Last week In my Shepherd’s Pie post, I mentioned that I had rediscovered the dish while on a trip to Scotland. What I didn’t mention was that this trip to Scotland was part of a two week concert tour in the British Isles with a group that I used to perform with. I learned a lot about myself during that trip. For instance, I realized that I would have never made it in a rock band. Being stuck for days on end in a smelly, run down bus, staying in a different dive hotel every night and eating in greasy spoons are not my idea of a good time. I’m not very good at “roughing it”. I get cranky when I’m not comfortable. Just ask those poor people who were travelling with me. I’m sure they’d be only too happy to tell you! In fact, I was such a “Diva”, they even gave me my own tiara.
See that menacing looking guy in the right corner. He was our evil tour manager. He hated me. I hated him too. He refused to stop for potty breaks until at least ten people had to go. Do you know what it’s like riding along bumpy country roads in a rickety old tin can of a bus for over two hours when you have to pee? I do, and it ain’t pleasant.
But, there are some advantages to living a nomadic lifestyle. When I wasn’t complaining about the crappy mode of transportation, the sub-par accommodations or the mean tour manager, I really enjoyed soaking up the local color of my surroundings – especially in the breathtaking heather-lined hills of the Scottish Highlands and the lush, verdant valleys in the Irish countryside.
And, the flowers! Oh my goodness, those gorgeous, brilliant flowers! Peeking through cobblestone paths, climbing up the walls of charming little thatch-roofed cottages and dotting the banks of each river’s edge, they were here, there…
I absolutely fell in love with this little stone cottage in Old Galway! I was ready to move right in. It even has a name – Ivybank Cottage. How cool is that? I want to name my house too, but I’m afraid it might confuse the mailman.
But, one of the true pleasures for me on that trip was learning what a scone was supposed to taste like. And, I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t a big, dry, heavy brick with a few petrified raisins thrown in that you might see in the display case at that omnipresent coffee shop chain which shall remain nameless. No, no, no, my dear readers! A real, honest to goodness Irish scone is nothing like that. It is light and airy and fluffy and just melts away in your mouth.
Those lovely, cloud-like scones I consumed in Ireland, and Scotland too for that matter, have spoiled me forever. Since then, I’ve never been content to just grab one at a coffee shop and go. And, try though I did, I never could replicate them in my own kitchen. I’m Italian, not Irish! How was I to know that I was doing it all wrong? Then, I found Aoife’s recipe. Aoife is the Dublin-based voice behind The Daily Spud, an award winning and highly entertaining food blog dedicated to the humble tuber. While most of her recipes include potatoes in some way, shape or form, many do not, like the one for these wonderful scones. I had the pleasure of meeting Aoife a few years ago at the first IFBC in Seattle, and loved her. She is sharp, creative and clever, just like her blog!
The secret to making a perfect Irish scone first lies in the butter, and Ireland produces some of the world’s best. Irish butter is made with milk from free roaming, grass fed cows who are said to produce “the sweetest, richest milk in the world”. Those “Happy Cows” from California have got nothing on their Irish counterparts, who loll around all day munching on the lush, nutrient-rich grasses of the Emerald Isle. Irish butter has a higher butterfat content than regular American butter, and thus has a much richer flavor. It is noticeably silkier, denser and creamier, with a sunny golden color. The most readily available brand found here in the States is Kerrygold. It costs a little more, but I think it’s worth it. Your finished product will only be as good as the ingredients you put in.
The other secret to making great scones is to use a flour with a low percentage of protein. Low protein equals low gluten, and gluten toughens delicate baked goods. If you can find White Lily brand flour, use it. Its lower protein content will help to make your scones incredibly tender.
Another trick I’ve found to guarantee light and fluffy scones, is to sift the dry ingredients together at least twice. Three or four times is better, but twice will do. And, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but do not overwork your dough! Overworked dough bakes up into tough pastry. You don’t want that. Mix the ingredients just until your dough forms and not a second more. Do this and you will be rewarded with scrumptious, buttery scones that defy gravity.
Now, if only I could find something to help me defy gravity.
Tom’s Real Irish Scones
adapted from The Daily Spud
Note: Aoife’s original recipe is written with measurements in grams. I’ve believe that they are the most accurate. However, I’ve converted her measurements to ounces and included them in the recipe as well.
4 cups/16 ounces/450g self-rising flour (Using a low protein flour like White Lily brand will yield a fluffier scone.)
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3.5 ounces/100g butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
3/8 cup/3.2 ounces/90g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup/125 ml buttermilk
Granulated or turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Preheat your oven to 400 F./200C.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a large bowl. Then, sift it again into another bowl.
Rub in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles course bread crumbs. Stir in the sugar.
Crack the eggs into another bowl, (You can use the first bowl.) and add the buttermilk. Lightly whisk together with a fork, just breaking up the eggs.
Add egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix gently with a wooden spoon just until a dough forms and holds together in the bowl.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and lightly pat into a large round, about an inch thick. Don’t knead the dough.
Cut rounds using a biscuit cutter, flouring after each cut. Don’t twist the cutter but use a straight downward action. Try not to handle the dough too much when gathering any uncut scraps together to make the remaining scones. You can also cut the dough into triangles or squares using a sharp, floured knife.
Place the scones on baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. Sprinkle the tops with flour with either granulated or turbinado sugar.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until lightly soon as they are cool enough to handle.
Makes approximately 10 to 14 scones, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter.