My old hometown of Buenos Aires is a city of many cultures. It’s a little bit like the New York City of South America, with a colorful and vibrant history marked by the cultural legacies of many immigrant communities. Not many know that the United Kingdom was one of the countries that had a huge influence in Argentina, and British teatime gained popularity just as much as the Spanish merienda. While Spain was the country that colonized Argentina and gave the country its Spanish language, Catholic religion, and much of its ebullient culture, other nations left their mark too. English, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants flocked to Argentina as well in search of economic opportunity and often formed their own cultural and athletic clubs, schools, newspapers, and gardens, and brought with them the British tradition of teatime. Believe it or not, scones became very popular right in the heart of South America, and they were and still are a staple served with a restorative cup of strongly-brewed black tea.
Now that fall has arrived here in the US-the British would say “autumn”-I am reminded of many after-school meriendas and teatimes, when a plate of scones or some fruitcake would be served at the kitchen table so that I could settle into my homework with a snack. Usually the scones would be sweet and featured currants or raisins. When I came to the US, I was surprised to find that the scones sold in coffee shops were much sweeter than their European or South American counterparts, and were also three times the size! But they were scones nonetheless, and I accepted them wholeheartedly for the wonderfully baked good that they are, and for representing a continuum among the two countries I where I’ve lived. It was fun to try varieties like orange cranberry and blueberry almond, but I am often left struggling to find a good savory scone, especially in coffee shops. I figured that if I didn’t develop a recipe for savory scones soon, they might quickly become a kind of endangered species in the culinary world, and I couldn’t let that happen!
I know that when we think of fall and autumn, we typically think of baking with apples, pumpkin, and cinnamon; they are the signature flavors of the season. I love seeing the beautiful fruits and herbs and veggies at the local co-op, and imagining the aromas they can lend when being used in a dessert like a crisp or a tart or a pie, or in this case, scones. In truth, my visits to the farmers markets and local co-op reminded me that there are many other spices and fruits that are also typical of very late summer and early fall, such as figs, grapes, pears, spices like cardamom and nutmeg, and herbs like sage and thyme. I think these fruits and flavors also say “fall” to me. I’ve been trying to highlight some of these other fall flavors that tend to get overlooked in the frenzy for apples, cinnamon, and pumpkin, and decided to include them in my fall baking this year, including this recipe for savory scones. Pears in particular are such a wonderful fruit: they are sweet and melon-like, they usually come into ripeness late summer and into the fall, they are a great ingredient for both sweet and savory dishes, and pair perfectly with cheese. It’s a win-win! They are a fall fruit that grows here in Minnesota as well as in Argentina. Sometimes if I’m really lucky, my local co-op has pears from Argentina. The most popular pear in the US is the Bartlett pear, and if hard-pressed you could use it, but it tends to get soft and mushy when baked. If possible, using Bosc pears is better because the Bosc is a little bit firmer and keeps its shape; they won’t turn mushy when heated like Bartlett pears do. Regardless of the variety, pears are truly delightful for baking and capture a unique aspect of the palate of the season. For this recipe, it is best to use firm pears. That way, they will not end up all mashed up into the dough, and you will retain some of the texture. The pears lend a light sweetness that is echoed by the scant brown sugar in the recipe, and the Gruyère, while it might be strong and funky-smelling, will have a nice, subtle, creamy flavor after the scones are baked. Lastly, I included fresh sage because it’s been growing in my flower pot all summer. Sage is an herb I’m learning to use. I typically use it to season poultry and in a brown-butter sauce with gnocchi. I thought the sage would add a nice contrast and a touch of earthiness to the savory scones, but if there’s another herb that you really love (personally, I love rosemary), you could go with that as well.
If you are hoping to be able to feature autumn’s bounty at its best, this savory recipe can be a good fit. It is fast, simple, and comes together and emerges freshly baked out of the oven in less than an hour. It makes a wonderful addition to a breakfast or brunch table, or a side dish for soup or salad, or even offers a savory option for teatime. They are an incredible celebration of those wonderful aromas and flavors of fall that sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. So if you happen to get a beautiful, clear autumn day, and feel like doing a bit of seasonal baking, I hope you will try this recipe with a hot cup of tea or pear cider!
Pear and Gruyère Scones
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup cold butter, diced
- ½ cup milk
- 2 pears, finely chopped, approximately 1 cup
- 1 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
- ¼ cup fresh sage, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp milk, for brushing
- 16-20 small sage leaves, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Prepare a baking sheet, lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar.
- Make a well in the center and add the butter, rubbing into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. If you’re using a stand mixer, use the dough hook.
- Gradually add in the milk, mixing with a spatula, until the dough comes together. Shape it into a ball, but be careful not to overmix.
- Add the chopped pear, Gruyère cheese, and chopped sage, mixing it by hand. Do not use the stand mixer for this step, or the fruit and cheese will mash up together. Mix by hand until the fruit and cheese are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
- Pat the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll it until it achieves 1 inch thickness.
- Using a biscuit cutter, cut about 8 scones and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with milk and, if desired, garnish with a few fresh sage leaves. Then bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown, let stand for 5 minutes, then remove from the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack.
- These scones are best eaten the same day they are baked. You could store them in a tin for about 2 days. If you want to prepare ahead, you can keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, until the day you bake them.
© 2021 Carol’s Baking Adventures