Saturday, April 26, 2008

Play it Again: Chocolate Chip Scones

Some things you make over and over again. Casseroles that bring back childhood memories (even though they aren’t quite as good as the way mom made them), chocolate chip cookies, spaghetti with meat sauce, pancakes on Sunday morning.

Our over and over is chocolate chip scones. Long ago, before I realized that their over-the-top approach to recipes was beyond what even I could absorb, I bought an Cook's Illustrated cookbook: The Quick Recipe. I’ve made a few things from it, nothing that really wowed me, but they do have a solid, reliable go-to recipe for scones that I make just about every week. Commercial scones are expensive, and usually of questionable quality.

This recipe turns out a very nice, generally reliable scone. I’ve been told some weeks that they’re more cakey, some weeks that they’re more flaky (I don’t eat them myself—I eat granola with yogurt for breakfast mostly these days; I make these for Alex). But always they turn out fine. I have tinkered with the recipe a little. Despite what they say about having perfected it, I still felt it needed some fine tuning.

Their recipe is for currant scones, but I make them with mini chocolate chips. They also call for heavy cream, which I use now and then, but golly that’s a lot of fat. Usually I just use whole milk (we have a lot of it hanging around since we still have one baby who drinks it). I don’t notice a huge difference in the texture. I’ve also started adding a dash of vanilla to the milk before I add it to the butter and flour mixture.

The biggest changes I made were to use homemade baking powder, and use less of it. I made these one time (actually, the time shown in this picture, which was also the time that I patted them too flat and they didn’t really rise up very nicely, which is a caveat I’ll get to) and they were so sour. I was the only one that noticed (aren’t we all our own most demanding critics?). I made faces and thought about the possible cause.

Then I realized I’d used commercial baking powder. Ever since then I’ve used homemade (courtesy of Edna Lewis’s Taste of Home Cooking: 1 part cream of tartar to 2 parts baking soda, combine, run through a sifter three or four times, and store in an airtight container; can be used in place of commercial baking powder in the same amounts; this “recipe” was recently featured in an issue of Gourmet magazine, and I hope it convinces everyone in the whole wide world to make their own baking powder, because it’s well worth the 28 seconds of your time it takes).

As for technique, as crazy as it sounds, it really does make a difference in the final texture of the dough as to whether you remove the lid of the food processor and pour the milk around, or just dump it down the feed tube (do the former; the latter results in a sticky dough). And when you pat them out, don’t pat them down too thin because they don’t rise that much. Some, yes, but not enough to compensate for a really enthusiastic flattening.

I make these on Sunday afternoon or evening, and each morning during the week Alex takes one for breakfast, along with a thermos of coffee. I’ve changed up the recipe and made them savory, with some cheddar cheese (cut the sugar back to a tablespoon, at most), and made sweet variations with little dried blueberries. But mini chocolate chip are the old reliable. Sometimes the best things are the ones we make without even thinking about them, they’re always there for us, always to be counted on.

Scones with Mini Chocolate Chips
adapted from The Best Quick Recipe
makes 8 scones, a weeks’ worth of coffee accompaniment with a couple left over to share

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for cutting board
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into cubes
1 cup heavy cream or whole milk
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 425. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt, and pulse a few times to combine. Remove cover of work bowl, and distribute butter around in the flour mixture. Replace lid, and pulse 12 times (one-second pulses) until well combined. Remove lid and add chocolate chips. Replace lid and pulse twice more to combine. Remove lid and pour cream or milk evenly over flour and butter mixture. Replace lid and pulse 8 to 10 times or until combined and just starting to pull together.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, and press into a cohesive mass. You may need to use a spatula to scrape out the food processor work bowl, and you may need to scatter a little flour over the top of the dough to keep it from sticking to your hands. Gently press dough down to combine and make an approximately 8” circle. Using a knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges.

Place each wedge on the cookie sheet about ½ - 1” away from the other pieces. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from oven, and allow to cool at least 10 minutes. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

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