Look! Look! I baked with spelt! And it was so tasty. This is probably not that exciting to anyone else. Most of you can probably eat things like regular spelt, and barley, and oats and therefore don’t find yourself standing in the baking aisle of the grocery store absently gazing at the packages of whole grain flours (I might even have caressed a sack of teff, but we’re not going to talk about that), pining after their toothy, nutty flavors. Oh, Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur Flour, how you and your wide selections of grains move me!
Not that I dislike plain white flour. Not at all. I mean, it’s the stuff croissants and baguettes are made of! But, sometimes both my taste buds and my nutrition-y conscience wish I could eat whole grains. Luckily for them, during my last dreamy foray down the baking aisle I stumbled upon something magical, bags of sprouted whole wheat and whole spelt. They’re selling sprouted grains now?! Cool! I snatched up a bag of the spelt, balked briefly at the price, put it down, and then picked it back up and put it into my cart anyway.
I eat a lot of sprouted grains in the form of the sprouted grain bread that you can get from the freezer in the natural section of the grocery store. Now, while not overall too bad – especially as toast – this bread does have hints of cardboard in its flavor. However, having some of my own sprouted grain to bake with seemed like it would open up all sorts of wondrous possibilities. The most important among these possibilities being scones (though I’m also thinking now that a spelt banana bread would be delicious). (Oh, and also (you know, while I’m using parentheticals and all), don’t worry if you don’t have sprouted spelt around, you can also use regular spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour for these beauties.)
When I look back through my archives, I’m surprised that I haven’t really written about scones at all, except in relation to strawberry shortcakes. It’s a reflection of how infrequently I actually bake them, but most certainly not a reflection of how I feel about them. In my opinion, scones are the pinnacle of baked goods. The ultimate achievement among the ways humankind has discovered to combine flour and butter and dairy. I don’t bake scones because I cannot see a scone without succumbing to it and the wondrous pleasure it can offer. Provided it is a good scone, that is.
A bad scone – and there are quite a lot of them out there – is disappointment itself. Dense, doughy, sugary gut bombs. The things they try to market in many chain coffee shops and bakeries under the false pretense of being scones are actually closer in nature to what the Brits call “rock cakes.” The name just about says it all. A good scone on the other hand is light, with a tender crumb that melts into a small wave of buttery bliss in your mouth. A good scone merely suggests sweetness, and therefore takes well to gilding with treats like clotted cream and jam. But, it should also be flavorful enough to stand on its own. I’ve made a few truly good scones in my day, and I would, in fact, include these among them.
The key to a perfectly ethereal texture is keeping the ingredients cold. Cold, cold, cold. Also, did I mention you want the ingredients to be cold? You may even want to chill the flour in your mixing bowl before using it. Then, make sure you don’t overcombine the butter with the dry ingredients. You see, those nearly pea sized lumps of butter you leave in there will melt and steam up pockets of air, keeping the scones light. The cream gives them richness, without weighing them down one bit. If you really want the most amazingly lacy, flaky scones you’ve ever made, freeze the scones spread out on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Then bake up the frozen scones. I don’t quite understand how or why it works, but ever since I’ve started doing this to my scones, I find myself marveling with every bite over their perfection.
The spelt in these scones gives them a wonderful nutty-sweetness. They have a depth and complexity of flavor that you wouldn’t get with all purpose flour, and that is so far from hinting at health food you’ll start to worry that city governments might go trying to ban spelt along with the trans fats. Not to worry though, they wont. For, spelt really is quite healthy in the scheme of grains. An ancient nutritional powerhouse.
After seeing several recipes for scones with a jammy smear of preserves tucked inside of them, I decided that that was what I wanted to do with these. I had planned on using apricot, but then I saw a beautiful jar of homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam at the market and was totally unable to resist using that instead. Really, you could use any jam you want as long as it’s good quality. The jam caramelizes slightly while cooking and gives you a touch of oozing, fruity flavor with each bite of scone, just as if you had spread your scone with preserves, but even better. I’s perfect with the crumbly, fragrant grainy flavor of the spelt. So go ahead, make and freeze a batch. Then, you can bake a couple up in the morning whenever you need a spelty, jammy, sconey fix. Which, may turn out to be rather often, once you’ve tried them.
Jammy spelt scones (makes 2 scone logs, which makes 8-10 individual scones)
- 3 cups spelt flour (sprouted or regular – you can also use whole wheat pastry flour, or good ole’ all purpose flour instead)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 Tbs. baking powder (aluminum free)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 stick (8 Tbs.) cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 1/4 cups cold heavy cream
- 1 cold large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup strawberry-rhubarb preserves (or any flavor you fancy, I think apricot would be quite nice)
- Glaze (optional): 1 Tbs. lemon juice, 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- In a large mixing bowl combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Quickly rub in the pieces of butter, or cut them in using a pastry cutter, until you have a coarse meal that still has some lumps of butter in it that are nearly pea-sized.
- Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the cream, egg, and vanilla. Use a wooden spoon to stir it all together until mostly combined but with some of the flour still sitting at the bottom of the bowl. Then, use your hands to turn the dough over and press in the last bits of dry ingredients, making a dough ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut it in half.
- Lightly flour a silicone mat or sheet of wax paper. Roll out half of the dough on this to make a square about a half inch thick. Spread this with half of the preserves, then use the mat/wax paper to lift up the right third of the dough and fold it in toward the center. Repeat with the left third of the dough so that you have a flat log folded into thirds a bit like a letter. Repeat this set of steps with the second half of the dough so that you have two dough logs.
- Cut each dough log into 4-5 triangles or squares. If you want to freeze the scones (which is optional, but recommended) transfer the individual scones to a baking sheet lined with wax paper, making sure they’re not touching each other. Freeze for about 2 hours. At this point you can put the scones together in a freezer bag and store them in the freezer taking out as many as you want when you want to bake some up.
- To bake, preheat your oven to 350F. Put scones on a parchment lined (or lightly greased) baking sheet leaving a couple inches between them. Brush the scones lightly with some milk or cream. Bake for 20-25 minutes if you’re using unfrozen scones. If using frozen scones, bake for about 10 minutes longer, until golden-brown on top and brown on the edges. When done baking, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
- If you wish to glaze the scones, whisk together the lemon juice and powdered sugar to make the glaze. Brush it onto the scones right when they come out of the oven. Then allow them to cool.