Buttermilk Scones with Peaches

Monday, October 1, 2007


Scones are one of my favorite breakfast foods to make, especially for others. In fact, only for others, because these scones, more than any other baked good I've ever made, are significantly better fresh from the oven than reheated later in a toaster. They're still good later, don't get me wrong, but the difference is really shocking.

I think of scones just like I think of espresso: Most scones you can get, at stores, coffeeshops, wherever, are really not very good. Similarly, most espresso at the average coffee shop is painfully bitter and acidic. I'm a little sensitive to being called a food snob, and I think it's happened once or twice with the coffee, but my contention is that it doesn't take a particularly sophisticated palate to appreciate the difference. It's just that a surprising number of people have never had the fortune to drink a great espresso, or eat a really excellent scone. Once they do, I contend, they'll never go back.

On Saturday, I brought a chicken pot pie to friends who just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and while hanging out them and talking, I mentioned scones and she said, "I don't think I like scones." I asked a few questions, suspecting she'd just never had a really good one, and indeed, she described the average scone as leathery and tough.

Never one to turn down a challenge, I went straight to Central Market to pick up the couple things I didn't already have on hand for this recipe -- some buttermilk and the currants. Only, the peaches looked so good I ditched the currants and bought a few peaches instead.

I doubled the recipe, on a whim, thinking if I was going to deliver scones to one friend on Sunday morning, I might as well deliver them to more. I brought scones to 7 different homes in south Austin, all my friends who responded to my text messages, and it made for a great Sunday morning. Actually, it ran long, so it made for a nice Sunday afternoon, too. Luckily the scones obligingly stayed warm for several hours.

This recipe is straight from the Tartine Cookbook. It is amazing. The scones are buttery, warm, crumbly and soft, just the tiniest bit tangy from the buttermilk, and with a faint crust of sugar on top to give a little crunch.

I wasn't sure how I felt about reprinting a recipe verbatim, but this is one of the book's simpler ones, I don't think it's illegal, and hopefully this post will convince at least a few of you to go buy the book. You should; it's fantastic. Tartine is one of the best bakeries in San Francisco, and their cookbook lives up to the pedigree. It's full of useful tips and observations, subtle technical details of pastry and baking, and it is worth its weight in gold if you ever want to make pies, cakes, custards, croissants, any of that. Everything I have made from the cookbook has been wonderful.

With that introduction: first, take some peaches. Pit them and then dice them into 1/4" dice or so. Be as even as you can; if they're all haphazard, some will cook more than others and your scones will be inconsistent.

Note: Like I said above, I doubled this recipe, so all my photos are of twice the amount. Don't freak out that I show four sticks of butter and later say you should use only two.


After that, the dough follows a familiar pattern. Sift together the dry, cut in the butter, then add the wet. In this case, there's not actually that much sugar, but there is quite a bit of butter.

The secret to this, just like the secret to a good butter pie crust, is not to be gentle with it, not to get all OCD about mixing everything together into one homogeneous mass. Cut the butter into small pieces so you don't need to beat the holy Hell out of it to get it to combine:


And stop mixing the butter with the flour when there are still pea-sized lumps of butter in there. Fold the buttermilk into it gently, mixing only as much as you must.


It's hard to tell from that photo, but there are still chunks of butter in there, not at all combined, still about the size of peas.

I added the peaches at the very end because I didn't want to freeze them first, and if I'd mixed them in with the buttermilk they would have gotten smashed and bled color into the dough. So I just gently cut them in with my hands at the end, when I turned the dough out onto the counter:


When you shape the dough into long rectangles to cut the scones, again, be gentle! Don't knead it. Just gently pat it into shape. Cut it into triangles:


Then transfer them, using the side of the knife like a spatula, onto a buttered cookie sheet. Brush with the melted butter and dust with sugar:

Finally, bake. Even as they go into the oven, you should still see small discrete chunks of butter in the dough.

Serve them immediately, before they cool off. Eat them plain, or with honey, or clotted cream.
BHS, 11/2/07: I emailed Tartine about posting the recipe; nobody ever responded. I went there when I was just in San Francisco, and asked the girl helping me if there was someone I could talk to about getting permission. She shrugged and said, "I'd just go ahead and do it. I'm sure it's fine." At this point, that's good enough for me. Sorry for the delay.

Buttermilk Scones
Makes 1 dozen

1 ripe peach, pitted and cut into 1/4" dice
4 3/4c all-purpose flour
1T baking powder
3/4t baking soda
1/2c granulated sugar
1 1/4t salt
1c + 1T unsalted butter, very cold
1 1/2c buttermilk
1t grated lemon zest
melted butter and crystal sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 400F and butter a baking sheet.

Put the peaches in the freezer briefly so that they are easier to mix with the dough.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix with a wooden spoon. Cut the butter into 1/2" cubes and scatter over the dry ingredients. Cut together, either with a pastry blender, 2 table knives, or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but don't overmix. You want to end up with a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter visible.

Add the buttermilk all at once along with the lemon zest and mix gently with the wooden spoon. Continue to mix just until you have a dough that holds together. You still want to see some of the butter pieces at this point, which will add to the flakiness of the scones once they are baked.

Dust your work surface with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, pat the dough into a rectangle about 18" long, 5" wide, and 1 1/2" thick. Brush the top with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the sugar. using a chef's knife, cut the dough into 12 triangles and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately

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At October 2, 2007 8:13 AM , Blogger steph said...

Since it was morning when I read this post, and I hadn't yet eaten anything, I decided to make scones for breakfast. Those looked so good, and I agree with you about eating them fresh from the oven. However, I was in my pj's and wasn't interested in going to the store to pick up fresh fruit and buttermilk/cream, so I found a different recipe that I had the base ingredients for, and then substituted dried cranberries and whole milk for the blueberries and cream. They turned out quite well, especially because the recipe called for fresh lemon zest- that gave it a nice kick without being too lemony. Delicious!

At November 7, 2007 11:56 AM , Anonymous clumsy said...

This recipe sounds fantastic. I'm allergic to raw peaches, but can eat them as long as they are cooked in some form. So I am always on the look-out for recipes---Thanks!

At November 7, 2007 12:05 PM , Blogger brian said...

Yeah, and the Tartine recipe uses currants, plumped up in water.

Peaches aren't so much in season right now, but you could do all sorts of stuff in scones. These days... cranberries? Meyer lemon? Persimmon? Or nuts, cacao nib, white chocolate chunks, even crunched-up coffee beans...

At August 30, 2008 6:25 PM , Blogger Jennifer A. Wickes said...

I love peaches and scones! These look fantastic.

At May 26, 2009 11:16 AM , Blogger ue said...

Thank you for posting this recipe! I've made them and they're sooo delicious. I live 3 blocks away from Tartine and these are just like theirs, only you can make an entire batch for the same price they charge for one. Even better with clotted cream...

At October 9, 2009 3:22 PM , Blogger trouble said...

I made these with two Fuyu persimmons (that were a bit on the hard side), but they turned out perfect!


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