Perfecting the Scone: A Professional Baker’s #1 Secret
Natasha Holgers didn’t start out as a baker. She studied savory foods in culinary school and worked for years in restaurants. But baking, and specifically pastry, lured her, and finally – about 7 years ago – she resisted the urge no more. Natasha is now pastry production manager at award-winning and critically acclaimed Standard Baking Co., a hot artisanal bakery, located on the waterfront in Portland, Maine. This bakery is so popular that on summer days, they have been known to sell out…of everything.
One of Standard’s most popular baked goods is a Wild Blueberry Scone. The recipe for this scrumptious creation was developed 10 years ago as a way to feature local Wild Blueberries year round, and it remains a vital part of the repertoire. Standard Baking Co. makes about 250-300 scones a day during the busy summer season. The most popular is the prized Wild Blueberry Scone. During a recent morning conversation, Natasha shared the story of this scone and one very important baker’s secret that adds to its perfection.
What is the driving philosophy at Standard Baking?
I would say that we place enormous value on sourcing only the best ingredients. All of our whole grains and whole grain flours are 100% organic and sourced as much as possible from farms in Maine and Quebec. We choose organic, locally grown products and buy from small, family-owned suppliers whenever possible. Our naturally-leavened breads are made with our own organic starters, without any commercial yeast. We emphasize freshness, flavor and nutritional value in all of our choices.
What do you love about scones?
As a baker, scones offer so much possibility for working with seasonal ingredients and interesting flavor combinations. They’re a great way to incorporate whole grains and less refined sweeteners, or to feature a great local dairy product, like buttermilk. As an eater, I love the crunchy edges and buttery, flakey texture. It’s my first choice of treat with a cup of coffee.
Is the Wild Blueberry Scone popular?
Yes, this scone is very popular, especially during the tourist season, when everyone who comes to Maine is looking for lobster, Wild Blueberries, and whoopie pies. Last year the scone was re-invented a little, adding lemon and more Wild Blueberries, and this seemed to make it even more popular.
What makes the Wild Blueberry Scone so special?
It’s honestly all about those Wild Blueberries. I grew up in Virginia and we have those big, watery cultivated blueberries that don’t have any flavor. When I arrived in Maine and found these small Wild Blueberries, I was amazed how much intense flavor was concentrated in such a small amount of space. I feel like the Wild Blueberry flavor really pops in this scone and makes it a favorite.
What are some of your trade secrets?
One of the most important factors in making a scone is to keep all of the ingredients as cold as possible – this includes the butter, the yogurt and of course the berries. It’s essential to use frozen berries. By keeping everything frozen you allow for this wonderful release of steam during the baking process. This steam is what gives you a nice, tall, flakey scone. If we were to use fresh berries it would become a big mushy mess. That’s what we want to avoid.
What’s the process for keeping everything cold?
We start by buying our frozen Wild Blueberries from G.M. Allen & Son a fourth generation Wild Blueberry family from Blue Hill, Maine. When the berries arrive, we keep them frozen up to the moment we want to use them. Then, we grate up frozen butter and keep it as cold as possible. In order to create a delicious scone, all of the ingredients have to be super chilled. As soon as we are ready to make the scone, we pull our ingredients from the freezer.
Is there a trick to using the frozen berries?
No, using the frozen Wild Blueberry in a scone is pretty simple. We don’t prep the berries. We just mix them in at the end of the process keeping them as cold as possible.
Would cheaper cultivated berries work here?
No, I would not try using cultivated blueberries in a scone. There would be too much liquid and they do not have the flavor of the Wild Blueberry. You would end up with a heavy, dense scone and that’s not what we are looking for. Frozen Wild Blueberries are picked and frozen at their prime ripeness, they really hold onto their flavor and texture. If we were to use fresh blueberries it would completely turn to mush.
Who seems to be buying the scone?
During the summer, it’s all the tourists. But in the off-season, it’s men who seem to be buying it. I thought it would be a nice lady thing, but no, the men seem to love it! We also sell to moms who like getting it for their children.
What do customers say about the scone?
I talk to a lot of customers, and I definitely noticed that when we released the new recipe for the Wild Blueberry Scone, there was positive reaction. People really enjoyed the lemon flavor and the increase in Wild Blueberries. They taste even more vibrant now and people really enjoy them.
Are there any other special ingredients?
Yes, the yogurt. Our previous scone recipe used half & half, but we wanted a more tart flavor. The yogurt also gives the scone a better texture.