American-style scones, light, buttery, bright with orange zest. I like them with a big mug of tea, please.
This post was inspired by Welcome to Nightvale, my favourite podcast. It’s a cosy yet unsettling podcast about a desert town somewhere in the U.S., where Nightvale’s happening are narrated by the smooth-voiced community radio host Cecil Palmer. In spite or because of the eldritch horrors and casual nihilism, the town’s story is told in a way that’s very comforting and very human. Last November I had the absolute pleasure of seeing ‘The Librarian’ live at Union Chapel and I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a live show so much.
I make my scones with my own hands, from scratch. Sometimes, I put in the zest of orange, sometimes I don’t! They are not always the same.
– Steve Carlsberg, Welcome to Nightvale, ‘The September Monologues’
Scorpio: Your arms look weird. And your face is a natural irritant. And your personality leaves much to be desired, the principal desire being your immediate absence. You disgust me, Steve Carlsbe–…I mean, Scorpios? Ugh. Scorpios, right?
– Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Nightvale, ‘The Librarian’
Oh, poor Steve Carlsberg! His character isn’t evil, or even mildly, amusingly maliciously like a good few Nightvale characters, it’s simply that he makes human mistakes and Cecil, the voice who controls much of the narrative, has a case of Eating Crackers towards him. Every single tiny thing Steve does is beyond annoying, and the fact that Steve is a very sincere character who tries so hard to be likeable makes it worse.
We’ve all got a Steve Carlsberg in our lives.
We’re all someone’s Steve Carlsberg.
We still deserve good things.
While I might draw inspiration from Nightvale’s rich imagery and existing artwork (there have been quite a few gorgeous Nightvale-themed cakes!), I actually really wanted to make orange scones while listening to this podcast.
“Here, try a scone!”–I had made scones. It seemed right, in the midst of a formal celebration like that, to have a little touch of home, to remind people of the lifetime of simple gestures that this grand celebration was meant to launch.
“Oh,” he said, “this is just scrumptious! This is the best scone I’ve ever had!”
He hasn’t said anything like that in some time.
— Steve Carlsberg, Welcome to Nightvale, ‘The September Monologues’
Scones are simple and lovely. They just say Eat Me. They’re meant to look nubbly and misshapen and absolutely welcoming.
Now, I’m sure there are certain Brits with boring opinions about what a real scone (or a crumpet, or a muffin, or a cup of tea) ought to be, but it is simpler and more sensible to understand these are slightly different baked good.
Recipes for U.S.-style scones are very similar in technique to British ones–a barely handled dough–it’s in the ingredients that they differ. In American scones, there’s much more butter, the flavourings are more exciting, and sometimes they’re cut into shapes which aren’t fluted rounds. That all adds up to a treat which can be enjoyed on its own. British scones fulfil a different purpose: they’re vehicles for rich, sweet additions after they’re baked, a soft, cool mound of clotted cream, good jam, and a pot of tea.
But these scones are fine as they are. I’ve enjoyed these for an unfussy brunch this weekend with Mr Pear. A good end to September.
Makes 2 scones for a 2-person brunch or snack. I enjoy them warm, but it isn’t hard to scale up the recipe–you can keep the amount of egg and cream the same if you double it.
You can freeze the formed unglazed scones whole. Baked scones can be kept for a few days in an airtight container.
3 tbsp granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling if desired
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
75g/1/2 cup + 1 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Good grating of nutmeg
2 1/2 tbsp cold butter, in pieces
A square or four of any chocolate you like, finely chopped (more if you wish)
to bind & glaze:
3 tbsp double cream
1 UK medium (US large) egg
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C/180 fan (400 degrees F).
In a small mixing bowl, rub together sugar and finely grated orange zest until evenly damp and fragrant. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Rub or cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal speckled with pea-sized bits of butter, then sprinkle in chocolate pieces.
Beat together the egg and double cream. Add 3 – 4 tbsp of this mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring just until clumpy. Gently press together into crumbly dough against side of bowl. (For a much better shape, chill or freeze the dough until cold and firm.)
Line a baking tray with paper and turn out the dough onto this. Shape as you like–I like to cut it into triangles. Set them at least 2 inches apart, then glaze the top with some of the remaining egg-cream mixture. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes til lightly browned.