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Sunflower Scones & Other Sleepers

Sunflower Seed Scones | Delightful Crumb

One of my most important baked good theories concerns what I call sleeper pastries. Do you know them? I’m talking about the not-so-flashy options in the bakery case. The non-Instagrammable ones. The more understated treats looked over in the pursuit of their brighter, trendier neighbors. Things like rustic scones and flaky biscuits; everyday cakes unadorned by frosting swirls and lacking stunning layers; jammy fruit bars with crumble topping; simple biscotti hiding from the masses in a jar by the register. I can spot these quite successfully in cookbooks and bakeries alike, behind the sticky bun embellished with thick toffee and the laminated pastry with this week’s most surprising filling and the chocolate-drenched something-or-other and the towering layer cake. These humble options tend to be my favorites. To a certain degree, this is a matter of taste, but I also believe there is something objectively special about them as well. I am not saying that these are necessarily the very best items on offer (though they might be!). But I think we all know that while flashiness generally gets the most attention, the flashy things of life are rarely the best things.

Lest you think I haven’t thought this through, let me give you some examples. Beginning locally, the oat scone and the chocolate thing at Arizmendi locations across the Bay, Tartine Bakery’s lemon loaf, the cardamom walnut scone at Berkeley’s Fournée Bakery, the apple cake and quaresimale at Crixa Cakes. Back in Grand Rapids, Michigan, my list included the breakfast cookie at the now-shuttered Marie Catrib’s and the trail mix bar and health muffin (health muffin, I know!) from Nantucket Bakery. The whole wheat scone I recently ate at Cellar Door Provisions in Chicago fits the bill, as does the fruit-studded cornmeal cake at Santa Monica’s Huckleberry Cafe. Helen Goh, co-author of Sweet with Yotam Ottolenghi, clearly understands what I’m championing here. She calls the lemon and poppyseed cake in that book the one she’d choose—of all her remarkable creations—if she could take just one cake to a desert island. It is, indeed, a truly fantastic cake that I’d have posted on this blog already if not for the fact that I’ve arguably shared well over my Ottolenghi quota. Despite their fame, Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies are an excellent candidate. Who knew a little chocolate cookie could be so exquisite?! This almond cake is a sleeper, consistently surprising my dinner guests with its deliciousness, as is the first everyday cake I ever met, which remains a favorite.

Look, I won’t push the analogy, but remember how nice it feels to look past the shiny stuff for simple goodness? We’ve maxed out on more, and now all I want is a little less—less noise, less clutter, fewer expectations, quality not quantity. There are reasons why Marie Kondo has exploded (or rather, leapt like a sparkly garden fairy…?) into our public consciousness not once but twice. I’m certainly not the only one tired of feeling that we’re all chasing a series of things we can never have in full—the ideal job, the perfect home, work/life balance, the kids you long for, the partner you need before you can get to that, the right wardrobe not just for you but also for said children, the life you thought you’d have, some elusive idea of happiness or ease. How many times do I need to remind myself that everyone’s life is hard and weird and nuanced? How many times do I need to remind myself that the complication of my own life is okay—human, necessary, interesting, even good? We went on a mini-vacation to LA last week, and I didn’t check either work or personal email and didn’t text people back and it felt amazing. Remember how that used to just be life?

So, yeah, the simple pastries strike a chord.

And all of this brings me to today’s recipe, another sleeper that shouldn’t be overlooked: the sunflower seed scone from Lisa Ludwinski’s Sister Pie. As is obvious, this cookbook, like the bakery of the same name in Detroit, is first and foremost about pie. But there are also recipes for cookies and breakfast pastries and even paczki in its pages. Among the several scones are a jasmine crème fraîche number and one bursting with blueberries and a savory option with cream cheese and dill and radishes. But if you’ve stuck with me thus far, you’ll already have guessed that not only did I look past the pies but also that I chose the least-flamboyant scone to fall in love with: a humble, crumbly, fantastically delicious little number made just tender enough by sour cream, topped with almost too many sunflower seeds and lovely paired with jam.

I’ve not yet made it to Sister Pie but hope to eventually. When I do, I will make it a point to eat some stunning pie, of course, but I’ll be looking for the sleeper to add to my order as well. And as usual, I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

Sunflower Seed Scones

Minimally adapted from Lisa Ludwinski’s Sister Pie

Makes 8 scones

The original recipe calls for spelt flour and all-purpose flour. Finding myself without spelt, I also had good luck with a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. To do the same, substitute 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup of whole wheat for the all-purpose and spelt flours called for below.

Sunflower Seed Scones | Delightful Crumb

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 egg

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup spelt flour

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional

2 tablespoons cane sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold

Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the sunflower seeds until light brown and fragrant. Season with a pinch of kosher salt, toss well and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, gently whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and the egg.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and 1/2 cup of the sunflower seeds. Place the butter in the bowl and coat it with flour. Use a bench scraper to cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes, then break up the cubes until they are lightly coated with flour. Cut the cubes into smaller pieces with the bench scraper. Switch to a pastry blender (or use your hands and work quickly to keep the butter cold) and blend the butter, turning the bowl, until most of it is incorporated but you still have quite a few larger chunks.

Pour the cream mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until there are no pools of liquid remaining. With your hands, turn the dough over and press it back into itself a few times, incorporating any floury bits at the bottom of the bowl. Continue until the dough has formed one cohesive mass.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it into an 8-inch circle, and use the bench scraper to divide it into 8 wedges.

At this point, you can freeze the scones for up to 3 months (I particularly like to make half the batch and freeze the rest!). To do so, place the unbaked scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour, until frozen solid. Then, wrap them tightly in plastic, put them into an airtight box or bag and return to the freezer.

When you are ready to bake, transfer the scones to the baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between them. Brush the tops and sides liberally with the remaining 1/4 cup heavy cream. Generously pile on the remaining 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds and finish with a few flakes of sea salt. (You might have some seeds left—they’re great on salads or with fruit and yogurt.)

Bake the scones for 18 to 25 minutes, until evenly golden brown and nearly doubled in size. (If baking from frozen, decrease the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.) Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy the scones warm or at room temperature, slathered with jam and/or butter. They are also more than adequate warmed in a toaster oven on day two.

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