Last year, an interesting book and I crossed paths. I put it down and picked it back up, again and again. I was intrigued. My cookbook collection is housed on multiple bookshelves in the dining room, with an occasional pile in the family room but eventually those too make their way to the shelves. Eventually. Except for this one. It has lived under my coffee table for over a year, within easy reach from the couch where I do a lot of my work. The book? Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole Grain Flours by Kim Boyce. First out of the gate was a fantastic Whole Wheat Chocolate Cookie that completely changed my perception of whole grain baking. I never, and I mean never, thought a cookie containing 100% whole wheat flour would be that delicious. There was nothing hippie dippy about them whatsoever.
I relate to this Kim Boyce. Right off, she is clear in her message. Sure these flours are healthier, contain more fiber, more nutrients and are less refined than a white flour. She makes note of that but first and foremost, she advocates the use of whole grain flours because they taste good. This is no holier than thou preachy health book. There are no heavy and leaden loaves that you eat, guiltily and unhappily, only because they’re good for you. Her recipes, befitting her pastry chef background, have great texture and taste really good. If I’m a little better off because there’s some whole grain in that cookie or more fiber in that crepe, then bravo but I like these recipes because they’re delicious.
From the start, one recipe in particular called to me, even before that cookie. Barley Scones. I’m not sure why but I was drawn to it like a moth to flame. The only problem was I had a helluva time finding barley flour. I looked everywhere to no avail. Sure, I could have purchased it online but the thought of paying almost 10 bucks to ship a $2.50 bag of flour really irked me. No scones for me anytime soon. Months later I was wandering through the bulk section at Whole Foods and stumbled upon a bin of barley flour. Had it been there all along? Probably. This was a boon. I much prefer buying these flours in bulk because I can purchase smaller amounts which are easier to deal with when you go on a wacky flour bender.
With the proper grain firmly in hand, I finally got around to making these scones. They were worth the wait – so good in fact, I made them twice in two days. Slightly sweet, nutty and just damn good with a depth of flavor you don’t usually get in a scone. Any type of jam can be used (the original calls for strawberry) but I thought orange marmalade would be perfect. It just so happened that I had several half filled jars of really good chunky stuff I was trying to get rid of and it turns out I was right. It was perfect. The sweet, slightly bitter pieces of orange peel complimented the nuttiness of the barley remarkably well. At first, I was a little disconcerted at how much marmalade oozed out during baking but quickly realized that those crispy caramelized bits were a delicious little nibble. Cook’s treat!
I varied the technique a bit to ensure a nice tender texture with a bit of flake. The key, as with all biscuits and flaky doughs, is to keep that butter cold, cold, very cold. A favorite trick of mine is to freeze the stick of butter solid and grate it on the large holes of a box grater directly into the dry ingredients. Work the wet ingredients in quickly to mix, pat it into two rounds then chill to get it really cold. The longer that butter stays cold in the oven, the better the overall texture. It’s a simple adjustment that works really well.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: BRING IT. If these are whole grain and we can pretend they’re somewhat healthy, then I say bring it on. Truth is with the butter and sugar, the health claims are legible but what I love is the nutty flavor the barley flour adds. It’s so much more interesting than a typical scone and just may become my standard go-to recipe. No kidding. And pick up that book, would you? Even if you only make two or three recipes, I think you’ll find it as interesting as I do. Plus let’s support Ms. Boyce so she writes another equally original book.
BARLEY MARMALADE SCONES adapted from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce
Makes 8 scones
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons barley flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, frozen until firm (1 stick)
½ cup buttermilk
1 large egg
½ cup Orange Marmalade (or any flavor jam)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar (or regular granulated sugar)
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
- For the dough: In a small bowl combine the egg and buttermilk. Set aside.
- Into a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
- Directly into the dry ingredients, grate the frozen butter on the large holes of a box grater. Move quickly so the butter stays very cold. Toss to coat.
- Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients/butter and mix until just combined.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead quickly a few times to incorporate any remaining dry bits.
- Divide the dough into two pieces and pat each into a 7” flat disc on a sheet of plastic wrap.
- Chill: Wrap the discs and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until very cold.
- Assemble: Unwrap one disc and spread the marmalade (or jam) on top, leaving a ½” border.
- Top with the other dough disc and press down gently to lightly adhere it to the marmalade.
- Brush the dough lightly with melted butter and sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar.
- Use a sharp knife to slice the circle into 8 triangular wedges, like a pie.
- Carefully separate the wedges, and transfer to the prepared sheet pan, leaving 2-3” between to allow for spreading during baking.
- Bake: Bake the scones for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through until the tops are golden brown. The marmalade will bubble out of the scones onto the pan but that’s expected and makes for some delicious bits to snack on.
- Let cool completely on the sheet pan.
- Scones are best the day they’re baked but these were still pretty tasty and surprisingly moist a day later which is usual for scones.