Scone of the Month: Sensing the way with lemons, thyme

I wrote recently of an inspiring book documenting a year in an Irish garden. Between it, the current stay-at-home orders and my own spring fever, I’ve been spending more time out back, with my trees and plants, in a bleary-eyed, sun-induced kind of green-fogged nature dream. In my meditative times amid my plants and flowers, among the wee birds (whose window-tapping is another summons outdoors) and even wee-er tree frogs, bees buzzing, green leaves rustling, I feel blessed that I am here to notice Spring, with a capital “S.”

So I took inspiration — as well as ingredients — from my little backyard oasis when making scones this month. My Meyer lemons, glowing from their hanging spots on the trees (where they stay fresher since they have a short shelf life once picked), were as full and waiting as yellow water balloons, so, naturally, my mind went to lemon scones.

I wasn’t only thinking lemon-yellow, but also a bit of the green so brightly dominant and brilliant in the spring sunshine, it hurt my eyes (in a good way). I had descended to my knees one day and freed my thyme bed of weeds to make room for the beautiful, curly tendrils coiling out from the little aromatic carpets I had already been plundering to use in soups and savory dishes. Most heady was the lemon thyme, which really tasted lemony. I had, in fact, made tea with just a tuft of the stuff steeped in hot water and found it to be the best tea I ever had. 

A scone with both lemon and lemon-thyme seemed a sure-fire winner and winning representative of Spring. I zested one whole Meyer lemon to use and picked enough leaves from thyme sprigs to amount to about a tablespoon for the scones.

I used a basic scone  recipe, one with a small amount of sugar and a whole stick of butter cubed and cut into all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt). 

I tossed the Meyer lemon zest and lemon thyme leaves in with the dry ingredients and butter, wispy additions, to be sure, but packed with potent flavor.

My recipe called for tangy buttermilk. To this, I decided a little more depth of lemon flavor (beyond the zest) might be nice with a bit of lemon extract, which I stirred into the buttermilk.

I mixed the buttermilk and extract into the dry ingredients lightly with a fork, just until everything began to take on the moisture, turning it into a shaggy dough.

With a few kneads, the dough, though on the dryish side, did come together into a cohesive ball.

Next, another tactile task (which is one of the many reasons I love baking) — flattening the dough ball into a circle, approximately 7 to 8 inches in diameter and about 1/2-inch thick.

Using a sharp knife, I cut the dough into 8 wedges, then into the oven for baking at 350° for about 25 minutes.

The scones, delightfully fragrant, were also pleasingly golden, baked to an almost buttery color that resembled a freshly baked pie crust.

I wanted a little sheen on the scones, though, and a little more punch of lemon flavor, so I took a cue from some of my favorite lemon cake recipes and made a lemon simple syrup (see recipe below) and brushed the scones lightly with the warm concoction, enough to coat their tops with a sticky shininess, but not too much, as I didn’t want to make them soggy.

Lemons, lemon thyme and, well, more time, couldn’t have turned out better. These scones were delicate and tender, just lightly crusty with buttery innards flecked with herb-y lemon and an added lemon-tart boost from the slightly sticky glazed top. Eating one, my mind went to teas and garden parties and my own garden, which is eventually where, these days, I inevitably wander.

Lemon-Lemon Thyme Scones

Makes 8 scones

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme leaves (regular thyme OK, too)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • Lemon Simple Syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 spring lemon thyme (optional)

Heat oven to 350°. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter with fingers or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Toss in lemon zest and thyme leaves to distribute evenly.

Mix buttermilk and lemon extract in a measuring cup, then pour into dry ingredients and mix together with a fork just until all seems combined. On a lightly floured board, knead dough just a few times until it comes together. Form dough into a ball.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, flatten the dough evenly into a circle that is about 7 to 8 inches in diameter and about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the circle into equal wedges with a sharp knife. Do not separate — bake the wedges together in their circle.

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until light golden brown. While the scones are baking, prepare the simple syrup by combining the sugar, lemon juice water and thyme (if using) in a small saucepan over low to medium heat, stirring until the sugar seems dissolved. Bring the syrup to a boil and let it cook for just a few minutes until thickened slightly, then remove from heat. Brush the still-warm scones with the warm syrup. Cool completely.

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