Who doesn’t love scones? I wonder sometimes if scones have taken over the country. I see these biscuit-like pastries, in rounds or wedges, in bakeshops and farmers markets all over the United States.
There are two basic types of scones, British and American. British scone dough — made with not too much butter and sugar — is most often kneaded briefly, rolled out, and stamped into rounds with a biscuit cutter. American scone dough — made with more butter and sugar than British scones — is most often patted into a circle and cut into wedges. Brits love to spread their round, split scones with clotted (thick) cream and jam, which is why their scones are leaner and less sweet than American scones.
As a lifelong lover of dates — one of the sweetest of dried fruits — I wanted to see if they could supply enough sweetness so that I could cut back on the sugar in my scones. The short answer is “Yes!” Instead of the 1/3 cup sugar I’ve been adding to the dough, I now use 1 1/2 tablespoons plus a splash of vanilla. I sprinkle another 1/2 tablespoon sugar on the scones’ tops for some crunch.
For tenderness, I use a combo of butter, egg yolks and cream. I’ve tried all cream for the liquid, but the butter and egg yolks add a taste and texture all their own. For flakiness, the butter should be, well, in flakes, and the best way to do that is to use your fingers to press the pieces of butter so that they flatten into flakes. No need to use a machine.
And which dates to use? I like Medjool, those large succulent dates you can find in just about any market and that pit easily using your fingers. They tend to be a bit sticky, so you can dip your fingers into flour if necessary. Deglet Noor, smaller than Medjool dates, and also common in health food stores, is another good choice. Please do not use packaged pitted dates. There’s no knowing how old they are. And above all, Happy baking!
Date cream scones
You can mix all the dry ingredients together the night before; cover and refrigerate. On baking day, mix the liquids, make the dough, and bake. These scones are tender, flaky, and buttery. No need for any more butter or jam. Freeze any leftover scones. To reheat, put frozen scones on a baking sheet into a preheated 325-degree oven until thawed and warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 tablespoons sugar, in all
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter
1/2 packed cup (scant 4 ounces) pitted diced Medjool dates
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heavy cream, as needed
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees with a rack set to the lower third position. Line a large baking sheet or cookie sheet with parchment.
2. If measuring flour, spoon lightly into dry 1-cup measure to overflowing and sweep off excess with a metal spatula. Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Measure the second cup of flour the same way, and add to the bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespons of the sugar, salt, and baking powder, and whisk together well. Use a sharp knife to cut the butter in half lengthwise, then lengthwise again to make 4 sticks. Cut the sticks crosswise into fourths and add the butter to the bowl. Toss the butter around with your fingers to coat with flour, and press the pieces to flatten into flakes. The butter may break into smaller pieces, which is fine. Work quickly so that the butter doesn’t soften. Add the dates and lemon zest and toss with your fingers to coat with the flour.
3. In a 2-cup glass measure with pouring spout, combine the egg yolks and vanilla well with a fork. Add enough heavy cream to reach the 1-cup mark and mix well with the fork or a small wire whisk. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and fold together with a flexible spatula until you have a shaggy mass with some dry bits. Scrape the dough onto a very lightly floured counter and knead briefly until the stiff dough gathers into one mass.
4. Pat the dough into a circle about 7 inches across and a scant 1-inch thick. Brush top of dough with about 2 teaspoons heavy cream and sprinkle evenly with the last 1/2 tablespoon of sugar. Cut the dough into 8 wedges with a large sharp knife.
5. Arrange the scones about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown and edges of scones are a dark brown. Remove scones from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 8 scones.