effort. Just make sure your therapist is in town.