At my old job we sold an inordinate amount of scone pans. Every time someone asked if we had them or where they were or brought one up to the counter, everything in me wanted to say “Please don’t do this. This is a completely unnecessary purchase.” But I didn’t. Obviously. Discouraging customers from purchases is generally frowned upon in retail. It’s just that scones are so simple. You don’t need a mixer, or a special cutter, or fancy ingredients and you definitely don’t need a specific pan. Sheesh.
These days simple feels even better than usual. Things you can count on. Things that don’t change. Things that offer comfort at the basest level. Something sweet and crunchy and warm from the oven that I can slather in butter usually covers all the bases. These scones definitely fit the bill. I loved the crunchy crust that formed from sprinkling sugar on the tops before baking. This attribute really only lasts for a few hours after they come out of the oven, so make sure to eat one right away. They’re still good the next day or even re-heated out of the freezer but you really can’t beat a fresh one.
The original recipe for these was even more basic but I really wanted to add vanilla because it seems sad and wrong to not add it to most baked goods. I have this jar of vanilla paste that I never seem to use so I decided to break it out and give it a try. So I un-simpled them a bit, but not much. Still totally reliable, comforting, buttery ol’ scones, heading straight for your face.
Buttermilk Lemon Vanilla Scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup buttermilk
2 t vanilla paste
2 T butter, melted
Position the oven racks to divide the oven in thirds and preheat it to 425 degrees.
Put the sugar in a small bowl and add the lemon zest, rubbing it into the sugar with your fingers to release the essential oils. This smells amazing and is really tactile and fun – I try to incorporate this technique into any recipe I can. I just think it distributes the citrus flavor really well throughout the finished product. Reserve a small amount of this sugar to sprinkle on the scones just before baking.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the cold butter pieces and cut them into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (or a fork, or your fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Try to leave some larger pieces of butter mixed in with the little ones as this will add to the flakiness of the finished scones.
Pour the buttermilk into a glass measuring cup and whisk in the vanilla paste. Add the vanilla/buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. You do not want to over-mix. Bring the dough together into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it very briefly, then divide the dough into two equal pieces. Pat each piece into a circle about 7″ across, then use a sharp knife to cut the circle into 6 triangles. Place the scones on a baking sheet (the original recipe said an un-greased baking sheet but I used my Silpats because I am lazy and don’t like washing baking sheets. Bottom line – use your discretion) brush them with the melted butter and then sprinkle them with the lemony sugar you set aside. If you forgot to set some aside, it’s no big deal. Just use regular sugar. Or do what I did and remember that you have some vanilla sugar and use that. Whatever you feel like.
Bake the scones for about 12 minutes, until they are really golden and beautiful and then let them cool on a wire rack. Eat them while they’re still warm, you won’t regret it.