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I have long adored scones.

Initially it was because that’s what everyone in my Jane Austen and Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse books were always eating. I hadn’t actually had a scone at that time, but once ensconced in Memphis I found myself alternating Bro. Juniper’s biscuits, La Patisserie’s pain au chocolat and scones baked at the Squash Blossom Natural Foods market. They were like biscuits, only creamier and often had fruit in them.

Once I arrived in Emporia (after six years of French bread and croissants in Tallahassee), I decided I missed them and starting trying recipes. It has taken 10 years of intermittent annual attempts, but I have finally found what is very appropriately titled the “Best Scones Ever” recipe.

I have this habit of clipping things from magazines and cutting them in files, only to forget they exist. Usually, around the winter holidays, I’ll haul out the notebooks and start looking through them. I will choose about 30 recipes I’ve never tried or dearly love, and end up making about 10 of them. Not very diligent, am I?

Last December, I pulled a recipe from Betty Joyce Mills of Birmingham, Ala., which was published Southern Living in December 2010. It only took me two years to get around to it! And it really is what it says: Best. Scones. Ever.

What I learned using this recipe:

My previous doughs were too moist and overworked. Barely handle the dough and pat it into shape — do not roll.

The butter should be almost frozen. Don’t neglect to freeze the dough according to the recipe directions.

BEST SCONES EVER

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into half-inch cubes

1 cup whipping cream, divided

Wax or parchment paper, or a silicon baking mat

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. (It will take about 10 minutes to assemble and chill the dough, so judge your energy usage accordingly. My oven makes it to 450 in about four minutes, so I wait.)

Stir together first four ingredients in a large bowl. (I used a whisk for better incorporation.)

Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and mixture resembles small peas. (I did this by hand first, which took some muscle. Then I used a food processor on pulse, taking care not to heat up the dough by using the blades too long at one time, and it worked just as well.)

Freeze the dough for five minutes.

Add 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons cream, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. (I used the processor again, on pulse. When the dough started clumping I stopped and turned it out onto my marble board. Once, the dough was still a bit dry, so I worked in about another tablespoon of cream by hand.)

Turn dough out onto waxed paper; gently press or pat dough into a seven-inch round. Mixture will be crumbly. (I used an ice-cold marble board for this part. In the past my circles were wider, hence the scones thinner and overcooked. Seven inches is good.)

Cut into eight wedges. Place wedges two inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush tops of wedges with remaining 2 Tablespoons of cream just until moistened. (I used a Silpat baking mat once and parchment several times. I did not need to grease anything. I brushed a few batches with butter instead of cream, which was tasty, too.)

Bake at 450 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes or just until golden.

Makes eight large scones or 16 small ones.

* * *

Now, here are all the neat tricks you can do with this recipe.

Instead of eight large scones, divide the dough in half, patting it into two four-inch rounds. Cut each of those into eight wedges and have mini-scones. You could even divide it into three rounds, about two and a half inches, cut those into six wedges and have bite-size scones, but you will need to reduce the cooking time to 10 minutes.

After the scones are baked, glaze them with a nice topping. Chocolate is good, and Southern Living suggests this:

VANILLA SCONE GLAZE

1 cup powdered sugar

1 Tablespoon milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk it all together, adding up to 2 teaspoons additional milk for desired consistency. Drizzle over scones.

* * *

Now, even more fun! Add-ins!

I have made all the sweet variations, and I whole-heartedly trust Southern Living on the savory variations. Let’s get cooking!

Chocolate-Cherry Scones

Stir in 1/4 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped and 2 ounces (I used 4) coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate (I used 80% cacao dark chocolate) with the cream.

Apricot-Ginger Scones

Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots and 2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger with the cream.

Cranberry-Pistachio Scones

Stir in 1/4 cup sweetened, dried cranberries and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped roasted pistachios with the cream. (I used a variety of nuts with this one, being short on pistachios and long on almonds, pecans and walnuts).

Brown Sugar-Pecan Scones

Substitute brown sugar for granulated sugar. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans with the cream. (Do toast the nuts, it makes them richer. I used dark brown sugar, and made a bourbon-powdered sugar glaze for the top. Holy cow!)

For the savory recipes omit the sugar.

Bacon, Cheddar and Chives Scones

Stir in 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup finely chopped, cooked bacon, 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper with the cream.

Ham and Swiss Scones

Stir in 3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese and 3/4 cup finely chopped ham with the cream. Serve with mustard butter: Stir 1/2 cup softened butter with 1 Tablespoon spicy brown mustard and 1 Tablespoon minced sweet onion.

Pimiento Cheese Scones

Stir in 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 3 Tablespoons minced roasted red bell peppers with the cream.

Rosemary, Pear and Asiago Cheese Scones

Stir in 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh pear, 1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary with the cream.

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