Nigel Slater's Crumbed Mackerel
Anya von Bremzen's Roasted Halibut

Hannah Milman's and Susan Spungen's Blueberry Bannock Scone


Attempting to wean myself off sugar a few months before the dreaded season in which far too many fleshy bits of oneself are exposed for the world to see, I stayed away from my beloved baking (well, sweet baking) for quite some time. I didn't manage to wean myself off sugar entirely, but taking a break from the batter bowl actually felt sort of good. The last sweet thing I baked were those phenomenal pecan cookies - on February 17th! I'm quite impressed with my self-restraint.

It's a good thing I have Ben as an excuse. The poor boy had gone without his freezer scones for so long he was beginning to look quite peaked (piqued? both!). So without further ado, I flung myself upon that stack of photocopies from my cookbook collection and dug out this recipe to try. It sounded so cozy and delicious: with buttermilk for a tender crumb and enough butter for richness, the crunch of wheatgerm and chopped nuts, and best of all, a thick layer of jammy berries in the middle.

I substituted chopped almonds for the pecans (but if you can, avoid doing that - the pecans would have added an extra layer of flavor, while the almonds sort of sank blankly in the background), and used a tablespoon less sugar sprinkled over the berries; they just didn't seem to need it. But like I said, I'm being a little sugar-wary these days. That extra spoonful certainly would not have pushed these into toothache territory - in fact, it might have given a little extra sparkle to the berry layer.

It's particularly easy to assemble because there is no fussing with cutting shapes - you just pat out half the dough into a thin circle (this gets a bit sticky, but use a light touch and some extra flour - you'll be fine), cover it with the berries (I used frozen ones, and they were gorgeous, like dozens of tiny jewels covered with a frosty glint) and then pat out the rest of the dough to be flipped on top of the berries. You score this big pie of sorts with a knife and then break it apart after it's been baked and cooled.

The scones are wholesome and nutty - and that layer of fruit in the middle is great because you really can eat them plain and have that be enough. Who needs clotted cream, fresh butter or good preserves when you've got a built-in layer of jam to savor with your scone? Easy-peasy, as the English say. I've gotten my baking fix to tide me over a few more days, and Ben has his scones. Everybody's happy.

Blueberry Bannock Scone
Serves 8

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
5 1/3 (1/3 cup) tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 cup blueberries
1 teaspoon water

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Lightly sprinkle a 14-x-16-inch baking sheet with flour, or line with a Silpat, and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, pecans, wheat germ, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

3. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or fork until it has the consistency of small crumbs.

4. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and one egg. Add to the flour mixture and stir until just moistened. The dough will be quite wet and sticky; work it as little as possible.

5. Divide the dough in half and shape one piece into a 9-inch circle on the prepared baking sheet. Spread the blueberries evenly over the circle and sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons of sugar. On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, form a 9-inch circle with the remaining dough and gently slide it on top of the berries. With the backside of a knife, score the top in 8 wedges.

6. Beat the remaining egg with the water and lightly brush the egg wash over the top of the scone. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

7. Bake until the scone is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. When cool, cut into wedges and serve.