Monday, February 11, 2013

lemon, ginger, and pecan scones

I feel like scones get short shrift down south.  For Southerners who expect and adore lard-, shortening-, and butter-laden biscuits, the scone maybe seems like a dry and unfamiliar distant cousin.  What misinformation!  I can assure you there's plenty of butter in scones.  And some fun surprises, too:  how about lemon zest, candied ginger, and toasted pecans?  Or crispy bacon and sweet dates?

There are a few essential techniques to baking scones.  Once you've mastered those, you'll be baking up a million variations in no time.

The keys to get started? Know your fats and freeze your butter, friends.  Just go ahead now and put a stick or two in the freezer.  When you're ready to try making scones, it will be waiting for you.

The grandparent of these scones is a chocolate chip scone recipe that was shared with my mom by a neighbor when she lived on the North Carolina coast.  Mom was so excited to share it with me that she would make double batches, freeze them, and happily install them in my freezer when she came to visit on my birthday in August.  They were a labor of love for her:  she painstakingly grated frozen butter by hand with a box grater.  I would hoard the scones, thawing them out one by one, slicing them in half to toast and smear with more butter.  It became a birthday tradition.

Once we realized that a food processor would shred the frozen butter into perfect grated pieces in a matter of seconds, there was nothing to stop us. 

The interesting thing about scone recipes is that while the ratios of dry ingredients are fairly consistent from recipe to recipe, the binding dairy ingredient may vary.  You might see English cream scones or even low-fat versions with buttermilk.  These are handy substitutes if, let's say, you're all out of sour cream because your husband made nachos the night before.  I've tried lots of binders, but the most dependable is full fat sour cream.

I started by reproducing the chocolate chip scone master recipe, and then I began creating variations.  The variation pictured here is an addictive combination of lemon zest, candied ginger, and toasted pecans.  I was inspired by Phillip at Chateau de Vie, where we stayed on vacation last year in Calistoga, California.  Phillip is a culinary genius and a lovely person.  On our last morning, Phillip sent us off to the airport with a doggie bag of delicious scones full of lemon zest, sweet candied ginger, and toasted pecans.  When we came home, I immediately set out to recreate them in my kitchen.  These come pretty close to Phillip's invention.

My whole wheat maple, bacon, and date variation is very special, with a nutty flavor from the whole wheat flour and an irresistible salty-sweet combo of maple syrup, crispy bacon, and dried dates.

I'm very proud of these scones and thankful to the wonderful cooks who introduced me to them and inspired these variations.  As I've been practicing each variation, I've packaged them up for friends and frozen more for myself.  Now I'm eager to share them with you.  The original chocolate chip recipe and a host of variations follow.