The veteran followers among you know by now my love for scones – and the uninitiated will now also be privy to this special love. Scones are important. They are dry and subtly sweet, perfect for toppings and able to condense perfectly into cakey, supple splendor in your mouth while you chew. You know what else is important? Coffee. And the coffee stand across from mine (called Northern Spy on the High Line – check it out if you’re in New York!) is called Blue Bottle. They originated in San Francisco, staff delightful people, and make extraordinary cookies. Among their cookies are my favorite snickerdoodles, made with hints of vanilla bean and saffron. They’re releasing a recipe book, from which I was able to sneak a peek at the recipe for these soft circles, and from where the inspiration for these scones was born.
A precious golden color, these scones have a haze-inducing aroma, with the floral notes of saffron riding on the earthy body of vanilla straight up into your brain. A little brown sugar and a drizzle of simple icing give the lofty aroma a hint of subtle sweetness that invites the flavor to linger on your tongue just a little bit longer. This experiment in cookie-to-scone translation was a wild success that I will definitely be adding to my future repertoire. Thinking it’s impossible? Not so! Saffron and vanilla beans, while *exotic* or whatever you want to call them are relatively easy to come by in this day and age. If you don’t have a specialty food store somewhere near you, I hear vanilla beans are available online for as cheap as $0.50. Perhaps from questionable sources, but hey … you do what you can. I bought mine at an Italian boutique in Chelsea Market. New York is just like that.
Maybe you’re concerned about saffron in a sweet pastry. Saffron!? Once formerly in the domain of my brain used only for paella, Blue Bottle’s snickerdoodles changed my perspective completely. Give these a shot. You’ll be blown away at saffron’s heavy fragrance once infused with the cream, and you’ll be holding these buggers to your nose holes for hours before you actually get a chance to eat them. Here’s the recipe, adapted in part from Blue Bottle’s Snickerdoodles and my friend Katy’s dad’s scone recipe:
Vanilla Saffron Scones
~40 threads saffron, ground to a fine powder (don’t skimp, and don’t overdo it!)
1/2 of a vanilla bean (you can put the other half in a tub of some white sugar to passively infuse the flavor for another time!)
1 C heavy cream
2 C flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp cold butter, cut into little bits
1/2 C confectioners sugar
splash of heavy cream (however much is needed to get the right consistency)
splash of vanilla extract (sorry this is so vague … icing is just wet sugar and I always just guess)
1. Preheat your oven to 425°. Score your vanilla bean down the center and scrape the pulp into a small saucepan. Throw in the rest of the bean and your freshly ground saffron. Add the 1 C of cream and heat just until the edges start to bubble. Stir constantly to avoid a film developing. Either transfer immediately to a metal bowl over a larger bowl of ice and continue stirring to cool (this takes some time…) or stick it in the fridge for a bit until cool, at least room temp. The latter will cause a film to form but you can just peel it off, no big deal.
2. Combine the 1 C flour, 1 Tbsp baking powder, 2Tbsp white sugar, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together. Add the bits of cold butter and dig into it with your hands until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs and there are no clumps of butter left. It should be fluffy and fine, and hold together loosely like a dirt clod if you squeeze it tightly.
3. Beat the egg and add it to the cooled vanilla-saffron cream, which should be a delightful pale yellow. Add the egg and cream mixture to the flour butter mixture and work with a spatula until combined. Turn onto a generously floured surface and knead with your hands for a while until the surface is smooth, about five minutes.
4. Mold into a disc about 9 inches across, maybe about 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut into 8 triangles and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 15-18 minutes, until golden on top.
5. Cool on a rack, drizzle with some of your icing if you’ve made some, and enjoy! Make sure to break off a bit and hold it up to your nose and smell it for a good long while. Dream of crimson crocus stigmas (that’s saffron!) and crinkly orchid fruits (that’s vanilla!) and start your day right.
Peace, love, and plant bits,