Because my bakery was named “Lola Cookies & Treats,” people generally didn’t come to buy savory items. For these scones, however, they always made an exception.
I started making cheddar chive scones for my customers at the local farmers’ market: Each week I cut fresh chives from my garden, and with every new batch these scones became more of a cult item. Not just with my patrons, either. Before the market started each Saturday, neighboring vendors would circle around my stand for their new favorite breakfast.
Because they were so popular, we started offering cheddar chive scones at our storefront, too, sending out the fresh-baked word via social media. For years they were the only savory item on our menu.
Cheddar chive scones are best eaten warm. Sliced lengthwise and toasted, they work wonderfully for tuna-fish sandwiches — although a simple toasted, buttered scone is heaven in its own right, too. Customers loved to eat them with soup and stews; I think they’re the perfect match for a bowl of chili.
Bonus: Use this same recipe to make Cheddar Bacon Scones — just substitute bacon bits for the chives.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Stir until mixed.
Add chopped chives and grated cheese, stir.
Slowly stir in half-and-half until ingredients are just combined. DO NOT OVER MIX.
The moment this batter has come together, scrape it out of the bowl and put it on a lightly floured surface.
Now, use your hands to form the dough into a log shape. The dough will be stiff and sticky, so use a little flour to help handle it — but be sparing. When you’re done it should be evenly shaped, smooth on the surface, and not sticking to the counter anywhere.
Use a dough divider (or a knife) to split the log of dough in half.
Take half of the dough and pat it down into a circle that's about 9 inches in diameter and at least ¾ inches thick.
Using the dough divider, cut this circle into six pieces shaped like pie slices.
Repeat for the other half of the dough, for a total of 12 scones.
Put the scones on a pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. For the best presentation, brush them with an egg wash just before baking.
Bake for about 22 minutes. They should be golden brown on the edges when you take them out.
You can also use this recipe to make Cheddar Bacon Scones, which are equally excellent. Instead of chives, substitute an equal amount of bacon bits. Before baking, sprinkle extra bacon bits over the egg wash after you apply it.
We never shortened the name of these scones, even though it barely fit on our labels at the bakery. Why? Because each element was a crucial part of the description. These are scones with a lot going on.
There’s sweetness, plus a little tart, from the apricots. Crunch and character from the walnuts. Smoothness and more sweet oomph from the white chocolate. Texture and a visual flourish from the sugar on top. Combined with the lightness of the scone, all of this added up to one of our most-requested breakfast items — and a big reason for the lines each Saturday morning at our farmers’ market stand.
No need to stand in line anymore: Just brush up on my tips for baking scones, then make up a batch yourself. Serve them warm from the oven with a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy the sweet complexity.
I was not born into biscuit-baking. I was raised far north of the Mason-Dixon line, bereft of biscuits and other Southern staples. The first time I saw red dirt piled near construction sites, I was stunned. Was that color real? The first time someone called “Y’all come back now” as I was leaving a shop, I figured it was tongue-in-cheek. No: Just friendly.
I’ll never deny my Bostonian pride, but I have lived in the South for a long time now and I have come to love so much about it, from the climate to the magnolias to the hospitality.
And, of course, The Biscuit — six bites of love.
I got my biscuit recipe in college, from an Atlanta woman who knows the score. Mrs. L is the mother of a close friend from freshman year; I was a guest of the family one holiday weekend. In addition to a trip to the Varsity and a short history of Coca Cola, I was treated to some fine home cooking — including a breakfast complete with grits and home-made biscuits.
I told my kind hostess that I loved to bake and asked if she’d share the biscuit recipe. To my pleasure, she did. I knew immediately that I had something good: Mrs. L was from a long, proud line of Atlantans, and her biscuits were perfect.
When I tried to recreate those Atlanta biscuits, however, they wouldn’t come out perfectly for me. I remember baking a passable batch a in California sublet one summer; taking another few cracks in two consecutive Boston kitchens; and falling somewhat short yet again in a Brooklyn kitchen the size of a small closet. I nearly forgot what I was aiming for — but I kept trying.
(One of my greatest strengths as a baker, by the way: I’m happy to eat the stuff that’s not quite right, and I’m never too discouraged to try again.)
Ultimately I buckled down and dove deep into Southern biscuit-baking lore. I learned that a great recipe is just the start. You also must master Southern technique and details.
