I first discovered savory baked goods when I was in middle school. And the first savory baked good I ever made was a batch of cheddar cheese scones.
I can’t remember where the original recipe came from–I assume it was an old copy of Better Homes & Gardens magazine my mom had lying around. I brought that recipe to her, and she granted me permission (and I assume, help) to make them.
Fast forward a few decades and add in a recent trip to New Zealand–where cheese scones are ubiquitous–and I was again inspired to make this savory treat. But, having tasted several variations on both the North & South Island, my old recipe fell short of its remembered glory. Too dense, too floury, not cheesy enough. Cheddar-lead balloons!
It’s also possible that our home west of Rapid City has something to do with it. At 3,550 feet in elevation, I’ve found a lot of go-to baked good recipes have needed some tweaks. I started reading up on scone recipes and tips and mashing up recipes I’d found based on the direction I wanted my scones to go: more cheesy, less heavy, a more tender crumb.
I wanted them to be tasty plain and room-temp (not optimal, but sometimes you need to pack a field lunch) but also split-able and toast-able in a slot toaster (because that’s what we have) without crumbling to bits. I’m pleased to report that after multiple batches (and my dear one possibly near to crying “Uncle!”), I’ve gotten to a basic cheddar scone recipe that I’m really happy with.
Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on your altitude, humidity, and tastes. But give this a try! I think it’s great.
Cheddar Cheese Scones
- 3 cups pastry flour
- 2 TB baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaf, crumbled
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano leaf, crumbled
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper powder
- 6 TB cold butter
- 1 3/4 – 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (plus a little extra for sprinkling tops)
- 1 TB prepared Dijon or grainy mustard
- 1 1/4 cups half-and-half or milk
Directions: Place all dry ingredients (including dried seasonings) into a food processor and pulse to blend. Then, cut cold butter into chunks, add to processor, and pulse again (briefly! you want some pea-sized bits). You can, of course, do this step the old-fashioned way without a machine.
Dump the flour mix into a bowl and stir in the shredded cheese. Add the prepared mustard and half-and-half or milk and stir to create a shaggy dough. Dump out on the counter and fold/push together gently to incorporate all the bits–patting out into a rectangle about 1 1/2″ thick.
Use a knife or pastry cutter to divide into 8 or 10 pieces and place them on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Brush the tops with half-and-half (or milk) & sprinkle with a little cheese. Now, put the sheet in the fridge while you pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. When it’s hot, slide the pan out of the fridge and into the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes til golden brown.
Notes to know:
It’s absolutely worth it to use pastry flour. A lot of scone recipes I’ve seen (and tried) call for all-purpose, but you’ll get a much more tender crumb with the lower protein content of pastry flour. That said, if you’re jones-ing for a scone and don’t have pastry flour, try it with all-purpose. Just be gentle with the dough–don’t knead it because you’ll make the end product tough.
Cayenne pepper doesn’t make the scones spicy, but it really contributes to the depth of flavor through some mystical alchemy with the cheddar.
I buy fairly inexpensive “sharp-ish” cheddar in a block and grate it fresh for this recipe. I’ve seen recipes warn against using pre-shredded due to the coating they put on that stuff to keep it from sticking together in the bag. I’m not really certain how much of a difference that would make, but it’s cheaper by the block anyhow.
This recipe, as simple and delicious as it is, is begging for variations like green chilies or caramelized onions or bacon or scallions or…whatever you like. I’d recommend adding those wet ingredients right after mixing in the cheese (which could also be changed up). If you want to vary the dried herbs, add with dry ingredients.
Enjoy! And let me know how it turns out for you.