European-style butter makes a big difference in this dish; it has a slightly higher butterfat content than everyday supermarket butter. If you're sticking close to the theme, look for good Irish butter.
What does it mean to cut the butter into the flour mixture? The butter is added cold, in small pieces, and needs to be incorporated into the dry ingredients so that it is well distributed throughout but still maintains a pebbly texture. That way, when the scones bake, the butter melts into the dough, and creates flaky scones with tiny pockets of air to keep the texture light.
Blending the butter in with a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or quick rubbing movements with your fingers allows this to happen, without creaming the butter into the dough, which would create a denser scone.
As with biscuits or really any quick bread, the less you handle the dough the better. Over-mixing or kneading will activate proteins in the flour, making the resulting baked goods a bit tough. The dough might seem a little sticky; that's fine, just work quickly and nimbly, and make sure the work surface is well dusted with flour. Lightly dust the top of the dough too so that your fingers won't stick to it when you pat it out for cutting into circles.
These scones are not too sweet, as their intended filling is smoked, salty fish, but if you are wishing for scones to slather with butter and jam, you might add another tablespoon or two of sugar.
Irish scones with smoked salmon
Makes • about 10 scones
Start to finish • 25 minutes
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for patting out the dough
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup milk, preferably whole
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
About 3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter for serving
1/2 pound good-quality smoked salmon
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a clean work surface.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, with no piece of butter larger than a pea. In a small bowl, combine the milk and the egg yolk. Stir the milk mixture into the dry ingredients just until the mixture comes together.
Turn the dough onto the floured work surface, and roll or pat it out to 1 1/4-inch thick. Cut out 2 1/2-inch circles with a biscuit cutter, as close as possible to one another. Gently pat together the scraps so they are 1 1/4-inch thick, and cut out another two or three circles as possible. Place them on the prepared baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl, and use a pastry brush to lightly brush the top of each scone with the egg mixture.
Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool until barely warm, or at room temperature. Split them in half with a fork, or cut them with a sharp knife, spread the butter evenly between the scones, layer some salmon onto each bottom half, and place the scone tops over the salmon.
Nutrition information per serving • 373 calories; 163 calories from fat; 18 g fat (10 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 114 mg cholesterol; 389 mg sodium; 33 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 19 g protein.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman