scone makin’, makin’ scones

by Sandra

I love scones. I love them a lot. Almost irrationally. I take all comers, even the slightly mushy ones from Starbucks. I love them all.

There’s a local coffee shop around here called The Conservatory. I go there at least once or twice a week to write. It’s a great place, a real local’s joint that’s closed on Sundays to observe, in their words, “the Lord’s day.” They sell a scone there that is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s a raspberry polenta scone. I’ve written before about my (also slightly irrational) love of cornmeal products, polenta in particular, and these scones only reaffirm that love. They are big, unwieldy triangles of crumbly corn goodness, each finished with an egg wash and a dollop of seedless raspberry jam plopped right in their centers. Twenty seconds in the microwave and washed down with a freshly brewed cup of joe …. oh so good.

These last couple of weeks have been trying. Not in a negative sense, but trying in the sense that I’ve been doing a lot of things that have pushed me outside my comfort zone:  volunteering at church for the first time, the homeless registry, a job interview, rehearsals and that reading the other night. By the time I woke up yesterday morning, I was in the mood for something comforting, predictable. As I laid in bed thinking about what to make for breakfast, my thoughts turned to scones—fresh out of the oven scones—and how awesome it’d be to bake some up. I made a mental inventory of my pantry supplies and remembered the half-empty box of cornmeal I had stashed somewhere. Then I remembered the Conservatory’s polenta scones, and I immediately hopped onto the Internet in search of a recipe.

I found this recipe, from Cookworm, for lemon polenta scones. It called for lemon zest and dried cherries—neither of which I had, so I modified it to include the zest of lime and grapefruit, and since my shelf was absent of any dried fruit, I borrowed my roommate’s dried cranberries.

Can I just tell you how much fun it is to make scones? It’s fun in a preschool kind of way, since the best way to incorporate the chunks of cold butter into the dry ingredients is to use your fingers. Sifting the cornmeal through my fingers felt like running my hands through silk, kneading the flour until the butter was broken up into a pebbly texture. The resulting dough was grainy, easy to work with as I molded it into three separate discs, portioning them out and cutting them into quarters. A quick brush of egg and a dusting of course sugar and they were ready to go. While they were in the oven, the warm scent of baking citrus and caramelizing sugar wafted through the kitchen.

The resulting scones were small—small enough to eat two of them and not feel guilty—and crumbly. The citrus zest and the tart of the cranberries meant that they were not overly sweet, and the graininess of the cornmeal provided a nice little crunch to supplant the otherwise soft chew of the conventional flour. They were best right out of the oven, daubed with a touch of margarine (or rather, large pats of margarine).

Citrus Polenta Scones with Dried Fruit
(adapted from Cookworm)

Pre-heat oven to 450° with a rack in the center

2 cups non-bleached all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
5 Tbs. unsalted butter (cut into small chunks)
1 cup dried fruit of you choice
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
grated zest from 1 lime and 1/2 grapefruit
2 tsps vanilla extract

Right before baking:
1 egg, beaten
turbinado sugar (or other dusting sugar)

Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Toss in the cubed butter and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingers (or a pastry cutter if you’re not so tactile-y inclined) until it’s pebbly in appearance. Add the dried fruit.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, milk, zests and vanilla extract. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, using a fork, until a fully cohesive dough is formed. Divide the dough into three even lumps and form each lump into an approximate five-inch disc, then divide each disc into four wedges.

At this point, you can either bake them all or wrap some of the wedges in plastic wrap and throw them in the freezer for fresh scones on future mornings. Place the wedges you are going to bake onto a baking sheet, leaving two inches between each. Brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the scones at 450°F between ten to 15 minutes. Make sure they are firm but not dried out. I baked mine for 12 minutes. Once they’re out of the oven, place them immediately onto a cooling rack, but don’t be too overzealous about taking them off the baking sheet, since they might stick a little. Let them cool to the point of edibleness, and then dig in.