The Secret of the Irish Scone

At Camp Bread, in San Francisco, a baker rehabilitates one of the most frequently abused members of the pastry family.

Griffin eliminates the mixing challenge altogether by using liquid fat, in this case olive oil. What could be more healthful? If you pick a light olive oil (I used Olave, from Chile, well made and neutral), no one will guess it’s there. He also adds an egg, which few other scone makers do; this makes the wet dough easy to pat into shape.

There are no tricks to making Griffin’s scones, in fact, except for buying frozen raspberries and finding buttermilk. (Nothing is better for baking than true buttermilk, which is left over from making cultured butter, but no artisan dairy I know of sells it.) You can eliminate the raspberries if you like, but they add a nice lightening touch and are easier to use than fresh berries, which would fall apart and stain the scones.

For 12 to 15 scones, heat the oven to 500 degrees (yes, that high) and place the rack in the middle. Combine 2 3/4 cups of all-purpose white flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder and half a teaspoon of salt. If you can find White Lily brand flour, low in protein and thus in gluten, which toughens delicate pastry, use it (White Lily is the secret to Corriher’s biscuits). Otherwise, choose the white flour with the lowest percentage of protein on the nutritional information chart—but don’t use cake flour, which is cut with glutenless cornstarch. Griffin blends 1 1/4 cups white flour to 1 cup of pastry flour, but few supermarkets carry pastry flour. (Arrowhead Mills’ “pastry flour,” which you can find at Whole Foods, is whole-grain flour from soft wheat; it is a nice and nutty alternative, but makes a drier scone.) To help achieve that very light texture, sift the flour mixture five times—this doesn’t take as long as it sounds—and set it aside in a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together 1 cup of buttermilk, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1 egg. It’s important to have everything ready to go before you mix the liquid into the flour, as this starts activating the baking powder. In separate containers, measure 1/2 cup of raisins and 1/2 cup of frozen raspberries without syrup. (If you prefer to buy fresh berries, freeze them on a baking sheet and then store them in a bag.)

Oil or butter a cookie sheet, or cut a piece of parchment paper to fit it. I managed to make all the scones fit onto a standard 13-by-15 sheet, but a bigger one would be better. Uncushioned baking sheets will make browner bottoms. Have ready a biscuit cutter or jar 3 inches in diameter (for a dozen scones) or 2 1/2 inches in diameter (for 15), and about 1/2 cup of flour in a bowl. Whisk two eggs with a pinch of salt in another bowl, to glaze the cut biscuits, and dig out a pastry brush if you have one.

Make a well in the middle of the sifted flour, pour in the milk-oil mixture, and sprinkle the raisins on top. Blend the flour into the liquid-raisin mixture with a wooden spoon, working from the inside out and mixing as lightly as you can. The dough will come together easily and quickly. Turn it out onto a large sheet of waxed paper and cover it with another, so that you can pat it into a rough rectangle an inch high; it should measure roughly 8 by 10 inches.

Remove the top sheet, scatter the frozen raspberries over half of the rectangle (try to break them into individual berries as you work), and fold over the other half. Cover with waxed paper again and roll or pat the rectangle until it is an even 1 1/2 inches high. Remove the top sheet and cut the dough into rounds with clean strokes, dipping the cutter into flour between cuts. Transfer the biscuits onto the baking sheet with a table knife or offset spatula dipped in flour, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. You can pat the scraps together into messy rounds and even them out with the cutter. Glaze the tops with the beaten egg mixture, and slide the finished tray into the refrigerator for 15 minutes or the freezer for 10 minutes; glaze the scones again.

Put the tray in the oven and turn the temperature down to 425 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes for 2 1/2-inch biscuits or 18 minutes for 3-inch biscuits. Resist the urge to cook them longer, even though the tops only start to get shiny and brown in the last few minutes of baking. (Griffin recommended 10 minutes, but he had in mind commercial ovens, which hold heat more evenly; I put the light-bottomed scones back into the oven for five minutes, and it was a mistake.) Cool them on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, which will allow the bottoms to finish browning, and then transfer to a cooling rack.

The scones will stay moist for about two days, and can be toasted without toughening. They freeze well, too. As always with light breads (and English muffins, which are really crumpets), it’s better to split them with a fork; this preserves their lovely texture and readies them to absorb soft butter and jam. Even if you’ve never made pastry, your friends will marvel at your dab hand and beg you to make clotted cream. I’ve heard that it’s easy. Me, I’m waiting for Camp Cream.

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Corby Kummer is an Atlantic senior editor. More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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