It still surprises me
It also surprises me how many totally so-so recipes I tried last week. Absolutely nothing worth telling you about. So-so chicken, so-so apricots, so-so beans. And then, while I was trying to decide what to do about that, I tumbled down a rabbit hole of Stevie Nicks videos, which has nothing to do with so-so recipes, aside from the fact that it too gave me nothing worth telling you about. (Though my hair does look remarkably like hers when I wake up in the morning!) And then I noticed that the blackberries I picked up at last Friday’s market were still hanging out in the fridge, so I pulled out an old recipe for oat scones, and here we are.
I first tasted these scones at the Standard Baking Company in Portland, Maine. I was traveling with my mother, and though I ate the scone about midway through the trip, I thought about it the whole way home. This was back when I was writing a column for Bon Appétit, and I called up my editor and told her about it. She seemed interested, so I called the bakery and asked if they might share the recipe. (This was the best part of writing that column: having a legitimate, very official-sounding reason to call up strangers and ask for recipes.) The story ran in the summer of 2009. The bakery’s original version uses blueberries - wild Maine blueberries, if you happen to have any of those lying around - and the combination of oats and blueberries is hard to beat. But this past week, I discovered that I might like these scones even better with blackberries. Who knows I’ll discover next. Raspberries? Raisins?! GOLDEN raisins?! Are you still with me?
I’ve posted a number of scone recipes over the years, and yes, I am a sick, sick person, because I have another one for you. But these are in a different category. Ordinarily, I like scones in their traditional Scottish form: sturdy, dense, pleasantly dry. That is not what these scones are like. They’re more cakey than that, more tender, almost crossing into biscuit territory. In fact, if the bakery didn’t call them a scone, I might be inclined to call them drop biscuits. As breakfast pastries go, they’re not at all sweet, and I like that. The flavor of the oats sits right out front, followed closely by butter, and then, every other bite or so, you hit a pocket of soft blackberry. It’s the scone’s own built-in supply of jam.
Like a classic biscuit dough, this scone dough needs a light touch. It’s important to work quickly, and to not overwork it. There will be small bits and flakes of cold butter in the dough, and they’re essential to its structure: if they get too warm or overworked, you can wind up with a scone that spreads like a cookie or a pancake. Also, Brandon wants me to be sure to tell you that these scones are particularly good toasted. If you have a toaster oven, that’s ideal. Put the scone in there whole, and let it go until it’s crisp on the outside and the smudge of blackberry across the top starts to caramelize. We’ve eaten ours that way for the past five mornings, and I think the flavor actually improves with some age. In any case, boom! Instant breakfast. You and your Stevie hair are set.
Adapted from Standard Baking Company (Portland, ME)
If you use frozen berries, do not thaw them before using.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed golden brown sugar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. kosher salt
11 Tbsp. (5 ½ ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 ¾ cups cold half-and-half
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries or blackberries
3 Tbsp. old-fashioned rolled oats
5 tsp. Turbinado sugar
Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pulse to mix well. Add the butter and pulse again briefly, until the mixture looks coarse and the largest lumps of butter are no bigger than a pea.
In a large bowl, stir together the half-and-half and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the rolled oats, and stir until just combined. The dough will be thick and sticky. Add the berries, and stir briefly to mix. [When I use blackberries in particular, I find that it’s difficult to stir them into the dough without crushing them, overworking the dough, and turning the whole mixture purple. My solution is to only stir a little, and then move on to the next step. As you scoop the dough onto the baking sheets, you can use your fingers to press any errant berries into the mounds of dough.]
Using a 1/3-cup measuring cup, scoop the dough into mounds, arranging them 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Garnish the tops with rolled oats and Turbinado sugar.
Bake for 24 to 27 minutes, or until the center of the scones feels firm to the touch.
Note: Wrapped in plastic wrap or stored in an airtight container, these keep beautifully at room temperature for 4 or 5 days. Warm in a toaster oven before eating.
Yield: 12 scones