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Issue Date: December 19, 2004
Recipes in this article:
Recipe: Simple scones
Scone variations
Ask Pamela Anderson a food question!
Cook Smart

Simply perfect scones

Make a holiday breakfast -- or afternoon tea -- really special with these sweet bakery treats.

Sunday morning. You've fetched the newspaper and are about to head for the bakery. Hold it right there. How about a warm scone from your own oven? If you've got the ingredients, it's possible to have a batch ready to go into the oven about as quickly as most people can get to the store and back.

Start by preheating the oven. Meanwhile, measure the dry ingredients into a bowl, add the butter, then your favorite dried fruit, and finally stir in the liquid ingredients. That's it. The dough's ready to shape.

There are several ways to incorporate butter into the dry ingredients for scones, biscuits or pie dough -- fingertips, a pastry cutter, two knives or forks, or the grating disk of a food processor. For a small batch of scones, I've found grating frozen butter on a box grater is much easier than any of those methods. For a larger batch, however, washing the food processor bowl may be preferable to hand-grating several sticks of butter.

Make sure the butter is frozen solid. Any softer and it will clog up the grater, clump together and not mix well with the dry ingredients; plus, the scones won't rise as high or be as flaky. Store some butter in the freezer so you don't have to wait for it to chill the next time you want to make scones (or biscuits or pie dough).

If you're short on time in the morning, mix and freeze the dry ingredients (with the incorporated butter) and refrigerate the egg-sour cream mixture the night before. The next morning, simply mix, form, cut and bake.

To keep the dough as cold as possible during mixing, stir it with a fork until clumps form. At that point, switch to your hand, pressing the clumps together and against the side of the bowl to form a ball. Because there's a minimum of

liquid in the recipe (so the scones rise up, not out, as they bake), you may be tempted to add more, but don't. There should be enough liquid to bind the dough. If any crumbs linger, flick a few drops of water onto them and use the dough ball to pick them up.

No need for a rolling pin. Just pat the ball into a disk, sprinkle it with a little sugar for good looks, and cut it into wedges. You can double the recipe, but divide the dough in half to pat out and cut. Otherwise you'll end up with a big disk and long, skinny scones.

And make sure to adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position -- not the bottom. The dough has enough sugar that close proximity to the heat could produce dark bottoms.

Contributing Editor Pam Anderson is the author of three cookbooks, including "CookSmart" (Houghton Mifflin, $28).

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Simple Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup raisins (or dried currants)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Grate butter into flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater; use your fingers to work in butter (mixture should resemble coarse meal), then stir in raisins.

In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and egg until smooth.

Using a fork, stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball. (The dough will be sticky in places, and there may not seem to be enough liquid at first, but as you press, the dough will come together.)

Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7- to 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. of sugar. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles; place on a cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper), about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 scones.
Per scone: 317 calories, 5g protein, 41g carbohydrates, 15g fat (9g saturated), 1g fiber, 263mg sodium.

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Cranberry-Orange Scones
Follow the recipe for Simple Scones, adding a generous teaspoon of finely grated orange rind (zest) to the dry ingredients and substituting dried cranberries for the raisins.

Lemon-Blueberry Scones
Follow the recipe for Simple Scones, adding a generous teaspoon of finely grated lemon rind (zest) to the dry ingredients and substituting dried blueberries for the raisins.

Cherry-Almond Scones
Follow the recipe for Simple Scones, adding 1/2 tsp. almond extract to the sour cream mixture and substituting dried cherries for the raisins.

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