Butterscotch Scones with Dark Chocolate

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What can I tell you about these scones that will accurately capture the wonder that they are, and the pure joy it brought me to make them?  Imagine that you had a free day and the luxury of spending several hours of it slowly, leisurely putting these scones together.  Imagine that it’s snowing gently while you’re measuring flour and chopping chocolate, and that you have a steady stream of coffee at your disposal.  And imagine that you have a puppy sleeping contentedly on your couch and back episodes of Top Chef playing in the background while you work.  That’s what today’s baking process was like for me, and that’s also how the scones taste: like perfect, uncomplicated comfort.

Sometimes it’s the simplest recipes that turn out to be the best ones.  This one is so simple that it didn’t even require a trip to the grocery store; everything I needed was already in my kitchen.  Of course, I have to admit that today, my kitchen just happened to contain two exceptional ingredients that gave me a little leg up: the world’s best butter, and some truly amazing chocolate.

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I carry this butter in my dairy department, and it is some of the most delicious butter I’ve ever tasted, hands down.  It’s made from double Devon cream, hence the name; double Devon cream is an extra heavy cream, about the consistency of buttercream frosting.  Imagine making butter from cream that heavy, and you’ll get a sense of how rich this butter is.

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And the chocolate!  This bar of Madecasse has been hanging out in our kitchen since Christmas, when Olivia brought it to our apartment (P.S. Olivia, I hope it’s ok that I chopped up your chocolate and put it in scone batter).  Not only is it delicious– super dark and full of sea salt and crunchy nibs– but it also has sentimental appeal; Alex and I stayed at some family friends’ beach house during our honeymoon, and they stocked the kitchen with a smorgasbord of amazing snacks for us, including this same chocolate.

Of course, if you don’t have access to these specific products, any salted butter and dark chocolate will work perfectly well.

I also added one additional twist to the original recipe: browning the butter.  The cookbook author provides a nice monologue at the beginning of the recipe about the virtues of true butterscotch flavor, so it surprised me that he didn’t choose to brown the butter as well; I will say that it adds about an extra hour to the prep time for these scones, but I’d also assert that the result is worth every minute.

The scone batter mixes up much like any other baked-good batter; the dry ingredients (in this case, flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt) are whisked together, and the wet ingredients (eggs and heavy cream) are whisked together in a separate bowl.  Before the two come together, the cooled brown butter must be cut into the flour mixture.  While my recipe suggests that you do this with a food processor, I say phooey on that.  I would love to have a food processor, but in a kitchen the size of a shoebox, I really can’t sacrifice the counterspace– and besides, when you’re cutting butter into flour, using your hands is really the best method.  It allows you to be more thorough, and it gets a little more love in there.

Once the butter is mixed into the flour– it should look like coarse meal– stir in the chocolate chunks.  A handy tip for chopping chocolate: if you want your scones to look nice and clean, with no flecks of chocolate scattered throughout, it’s a good idea to strain your chocolate chunks before adding them to the batter.  I find that a slotted spoon works perfectly for this task; the chocolate chunks stay safely in the spoon while all the shards fall through.

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You might think that keeping all this chocolate dust out of the batter is a terrible waste… but I disagree.  You can always sprinkle the dregs over a scoop of ice cream.

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Finally, add the egg and cream mixture to the flour and chocolate mixture, and using a rubber spatula, very gently mix everything together.  Don’t even worry if there are still bits of flour that don’t incorporate; the less you mix, the fluffier your scones will be.  You should end up with a loose, sticky, messy-looking dough, which you’ll turn onto a floured work surface and gently knead two or three times.

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Finally, cut the dough into wedges and bake until the scones are puffy and golden brown.

As the scones bake, your house will fill with an aroma that’s like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, but somehow more buttery… more sophisticated… more refined.  As soon as they come out of the oven, brew yourself a cup of coffee or tea for dunking purposes. As much as I love coffee, I’m inclined to recommend tea here… preferably chai tea.  If you can find chocolate chai, so much the better.

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Happy February, happy snow day, and happy scones!  Here’s hoping each of you finds a slow and easy day in your immediate future.

Butterscotch Scones with Dark Chocolate
adapted from The Modern Baker

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces salted butter
4 ounces dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
2 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream

About an hour before you want to assemble the batter, cut 4 ounces (8 tablespoons, or one stick) of salted butter into small pieces and place in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  After the butter melts, it will start foaming and crackling; when this happens, shake the pan a few times every couple minutes, and listen closely for the crackling to slow.  When the foaming and crackling dies down, shake the pan again– the butter should have a very toasty, caramelly aroma at this point– and when brown bits rise to the surface, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a heatsafe container.  Allow the browned butter to cool for about 20 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400° F.  Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and cream.

When butter is cold, cut into small pieces and add to flour mixture.  Using your hands, rub and pinch the chunks of butter into the flour until the mixture looks coarse and grainy.  Stir in the chocolate chunks, then add the egg and cream mixture.  Gently stir with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are just combined.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead two or three times to further combine the ingredients.  Cut the dough into three equal pieces; pat each piece into a 5-inch disk, and cut each disk into four wedges.

Arrange scones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving about two inches between each scone.  Bake until well-risen and golden, about 15 minutes.  Serve immediately with a warm beverage.

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