Brian Shaw: Show your true colors with July 4-themed scones

Scones made by Brian Shaw.

Scones made by Brian Shaw.

You say scone, and I say shortcake.

“You say tomato, and I say tomahto.” That old Gershwin tune pretty well describes Ardi and me when it comes to food. We rarely agree on anything, and today’s recipe is no different.

I was looking for a shortcake recipe to use up a bunch of strawberries we had lying around when I came across today’s version. Originally called blueberry scone cake, it looked good, but I was struggling with the name. To me, scones are for breakfast or afternoon tea if you indulge in that sort of thing. And after researching the fundamental recipes for scones, shortcake, shortbread and biscuits, I concluded that there really wasn’t a difference. Even Emily Luchetti, pastry chef at Farallon in San Francisco and dean of the International Culinary Center at the French Culinary Institute, compares her shortcake recipe to a biscuit and biscuits to scones with very little difference.

Armed with this poetic license, I felt comfortable calling the dish a shortcake when we put it on as a special. Ardi, however, insisted on calling a scone a scone, and ultimately prevailed. Not just because of her persuasiveness, but because I had been busted before.

One night when I was working at this place at the base of the Pyramid building in San Francisco, our pastry delivery didn’t show up. Fresh out of culinary school and eager to impress, I volunteered to throw something together using puff pastry, strawberries and pastry cream. Pastry cream sounded boring, so at the pre-shift meeting with the waiters I described it as Bavarian cream. Who’s going to know the difference, right?

A couple of weeks later I found out who. Patricia Utterman, feared restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, had eaten there that night while reviewing the restaurant. Although the dessert was good, she was quick to point out in her column that “Bavarian cream has gelatin in it, which this certainly did not.” Ouch!

This scone-shortcake-biscuit or whatever you call it works great for summer entertaining or a Fourth of July picnic, given that you can bake them a day or two ahead and keep them wrapped in plastic.

The blueberry compote is the same one we use on our whole-grain waffles at brunch, and because we try to lean toward the health-conscious on that dish, we sweeten it with agave nectar rather than sugar. For today’s application, it doesn’t really matter given that you have sugar in two other places on the plate. Just substitute one-quarter of a cup of sugar for the agave if you don’t have the cactus juice.

And the added step of splitting, buttering and toasting is worth the trouble. Try it. I think you will agree. We did.

Red, white and blueberry scone

Serves eight

For the scones:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

Grated zest from one lemon

Half-teaspoon salt

Quarter-teaspoon baking soda

Half-cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into half-inch cubes

Three-quarters-cup buttermilk, plus a little for brushing

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift together the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the flour until the size of small peas, but not all the way to course meal. Stir in the buttermilk to make a soft dough.

Place the dough on an ungreased baking sheet and pat it into an 8-inch disk. Using a sharp knife, cut the disc into eight wedges, but do not separate them. Brush with a little buttermilk and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean — about 25 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet.

For the blueberries:

1 pound blueberries (frozen or fresh)

Half-cup apple juice

Half a cinnamon stick

Strip of orange zest removed using a peeler

Pinch of salt

Quarter-cup agave nectar

2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon apple juice

Combine all ingredients except the corn starch slurry in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes. Stir in the cornstarch and simmer two minutes more. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick and the orange zest. Serve at room temperature. It will store refrigerated for three or four days.

For the strawberries:

2 pints of strawberries, hulled an quartered

2 tablespoons sugar

Combine the berries and sugar in a stainless-steel bowl until the berries begin to give off some juice. Cover and refrigerate.

To serve, split the scones in half, brush with a little melted butter and toast under the broiler until golden brown. Top with the strawberries, blueberries and a little whipped cream.


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