Let’s step back for a second. Biscuits are not the same all over the South. Some like them tall, some like them wide. Some like them big, while others think big biscuits are plain uncouth. Most will agree that a ham biscuit is the height of Southern civility and hospitality — it has ever been so and ever will be, amen. But then there’s biscuits and gravy, and biscuits with homemade peach preserves, which may be even better.
There’s lots of common ground, though. A good biscuit is hearty and light at the same time. It is golden and slightly crunchy on top, and it steams when you open it warm. Each bite melts in your mouth.
All of that, I knew.
What I had yet to learn: All Southerners know, for instance, that you bake biscuits with White Lily flour — it’s such common knowledge that their recipes generally don’t bother mentioning it.
White Lily is made only from “soft” winter wheat, which is lower in gluten and protein than the “hard” wheat used for bread flour. It’s almost like finely milled cake flour, so it rises better and makes a lighter biscuit. (Standard all-purpose flour, by contrast, is a mix of soft and hard wheat, with a blend that varies by brand.)
I also had to learn how Southerners handle biscuit dough (as little as possible); how Southerners cut biscuit dough (don’t use the top of a glass!); and how Southerners treat butter (keep it cold all the way to the oven).
When I put all of this together, I finally unlocked the genius of the Atlanta recipe. I have loved making biscuits ever since. I may not have been born in the South, but I’ve worked hard to learn its ways — and I have been rewarded in return. The ultimate moment, perhaps, was in 2007, shortly after I opened my bakery here in Virginia: I was featured in Southern Lady magazine. Mrs. L would be proud!
Here, then, is the recipe for Atlanta biscuits. On a separate page I’ve gathered all I’ve learned about bringing biscuits to their full glory. Once you know the techniques, it’s all fairly simple. In the words of a baker whom I heard summing up biscuit-baking: “It’s just baking powder, flour, shortening … and then you put the love in.”
In bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt
Add butter to mixer on low speed; run until butter is broken down into bits slightly smaller than pea-sized
Add cream in a steady stream as the mixer runs. Keep running until just combined.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface
As quickly and gently as possible, pat dough into a ball, then roll out to about 1” thick.
Use a sharp round biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits. (I use a round cutter 2½" in diameter. If you use a smaller size, your biscuits might take slightly less time to bake.) Arrange them close together on a baking pan. Brush all with beaten egg.
A friend who grew up in Memphis once told me that when she didn’t move fast enough in P.E. class, the teacher would prod her: “Whatcha doin’ Sarah? Baking biscuits??”
I love this taunt for so many reasons. It’s funny and fond and just so Southern to my Yankee-bred ear. I love it as a baker, too, because it comes from a culture that understands biscuits: Biscuits need care and attention — you can’t bake them while running laps or whatnot.
In short, baking biscuits (and scones, which use the same basic techniques and ingredients) is a craft. It’s about knowledge and technique and focus. Once you have the touch, however, you can dash off perfect biscuits and scones every time. You don’t even need to be Southern: A few basic tips will get anyone pretty close to perfection.
Here are what I consider to be the essentials of biscuit and scone baking:
Butter carries flavor like nothing else. It gives the best mouth texture. It outperforms any alternative. I know there are lard fans out there, and I try to be open-minded, but I have tested and tasted and I am sure where I stand on this. Furthermore, in the words of a fine Georgia woman who shared her biscuit recipe with me, “Sometimes you can be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”
2.Add Butter and All Liquids Cold
Here’s where you get that oomph. Add ingredients cold, and try to keep them cool as you work. Don’t cream the butter, as you might for cakes or cookies. Break it down into little grains within the flour. I do this with a mixer, but some bakers cut in their butter by hand. Either way, keep it cool all the way to the oven. Don’t over-handle the dough with your warm hands. Don’t leave it on a warm counter for an hour. The best rising happens when cold butter enters a hot oven. Maximize it.
3.Work Fast and Light
Mix and shape dough only just enough, and no more. For one thing, over-working means over-warming. But dough-handling is a separate point, too, because biscuit and scone dough is sensitive. Shape it on a cool surface by patting it lightly — never knead it like bread.
4.There Is a Minimum Height
Don’t pat your dough too thin! I am religious about this. At Lola’s I used a ruler every time to ensure that my biscuits were at least 1″ thick when I cut them. Scones should be at least 3/4″ high when they’re cut. Any less and they just won’t bake right.
5.Make a Clean Cut
If you’re cutting biscuits, don’t twist the cutter, even at the end. If you’re cutting scones, don’t drag a knife. Use a nice sharp instrument and cut decisively — straight down. Tearing your dough will inhibit its rise.
