Griffin’s scones are so light and moist that they fall between cake and a well-made muffin. They are easy to mix and bake very, very quickly. And they neatly avoid many scone pitfalls.
The trick to making scones—or pie crust, or shortbread, or any other dough that is supposed to be flaky—is to work the fat (butter for scones, lard for the best biscuits and pie crust) into the flour with your fingers, or a pair of table knives, until it forms cornmeal-like crumbs and then to knead the dough practically by stealth. The best bakers have cold, nimble fingers and what Shirley Corriher, an Atlanta cooking teacher and writer, calls a “touch of grace.” Inspired by her grandmother’s legendary biscuits, Corriher embarked on a career of scientific inquiry that led to CookWise, an essential manual for technical-minded cooks. She uses shortening (easier to work than butter) and makes her dough very wet, which always results in lighter breads.
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.)