Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Scones

Its been a rough week.  There has been flying caramel goo crash landing all over my hands and arms, causing me to cuss and spit and flap around like a surly hallucinating sailor. There have been croissants to slice but somehow my fingers keep getting up in there as well.  Nobody ever told me* to lift with my legs, and my mixing bowl at work holds up to 60 lbs at a time in a given day. With the way I’ve lifted that thing I am guaranteeing myself an elderly man’s gait by the time I’m 30.  As I write this post I sit patched together by bandaids, with the smell of Bengay wafting ever so intoxicatingly up from my spine.

What I am trying to say is, if every week went like this week, I’d end up a pock-marked old boor with no fingerprints, muttering profanities under his** breath by the time I’m 30. Not to complain or anything.

So when I made these scones without any injury and they came out mouthwateringly delicious, it was the highlight of the week.  I put my helmet back in the closet and optimistically decided that maybe I’m not always going to be a hazard to myself.

Savory scones need to get the spotlight more often.  Scones do not have to be with coffee and tea and a British fellow.  The buttery flaky layers make an excellent pairing with grilled onion and peppers (as you can clearly see). And the pesto makes them feel fresh with herby greenness that is deceptively light. The sun-dried tomatoes add a bit of meatiness to your chew, and kick your tongue in the face with flavor rush. It is a very well-rounded scone. Eat one with your next salad.

And!  Basil is in season! I bet a lot of you already have cute little pots of basil growing on your porch or windowsill.  Or you know someone who does.  And if you don’t, its super easy to buy fresh local basil at the grocery store or farmer’s market for a not-over-priced price.  Fresh basil smells so damn fine, it would be understandable it you decided to rub it all over you face and neck to smell it all day.  Actually you probably should do this.  I expect it attracts good looking men. Maybe it heals wounds too.

Making your own pesto is highly recommended (c’monnnn) so you can tweak the balance to your liking. There isn’t a lot going into it as far as ingredients are concerned: basil, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts blended together with a bit of olive oil.  But over here we like our pesto basil heavy followed by a clear pine nut kick, because over here, nuttiness is always welcome in everything.

And scones are not a food of intimidation.  Really, they aren’t.  Just because you can buy them at a bakery for $3 (plus tip), or because they don’t fit into the toaster doesn’t mean you can’t whip them out like a pro.  There are three big things you need to understand about making scones.  Then, you can do it, always.

One. You need your ingredients cold.  All of them.  Sift all your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder etc.) into your bowl, and then stick it all in the freezer.  Really!  Metal bowls chill faster, and are therefore preferred.  It doesn’t have to sit in there long, maybe 15 to 20 minutes.  Don’t take your butter out of the fridge till you’re ready to use it.  Chop it into chunks then stick it back in the fridge if you need to.  Once you incorporate everything together everything should be cold.   This technique keeps them from mixing together too well.  And keeping those butter chunks present in your dough is what makes flakiness in your scone.  And last I checked, flakes are the point.

Two. Don’t mix very much. Or very well.  And when I say “incorporate the butter”, I mean sticking your hands in there and smooshing that butter and flour together until the butter is like a loaded snowball, and your overall consistency is mealy, with pea-sized butter chunks.  Once you add the buttermilk, you are just tossing it around to spread the wet over everything else.  Toss, not stir. Use a fork, not a spoon. Think about tossing a salad.  Add the wet in stages, incorporating it where it is needed, and adding the next drizzle in the dry areas.  Once your dough is looking like it could come together if you stirred, stop.  Don’t stir.  You should still see a lot of dry flour sitting on top of sticky things.

This is important to do (or not do, really) because you are going to pat the dough out onto the countertop, and you are going to work it into sconage (noun, state of being).  The act of forming the dough into scones is really mixing it quite a bit, you just don’t realize it.  If you over-mix your scones they won’t taste bad, but the texture will be significantly different.  The butter will get blended into more thoroughly.  And the gluten will develop more, making the scones less flaky, and more chewy.  More like a quick bread or sweet cake than a scone.  Not bad, but certainly not very sconey (adj) .

Three.  Work fast and bake immediately.  Once you start combining things, they are warming up to room temperature. The cold and the under-mixing is what allows the ingredients to stand on their own in harmony with each other (ah, how lovely).  If you mix everything together and have your oven preheated and your pan waiting, go ahead and bake! If, like me, you are sweating in the summer heat with no air conditioning and forgot to grate your cheese for garnish first, then stick those scones in the fridge while you get yourself caught up.  I had my scones formed and on the pan, sitting in the fridge for about 8 minutes before baking. Then I didn’t have to rush so much, and I could stop sweating a bit. Cold is good.

