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Scones don't get the attention they deserve. Unlike their starring role in British bakeries, they're a bit of an afterthought on this side of the Atlantic. We also seem to have gotten confused about what they are exactly, losing something in translation and turning the term "scone" into a catch-all for any pastry that's sweet, but not a biscuit or a muffin. It's hard to know when you order one whether it will properly British (crumbly and not-too-sweet) or not (moist and sugary and close-crumbed).
Quick and easy to make as a batch of biscuits, scones are a wonderful blank canvas for so many flavors and ingredients. With the right recipe, they're lighter than a muffin, with less moisture and flakier crumbs. Most sweet scones have a plain base; the flavor comes from the extract or ingredients folded in. In those recipes, I prefer a flakier and more delicate dough. You can achieve this by carefully cutting in your butter as you would a biscuit dough, and gently handling it as you fold and press the dough together, keeping it cold as you go.
That being said, when it comes to chocolate, I prefer to change things up! I recently discovered a brilliant recipe (inspired by one in the Odense almond paste archives) that uses cocoa powder and almond paste in the dough. The flavor is magnificent: nutty and rich, yet not overly sweet. The texture veers into muffin territory, because the almond paste gives it a slightly more density and heft than a typical scone, and each bite is studded with bits of almond paste. It's a nice balance between breakfast and dessert.
My friendly taste testers loved these scones, but they (perhaps trained by years of American scone–confusion!) had different reactions to the texture. Some said it reminded them of chocolate cake, since the bottom edges are moist and almost squish-able, like the crumbs of a classic sheet cake. Some said it reminded them of the famous chocolate bread from Balthazar, since the tops of the scones are dry and craggy and crusted with sparkling sugar, which helps it pull apart—like a muffin top. Some referred to the scones as "chocolate biscuits," and others just ate two in a row wordlessly, licking their fingers. You'll have to be the judge. I can merely say that they are surprising and delicious and perhaps worthy of their own name: some crazy hybrid of biscuit-scone-muffin-bread-cake.
You certainly couldn't go wrong by splitting these scones in half, toasting them slightly, and dolloping on sweetened whipped cream and roasted fruit. Or, you could serve them with ice cream (I'd recommend this mint-basil chip). Or, eat one plain, and revel in the glory of scones, and speak in a faux British accent.
- 7 ounces almond paste, cut into chunks
- 3 cups flour
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cold
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder (I prefer black if you can find it)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract