Still warm from the oven.
I’ve always romanticized the rituals of tea making and tea taking. I have in my possession books that cover tea equipment and tea etiquette; tea history and tea customs; as well as, of course, old-school recipes (or “receipts”) for tea-friendly vittles, savory and sweet. My texts are riddled with delightful quotes like this gem: “I must further advise you, Harriett, … not to heap such mountains of sugar into your tea, nor to pour such a deluge of cream in; people will certainly take you for the daughter of a dairymaid.” —from “The Fool of Quality,” c. 1766-1770, reprinted in “A Dish of Tea: Recipes, History and Etiquette from Connor Prairie Museum.”
A favorite teapot. It belonged to my grandmother, then my mother, and now me.
Both high-octane and herbal teas fill the first shelf of our kitchen’s most frequented cupboard, and tea has replaced coffee as my beverage of choice (for those of you who knew me in my all-day-coffee-swilling years, you may have read this in disbelief, but it’s true). But, sadly, for all of my romantic ideas regarding tea parties — and a collection of accouterments to make those tea parties even more smashing — I have yet to host an afternoon tea with guests beyond our own household. Why can’t I pull this off? I ask myself. When will I get it together? When will I finally use those oh-so-precious teapot placecard-holders purchased years ago at Crabtree & Evelyn for a not-so-bargain price?
Well, maybe I like the idea of a polite tea soiree more than the reality of what is apt to ensue should I embark on such a course. After all, my mother and her longtime friend Joan often enjoyed tea in the afternoon at our house, and these teas were anything but the proper affairs of my imagination: they drank their tea from sturdy mugs (forget dainty teacups) and left their mark with pinky-red lipstick; they didn’t nibble on dainty vittles (didn’t nibble on anything, as I recall); and there were, on several occasions, in these years before my mom finally gave them up for good … cigarettes. Sometimes, I sat at the kitchen table with them, eavesdropping and dodging second-hand smoke, but Joan wouldn’t tolerate this for long. Maryellen, why don’t you go find something to do? Your mother and I are trying to talk. Joan was not to be trifled with.
Anyway, beyond actual tea consumption, the only tea-related ritual I partake in at my house on a somewhat regular basis is the baking of scones. Unlike Joan and my mother, I like a nibble or two, or 10, with my tea. And there’s nothing easier or faster to make to satisfy my desire for a nibble than cream scones: tender, light and fluffy on the inside; a little crunch on the outside, thanks to a brush of cream and sprinkling of coarse sugar; and a not-too-sweet vehicle for butter and jam, lemon curd, whatever one fancies.
This recipe is as straightforward as it gets — no butter involved, just heavy cream — and the flaky scones are delicious plain or perked up with a cup of dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries (with lemon zest), or a handful of bittersweet chocolate chunks (the route I went today as that’s what I had on hand).
Lazy Sunday Cream Scones
(Yield: about 8 scones)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2-3 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried fruit, nuts or chocolate chunks (optional)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
additional cream (or milk) for brushing (optional)
coarse sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift dry ingredients into large bowl.
Stir in dried fruit, nuts or chocolate (if using, and yes, do this before adding cream).
Slowly mix in heavy cream (by hand) until dough is formed.
Roll or pat dough into a round on a lightly floured board. Cut into circles using round biscuit cutter or cut into triangles using a sharp knife.
Place scones on ungreased baking sheet, leaving each of them a few inches to groove.
Brush lightly with additional heavy cream or milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar (I use sanding sugar, but straight-up granulated is fine).
Bake in preheated 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes, rotating tray halfway through cooking time.
Remove scones from pan and cool on wire rack.
The tender, fluffy insides.
These scones have only the slightest touch of sweetness (as it should be, in my book), and there is something very satisfying about the combination of simple breadstuff with bittersweet chocolate.