See how easy it is to Scone(verb) ? So easy! It seems like a stiff guideline I know, but they are really just basic elements to understand.  And people I know who’ve “failed” at making scones don’t always understand that there are tricks to make things easier.  Cold trick.  It doubles your likelihood of a flaky scone.  Under-mixing trick.  It keeps you from blending the butter and the wet ingredients in too much and ending up with tough dough and a chewy scone.  Not panicking because you feel in over your head trick.  It keeps you from cuts and burns and band-aids (I’m still working on mastering this trick).

And they are so unique and delicious it is worth every ounce of effort.  Cross my heart.

*This is absolute fallacy. Everyone has always told me to lift with my legs.  I’m just a foolish girl.
**That’s right.  If everything always went wrong there’d probably be some horrible gender shift induced by anger increasing testosterone levels.  Or something.

Recipe

Pesto***:

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
4 oz. basil, picked and washed (you can cut down to 2 oz. basil if you need to/want to, we like to pile it in there)
3 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

Toast pine nuts over high heat on the stop top.  Move and shake CONSTANTLY until toasted.  Once those oils hit the heat they can burn very quickly, right before you eyes.  After 3-5 minutes they will begin to brown. Remove from heat and let cool.  Combine pine nuts, parmesan, basil and garlic in a food processor, blender, or super kick-ass mortar and pestle.  Drizzle in half the olive oil and puree.  Continue adding rest of olive oil until you acquire a good paste.  We used the full 1/4 cup oil.  You may want it runnier (add more) or pastier (don’t add it all). Up to you. Refrigerate for storage.  Be careful when licking the blades during clean up.

***Pesto is easy to make with a food processor, but potentially time consuming and messy without one. You can buy pesto at the store, most certainly.  But then you can’t say you made everything from scratch, and then you are paying more money for someone to do the fun stuff for you and then you don’t have that fresh basil to scent your person with.  So, I highly encourage you to make you own pesto if at all possible. Please.

Scones:

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, COLD and chopped into nickel-sized chunks
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 Tablespoons pesto
MORE pesto, for spreading on the inside
Sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped (dry or olive oil packed is fine.  We used dry so the scones wouldn’t be as moist, but oil packed may increase their flavor in the scone.)
MORE grated parmesan cheese, for garnish

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar together; stick that bowl in the freezer to chill 15 minutes or more. Chope butter into chunks and put back in the fridge, or freezer, until ready for it.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, and pesto.  Place in the fridge.

Once everything is chilled, take out your dry ingredients from the freezer and your butter from the fridge. Throw the butter into the flour mixture and begin tossing the butter to coat it with flour.  Use your hands!  Utensils are overrated. Begin squishing and mashing the butter between your fingers to get that flour, Keep tossing and mashing the butter into the flour until the butter is more like pea-sized consistency, and the mixture is mealy.  Make sure you aren’t melting the butter between your fingers while you mash and squish.  There should be plenty of flour between your fingers too to protect the butter from your warm-blooded-ness.
This is a fast-paced squish/mash session people, don’t think about it too hard.

Take your liquid mixture out of the fridge and add about 1/3 of it into the dry butter mixture.  Toss it with a fork, very lightly, to coat as much flour as you can.  Find the driest spot in the bowl and add about 1/3 more of the liquid.  Toss and get that dry stuff in there as best you can.  This may be all the liquid you need.  Or, drizzle in teeny tiny amounts over the spots that need it.  You should NOT need to use all your wet.

Collect your dough ball into floured hands, and pat out onto a floured surface. Try to pat into a rectangle(-esque) shape, about 1/4 inch in thickness. Work fast! Your dough is getting warm!

Spread pesto, as much as you like, across half the rectangle.  I used about 5 Tablespoons, but could’ve packed on more. Dot the pesto with sun-dried tomatoes. Fold in half onto itself, like closing a book. Press gently together.  With a pizza cutter or knife, cut your rectangle into 8 pieces.

At this point you can place the pieces on your sheet pan and refrigerate.  Grate some more parmesan chees for a garnish, and beat an egg for an eggwash. Add 1-2 Tablespoons water to the egg so its runnier.

Once ready, coat the tops of the scones with egg wash.  Top with cheese.  Stick it in the oven!  You win!

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown and you’re drooling a little.
My scones took 27 minutes.

Cool and eat, because you rock.  I found that the pesto really, really came out stronger the second day after baking.  So if you can help it, don’t eat them all at once.  But that would be the happiest gut rot ever.

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