I love to make things like muffins, quick breads, and scones because once you find a good basic recipe, you can endlessly modify it to make variations for every mood or season. Fresh blueberry muffins in July, apple cinnamon muffins in October -- same recipe, minor fruit and spice adjustment. The food services department at Notre Dame made great scones (don't laugh - their dining halls are regularly ranked among the best in the country), but I haven't made or purchased a decent one since I left. Tully's and Starbuck's were dry and tasteless. Even the one I bought from a boutique bakery at Pike Place was more puck-like than pleasing. (And if you're in need of stones for an upcoming landscaping project, this recipe should do the trick.)
However, the recipe below from America's Test Kitchen is worth keeping...and modifying over and over again. The texture of the scones is just what I was looking for: slightly crisp on the outside and firm enough to hold together, but with a soft interior crumb. I made orange currant scones, but you could swap out the currants for cranberries, or you could skip the fruit and extract entirely and throw in a teaspoon or two of cinnamon -- whatever suits you. The basic recipe is posted first and then my variation below that. I'll come back and add to the variations list as I try out new combinations in the future. If you have a suggestion for one, I'd be glad to hear it!
America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook
Yields 8 scones
2 cups flour, preferably a low-protein brand such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar*
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup currants
1 cup heavy cream (regular whipping cream will also work)
White sparkling sugar for garnish (large grain)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse six times. Distribute butter evenly over the flour mixture and pulse 12 times. Add currants and pulse once more.
Transfer dough to large bowl. Stir in the cream with a rubber spatula until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. Knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds (you can do this right in the bowl). Press the dough into an 8-inch round cake pan lined with plastic wrap and then invert the pan onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Remove the plastic wrap and score the dough round into 8 wedges using a knife or bench scraper. Sprinkle the round with sparkling sugar.
Bake until the tops and edges are light brown, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*This will make the scones ever-so-slightly sweet. You may want to double the amount if you prefer a more sugary scone.
Orange Currant Scones
Add 1 teaspoon of orange extract and 1 tablespoon of freshly grated orange zest to the cream prior to stirring it into the flour mixture.