Mouths to Feed: A Heart of Scone

By Celia Barbour

A cold morning. The kids shamble downstairs dragging blankets behind them and curl up on the kitchen bench, folding themselves back into sleep again, hiding from the advancing day. I wish I could join them, but parents aren’t supposed to behave that way; it undermines things. So instead, I set scones on the table, more or less in front of the humps of their bodies. Warm walnut-date scones with butter and honey, to be precise — fragrant alarm clocks that I hope will coax them towards wakefulness.

I made scones because I was up early working, and the kitchen becomes a nicer place to write when there’s something in the oven. Plus scones are easy — easier than pancakes or French toast, certainly (you don’t have to stand over the stove), and less messy than waffles or muffins. Moreover, I was in possession of a large bag of fresh walnuts sent to me a few weeks ago by the California Walnut Board (for such perks of my day job, I am deeply grateful).

The day the walnuts arrived, I had come across some cool facts about dates: They contain tannins that help reduce toxins in your body, and, unlike other sweet things, which make your system more acidic, they are alkalizing. So dates and walnuts got linked in my brain, and scones seemed like the perfect vehicle to deliver them into our presumably toxic, acidic bodies.

The scones I bake are a oaty riff on a recipe developed by my lovely friend Frances, who prepares the most scandalous baked goods whenever we visit for a weekend. I have come to think of hers as the you-don’t-want-to-know scones, because the reason they always taste so great is not merely the dried fruits and nuts and spices she puts in them, but the lethal quantities of cream and butter they contain. She used to be the pastry cook at the Quilted Giraffe, a glittering four-star restaurant now long closed, so she knows the power of certain ingredients to enhance the luster of one’s gustatory experience.

Luster or no, I am aware that a polite house guest should eat whatever her host prepares — sometimes even, yes, in duplicate. Which is why I say: The less you know about them, the happier you’ll be as the morning wears on.

I confess that I follow her lead and make them with cream when we have overnight guests, and I have also made them this way on birthday mornings — with chocolate chips, no less. But in my favorite version, I substitute oats for some of the flour, and buttermilk (which, despite its name, is naturally low in fat) for the cream. I have even experimented with replacing the butter itself with coconut oil; I think they come out fine that way, but my kids disagree.

No matter. I make up for the butter in the recipe by eating mine slathered with apple butter, a concoction I have suddenly grown to like — conveniently, since this has turned out to be a good year for doing almost anything with apples besides eating them raw. I brought a jar back from New Hampshire, and it has inspired me to start experimenting on my own, something I may just get around to one of these mornings, while the kids are still asleep.

Walnut-date oat scones

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour

½ cup quick (not instant or rolled) oats

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

2-3 tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet you like them

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

½ cup mixed chopped walnuts and cut-up dates, or any other fruit and nut combination, or chocolate chips

1 cup buttermilk

sugar for sprinkling, if desired.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Thoroughly mix together the dry ingredients (flours, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar) in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture is in fine crumbles. Add the nuts and fruit, and mix to combine.

  1. Add the buttermilk and mix quickly but vigorously, just until the dough comes together, no more than 12 seconds. Drop by the scant 1/3 cupful on the lined baking sheet, or pat into one big round, and score (cut radial lines partway into the top), so it breaks apart easily when finished.
  2. If you like, sprinkle a little water and sugar on top, for a sparkly finish. Bake 15-20 minutes for individual scones, or 25 minutes for the round. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

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