Fatigued by late winter, I’ll think of Ireland. There, traditional spring arrives on St. Bridget’s Day, the first of February, when daffodils line country lanes, primroses pop up in rock walls and white bells of wild garlic swing alongside village paths where the meadows are always green.
Though Ireland is more than ten degrees (latitude) north of Chicago, the Gulf Stream warms the land. South of Dublin there’s scarcely ever snow or ice; winter vegetables such as leeks, broccoli and kale stand ready in kitchen gardens even in the coolest season. Farther north of the equator means less sun in the day, but as March approaches a good stretch of light sails into early evening, and birds break into dawn chorus with morning coffee. Once you arrive on the island, you’ll be assured of a good pot of tea and a plate of perfect scones.
Americans aren’t content with the best scones, the simple, light “floury” ones with just a hint of sugar and maybe a few currants or raisins. No, we have to gussy them up with too much butter, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, extra flavorings and grains until they’re often leaden lumps of baked dough distant from their ancestral roots.
When winter’s still on the sill and afternoon tea beckons, consider a tray of scones. These quick breads take about five minutes to stir together, twelve minutes to bake, fill the room with great home-cooked aromas, and charm the blarney out of all ages. With soft butter and a blob of bright homemade jam, Irish scones are the ticket for a daydream.
Try this small recipe to learn the technique, then double the amounts for a larger batch and store some in the freezer.
8 oz. all purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 oz. butter (3 tablespoons)
3 1/2 oz. milk (1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon)
1 oz. currants, raisins (1/4 cup) (optional)
granulated sugar on a saucer
Preheat oven to 450°F. Have ready a baking sheet lightly sprinkled with flour, lined with parchment or silpat mat.
Beat egg in liquid measuring cup; remove 1 tablespoon and save in small cup for egg wash. Add milk to the remaining egg (the total should measure 2/3 cup); whisk together.
Sift together flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and baking powder. Cut butter into slices and rub into flour with your fingertips.
Make a well in center of dry ingredients. Add milk mixture and begin to mix with your hand or rubber spatula, sprinkling in raisins or currants. Once dry mixture is thoroughly moistened, scrape scone dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead lightly to bring the dough together, scrape dough from your hands and pat or roll to circle 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 7-8 2 1/2 inch scones, re-rolling scraps. Place scones on baking sheet, brush tops with reserved egg wash, and dip each top in sugar.
Bake in preheated oven 12-14 minutes or until lightly brown. (Finished scones should be 1 ½ inches high.) Serve warm or at room temperature with butter or whipped cream and jam.
Note: If your baking powder is not fresh, make your own by combining baking soda and cream of tartar. Mix 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to equal leavening of 1 teaspoon baking powder. For this recipe use 1 teaspoon cream of tartar + 1/2 teaspoon soda.