6.Bake ‘Em Close Together
Whether you’re baking scones or biscuits, fit them together on your pan somewhat snugly. I leave about a finger’s width between items. And place your pan near the top of the hot oven. This is all about air circulation and maximizing the rise.
There you go: A light, flavorful final product, every time.
Not enough for you? Want to learn more, more, more about biscuit culture? Craving a stroll down Biscuit Boulevard? Yearning to become Miss Biscuit? (Or Mr. Biscuit?) Itching to submit your Biscuit Art for judging — or your Biscuit Songwriting? Have I got a 2016 vacation for you!
A couple of years ago, an out-of-town fire truck — from Alexandria, maybe? — pulled up to our bakery after a local call. The guys came in relaxed, happy, and hungry, and we all enjoyed chatting with them. (One employee especially! You know it.)
Fire fighters cook and have appetites — and they know from bakeries. These guys wondered if we had any Nutella Scones. We didn’t, but they left laden with our other great flavors. Still, even before their big red truck pulled out of our parking lot we were plotting a Nutella recipe because:
Great idea; and
Maybe we could tempt these guys back?
I tried a recipe right away, but it had the wrong texture and spread too much. I adapted it and tried again: No luck. I wanted the Nutella flavor to come through, but to keep that classic scone form. Then the bakery got very busy and I had no time for such experiments.
Over several months I returned to the recipe whenever I had a spare moment. Progress was slow, but my staff and kids loved each “failure” — they urged me to sell them, but I held out. I was sure they could be better.
Finally, after taking time away from the project and returning to it fresh, I think I’ve got it: These are the scones you’re looking for.
Firemen, if you’re out there: These are for you. And even though that one employee has a great guy now, she can always keep this recipe in reserve — in case of fire.
These are surprisingly light considering that they are made with Nutella.
8½ oz. unbleached all-purpose flour (~2 cups)
1.5 oz granulated sugar (~1/4 cup)
1 oz unsweetened American process cocoa powder (~1/4 cup )
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
⅓ cup Nutella
1 large egg
½ cup heavy cream (add a touch more if needed)
Roughly ⅓ cup semi sweet chocolate to melt for drizzling on top
Roughly ½ cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped—to go on the top
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and run it on low speed until butter is broken down.
Stop the mixer and add the Nutella. Stir again until just combined.
Stir together the egg and heavy cream in a separate bowl, then add these to the mixer. The dough should be moist, a bit sticky, not dry. If you need to add another tablespoon or so of cream then do so. Just be careful not to overmix at this step.
Now use a spatula to scape the dough out of the mixer and off the paddle, patting it into a ball a bit as you move your dough onto a lightly floured surface.
Pat the dough gently with your clean hands into a cylinder or log shape about 7" long, then cut this in half and flatten each into circles about ¾" high. Use a dough dividing tool or a sharp knife to divide this into wedges and make 6 scones.
Place the scones on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake on the center rack for about 22 minutes. The bottoms should be just starting to brown and a cake tester will come out clean.
Once they've cooled a bit, drizzle them with melted semi-sweet chocolate and sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top.
Among my bakery staff, these handfuls were known as “Pumpkin Yum.” I bake ’em Texas size, which means — in case you didn’t already know — BIG.
Like my Pumpkin Scones, this is another recipe that works great as breakfast or in a seasonal bread basket on the dinner table.
The muffins are versatile in other ways, too: You can make the batter ahead and store it in airtight Tupperware. In the fridge the mixture keeps for days — so you can bake muffins warm whenever you like. (Let the batter reach room temperature before baking, or add a few minutes to baking time.)
In the freezer the batter will last even longer: Several weeks at least. You can make it right now and save it for Thanksgiving breakfast, for instance. Just thaw out the batter beforehand, and bake it when you need.
I started by selling cookies at the farmers' market. Then, in 2006, I rented a few small rooms in an old Victorian building in historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia, and turned them into the bakery of my dreams.
We baked everything in our open kitchen using no preservatives and no artificial flavors — because that's how it tastes best.
Lola's was featured on The Rachael Ray Show and Fox 5 TV; in Washingtonian magazine and Northern Virginia magazine; and on the cover of Loudoun Magazine.
In 2013 our building was sold and converted to office spaces, so we closed — at least for the moment. So many customers asked for our recipes that I started this blog in response.