High Altitude Baking: Crispy and slightly sweet cornmeal scones (recipe)
Editor’s note: High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Forget the white gloves and bone china; these scones won’t be served at high tea. They’re unpretentious, wholesome and decidedly casual … a welcome accompaniment to a bowl of soup in the evening or some jam and a mug of coffee at breakfast. Crunchy, from the cornmeal, with a whisper of brown sugar sweetness and a light texture, they’re just plain good.
There are several secrets to making a good scone: First, preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes before baking; they need a burst of intense heat when they enter it.
Second, make sure the butter is cold. Third, handle the dough as little and as gently as possible. Finally, when cutting them into wedges, don’t saw with the knife, push it straight down.
(Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above. Yields 8 large or 12 small scones.)
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup golden or light brown sugar, packed
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup milk, preferably whole
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon milk
Demerara or turbinado sugar (sometimes labeled “raw sugar”)
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Step 2: To make in a food processor: Combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl and pulse to mix well. Cut the butter into 10 pieces, add them, and pulse in short spurts until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Dump the mixture into a large mixing bowl.
To make by hand: Whisk the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. Cut the butter into small pieces and, using a pastry blender or your fingertips, blend it into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Step 3: In a 4-cup measure or a bowl, whisk or stir the milk, egg and vanilla until blended. Push the dry ingredients up the sides of the mixing bowl, creating a well in the center. Pour in the milk mixture and use a large silicone spatula to quickly and lightly fold/stir until combined. Don’t overwork the dough; the dry ingredients need to be uniformly moistened but the dough doesn’t need to be smooth.
Step 4: Dump the dough on a sheet of waxed paper and gently knead it a time or two, then pat it into either an 8-inch circle or two 4-inch circles (if making small scones). Transfer the circle(s) of dough to the lined baking sheet, spacing the 4-inch circles several inches apart.
Step 5: If glazing, whisk the egg and milk until blended, brush over the tops and sides of the circles and sprinkle with demerara or turbinado sugar. Use a bench knife or thin, sharp knife to cut the 8-inch circle into eight wedges of equal size or the 4-inch circles into six wedges each. Separate the wedges so there is about an inch of space between them.
Step 6: Bake until the scones rise, tops are golden, the bottoms have colored lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean.
Step 7: Move to a rack and, after about 4 minutes, take the scones from the pan and place them directly on the rack. Serve warm on the day they’re made or freeze, wrapped airtight, as soon as they’ve cooled completely (don’t leave them out uncovered or they’ll lose moisture). Rewarm room-temperature scones, loosely wrapped in foil, in a 325-degree oven for about 10 minutes, until warm to the touch.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds,” is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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