Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Strawberry Scones . . . When You're Longing for Summer . . .

In Michigan, strawberry season arrives in June. The season is short--or perhaps it just feels that way--and the small sweet berries are exceptionally tasty and richly, vividly red. If I go to a farm to pick them, as my basket fills I find myself gazing at the swelling pile of berries with a craving to just drink the color in. There's something almost voluptuous about them, and they smell so divine.

I couldn't wait until June to take this recipe for a test drive, though, so I went ahead and bought some California berries to try it out. (Sorry California, I'm afraid your big grocery-store strawberries really can't compete, but they'll do in a pinch.) I love scones, though for me they tend to evoke winter, probably because of the dried fruit one so often finds in them. I wanted something a little brighter and fresher this time, scones that would evoke springtime and the longing for summer. I did some experimenting, and this recipe is today's result (an adaptation/amalgamation of several recipes I've pored over lately). It contains a tiny bit of nutmeg and, instead of using all white sugar, it contains an equal proportion of light-brown sugar, thus the baked scones' light golden color inside and out.

Because you get to put your hands right into the dough, then toss it onto your work surface for shaping, it satisfies that urge to really touch what you're making, and it requires no mixer or food processor or anything else noisy for that matter.

It's nice to bake something now and then that seems so basic, simple, and unpretentious. Something so . . . well. . . so rustic.

Rustic Fresh-Strawberry Scones

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.

4 1/2 cups AP flour
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar, loosely packed
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup of unsalted butter, very cold, and cut into many small chunks
1 1/3 cup of hulled, diced ripe strawberries (the sweeter the better)
2 cups of heavy cream, plus an additional tablespoon or two
1 beaten egg yolk

Put the berry pieces in a colander, over a piece or two of paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together thoroughly the flour, sugars, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

With a pastry blender, cut in the butter coarsely, so some small lumps remain. Pour the berry pieces into the bowl and gently toss them to coat and combine.

Add the cream to the mixture, folding it all together with your hands for a minute or less. The dough will be extremely sticky (actually, even an adjective like profoundly would be apt to describe how sticky it will feel--it's pretty darn sticky). Stop folding as soon as the dough coheres.

Generously flour your work surface and dump the mixture directly onto it.

Flour your hands and, by patting, shape the dough into a large rectangle that will be about 1" thick.

Using a floured pizza wheel, or a floured sharp knife, cut the dough into eight smaller rectangles.
From there, slice each small rectangle into two triangles. You'll have sixteen pieces when you're done.

Use a metal spatula to transfer the pieces to the cookie sheets. Chill the pieces on the sheets in the fridge for one hour or the freezer for half an hour.

Mix the beaten egg yolk with the remaining heavy cream. Using a pastry brush, gently coat the top of each piece. Sprinkle sanding sugar liberally over each (adds a nice sparkle).

Put them in the oven on the middle and upper racks. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, checking as needed to avoid overbrowning. You may want to switch placement of the sheets if needed halfway through. Lightly cover the scones with foil if they're browning too quickly. Remove when tops and bottoms are golden brown and the middles appear done (they shouldn't feel squishy).

Cool the scones on the pans for five minutes. Using a metal spatula, remove them to racks to cool for at least ten minutes more before serving. They're good warm or cold, but it's wise to eat them the same day they're baked. Definitely best the same day.

Serve plain or with butter. Enjoy!

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