04 May 2013

Feathery Currant Scones

Today I bring you a soft-textured, most feathery scone thanks to a combination of ingredients and technique. Currant-flecked, orange scented and crisp on the outside while soft, layered and feathery on the inside, this is a breakfast pastry that begs to be split open in the center like a biscuit and spread with a tad (more?!) butter, honey or jam. Or if you're a purist, nothing for that matter. They are quite nice as they are.
The last time I posted on scones, what I was mostly after was what you see below, except I was trying to get to that using a different recipe in the efforts to be "lighter" about it. In those scone variations, egg helps cut the amount of cream and butter used. But this scone here is eggless. And it also has less leavening agents. When I first read the ingredient list from the meticulous Rose Levy Berenbaum, calling for cream, butter, flour, minimal leavening agents and a more assertive and mandatory folding instruction, I fretted, wondering if I was just giving myself more trouble deviating from the basic formula I'd understood and executed from memory: egg, half and half and butter. 

And yet the result difference was obvious here: a scone with egg and/or buttermilk would indeed be "cakier" while one without it would be more biscuit-like. They each produce something worth enjoying over a cup of joe, it all just depends on preference and if you care enough, authenticity. But once I saw those feathers in the center there on this batch, I fell hard. Due to the way it was built and strengthened through specific attention, this was a scone prone to rising (but not so much that it toppled over). And though created through restriction in a sense, its insides are as soft as cotton.

What's most important here is what is important always in scones: cold butter, and this is such an important issue that I did "deviate" a bit from the ingredient list and went ahead and froze the butter to grate into the flour. That helps insure that the butter doesn't melt as you mix it into the flour and keeps colder longer before it hits the oven. But also, do fold the dough as instructed. And once you start that you'll realize there's quite a bit of leeway if you use this technique to avoid "overhandling."

For me it helps to think about it like this: most scone recipes call for "kneading" the dough "just a few times" before shaping it to cut and bake. Well what on earth does that mean? It does not mean grab it with your hands and squeeze it... I know that, so I translated that into folding. When you dump out the dough as instructed, push on it a bit and fold it over itself. That's kneading in scones. Once you fold it over itself a few times, even if it's cracking, it eventually becomes a square and you are to fold it over itself 3-4x. Run with that. I should mention that because I'm me, I used a tablespoon of whole wheat flour in addition to the cup of all purpose (recipe calls for 1 c + 1 T flour). I think going beyond that is pushing it if you want this feathery result. Also, I divided Rose's original recipe by 4! I only wanted to make 4 scones, not 16. And lastly, I used Hecker's flour, which has a lower protein content (lower gluten) and produces a tad more tender of a pastry.

 Feathery Currant Scones
Adapted from The Bread Bible
Makes 4

Needed: Pastry scraper/brush, box grater

1/2 stick butter (4 T) frozen overnight
1 c + 1 T All Purpose flour (MN note: I used 1 c Heckers AP flour, + 1 T whole wheat flour)
2 T sugar
1/2 t baking powder
1/8 t baking soda
scant 1/8 t salt
1/2 c heavy cream (preferably organic or good quality)
1/4 c currants
Pinch orange zest
Pinch Turbinado sugar + extra cream for brushing

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set a baking sheet in there a few minutes after you do. Grate the frozen butter on the large holes of a box grater and set it back in the freezer in plastic wrap while you prep the other ingredients. 

Sift flour, baking powder, soda and salt together in medium bowl, and set in the freezer. 

Measure out your cream and currants, set in fridge.

Toss the butter into the flour mix and work in just ever so lightly, mostly coating the flakes. Add the zest and currants. Add the cream and stir a few times with a spatula to moisten. Try to moisten as much as possible (look for clumps). There may be some unincorporated mass, it's ok. Dump it all onto a piece of plastic wrap on the counter. With your hand and a pastry scraper, push down from top and in from the side with the scraper on all sides to encourage square-shape. Using the plastic and scraper as helper, fold dough over itself like a book. Rotate dough 90 degrees. Flatten/pat from top and push from side again. Do this about 2 or 3 more times.

Shape into a rectangle scant 1 inch high. Brush top with a little cream and sprinkle with Turbinado. Set this, on the plastic, keeping flat, into the freezer while you grab a piece of parchment and line the preheated pan with it. Take the pan out of the oven and working quickly, take the dough out of the freezer, use the pastry scraper to cut in half into 2 squares, then each square into a triangle. Carefully, with a small offset spatula, lift each scone onto the parchment, set 1 inch apart and bake 15-20 minutes (I let mine go to 20). The tops and bottoms should be golden brown.

Cool the scones at least 10 minutes on a wire rack wrapped lightly in a clean kitchen towel. This is super-effective as the towel breathes while keeping the scones warm-ish. You'll be thankful you waited those 10-15 minutes as they really set nicely in the towel.

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