How to Make Bakery-Style Chocolate Scones

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Whether February 14 represents a special occasion or just another Tuesday, I don't see any reason why the day shouldn't start off with a warm chocolate scone. It's a fast and simple way to make any morning special, with or without an official excuse to do so. While it's strangely difficult to find a good scone these days (store-bought versions always seem so dry), they're freakishly simple to make at home.

You can make these scones with whatever sort of chocolate you prefer, but I've found that dark types can seem almost astringent in the lightly sweetened dough. In the context of the otherwise buttery but simple scone, milk chocolate offers just the right sweetness and flavor, especially if it's on the darker end of the spectrum. Look for brands like Endangered Species 48% in supermarkets, or buy in bulk online; I used Valrhona's Caramélia 36%, made with caramel rather than sugar for more bitterness and complexity than is offered by a typical milk chocolate.

Once you've figured out what sort of chocolate you'd like in the scones, the recipe itself comes together in a flash. Just sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl, then add the cubed butter and smash each piece flat. Continue smashing and rubbing to create a coarse meal, with no bits of butter larger than a Cheerio. As in a pie dough, butter coats flour, which helps limit gluten development, delivering more tender scones.

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If you like, you can finish the recipe through this step, then wrap the bowl tightly in plastic wrap and stash it in the fridge overnight to streamline prep for breakfast or brunch. Truth be told, my scones don't use a lot of butter, so this part comes together really fast. But it's a nice make-ahead option if you're planning a more complicated spread.

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To make up for the comparative lack of butter, my scones use a lot of cream. Cream is higher in lactose (a natural milk sugar) than butter, which helps the scones brown in the oven. I cut that richness with a splash of milk to hydrate the dough. Using 100% cream would make a dry but rich dough that's golden and tender, but far too crumbly and dense. Meanwhile, using all milk would make the dough sticky, wet, and lean, producing a pale scone that's fluffy but chewy, bordering on tough. After much experimentation, I've found that a 1:3 ratio of milk to cream by weight is just right, making the scones light but tender and tawny gold.

Once the dough comes together, turn it onto a lightly floured surface, and gently pat it into a seven-inch round, using your palms to tidy up the edges. If you're serving the scones as part of a more complicated brunch, you can get away with eight or nine pieces, but when serving scones on their own, you'll want to cut no more than six.

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Since the dough itself contains less than a half ounce of sugar, I like to finish the scones with a dusting of lightly toasted sugar to help crisp their craggy tops. If you've been baking along with me this past year, then you probably have a bag of lightly toasted sugar left over from blind-baking a pie crust. With its subtle sweetness and a mellow caramel flavor that will only intensify in the oven, toasted sugar is the perfect topping for scones, but if you don't have any on hand, it's fine to use turbinado instead.

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Whatever the case, remember: It's cut, then sprinkle. Doing it the other way around will cause the sugar crystals to drag down with the knife, creating ragged cuts that look sloppy and can cause the scones to deform as they rise. But if you cut the dough and then sprinkle the sugar on top, each wedge will look sharp and clean.

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To help the scones crisp along the bottom without drying out, it's best to bake them on a parchment-lined half sheet pan in a 400°F (204°C) oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes. The time will depend on exactly how thick the scones were patted out and the particulars of your oven and pan, so visual cues will be more reliable than any timer.

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With their crispy tops, crunchy bottoms, and light but tender middles (not to mention those gooey pockets of molten chocolate), these scones are everything I ever wanted in a last-minute Valentine's Day treat.

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If you're feeling really generous, warm chocolate scones are amazing with a dollop of Super-Thick and Fruity Whipped Cream, which recalls the combination of strawberry jam and clotted cream.

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Not that they need it. These scones are rich and moist all on their own, served with nothing more than a piping-hot mug of coffee or tea.