A Thorough Exploration of Scones, Part II: Is A Healthy Scone Possible?

A reader e-mailed me this morning with the answer to my question.

“Never gonna get a healthy scone, sorry,” she wrote. “But a delicious scone, you WILL get that!”

Another reader observed that it all depended on how I chose to define “healthy.”

“It’s not just about the calories,” he said.

So, how to define “healthy.” I make oatmeal for breakfast every morning. I top it with walnuts, a spoonful of brown sugar, and either fresh or frozen berries. If a scone can compete against a bowl of oatmeal, I think it’s worthy of being called “healthy.”

Of course, I fully recognize I am not the first person to try and find a good healthy scone recipe. Thinking about it some more, what I’m really looking for is a nutritious scone that doesn’t turn to chalk in my mouth. Needing some place to start, I asked my in-laws what scone recipe they use. They frequently eat homemade scones for their on-the-go breakfast.

I got the recipe and then got to work making it. I wanted to first replicate the recipe as my in-laws make it. In addition to the traditional raisins or currants, they also add walnuts and chocolate chips. These additions make the scone a bit less healthy, and they also make it chunkier. Plus, the recipe calls for rolled oats. I was worried that a chunkier scone would be more likely to crumble.

This scone recipe uses traditional whole wheat flour, and this is the one change I made when first testing the recipe. Like I said before, scones should only be made with pastry flour, and healthy scones are no exception. Use regular whole wheat flour and it’s much more likely that you’ll get hockey pucks instead of scones. Whole wheat pastry flour is available in stores or online.

The recipe used quite a bit more liquid than a traditional scone recipe. That was to make up for the lack of eggs,and keep the scones moist.

When I pulled the scones out of the oven and tried them, I was pleasantly surprised. The texture was a lot more dense than a traditional scone, and it didn’t have the same delicate mouth feel. On the other hand, it wasn’t crumbly or dry at all. It had a better texture than the first batch of traditional scones I made.

Still, even if I’m eating a healthy scone, I want it to be more dainty. I didn’t like the chewiness of the oats, and I thought the chunks of walnuts were distracting. I also didn’t think the raisins paired very well with chocolate chips.

This scone had a good, healthy base – whole wheat flour and oats – but I was certain I could increase the health factor and make it taste better.

My mother-in-law loves chocolate, so I didn’t want to strip that from her breakfast. Instead I needed to find a fruit that paired better with it. Fresh cherries were the obvious choice, for a number of reasons. First, they go well with chocolate. Second, I wanted to use a fresh fruit so it would provide a little more moisture to the scone. Cherries were perfect to use because they aren’t too juicy. (I used frozen cherries, which are perfect to work with because they are less juicy and they keep the dough cool.)

The next step was to improve the texture. I ground my old-fashioned oats in a food processor until they were finer than quick oats, but hadn’t yet turned to flour. Then I added the walnuts to the processor and chopped them fine, too.

The final step was to add some more nutrition. A reader pointed out that flaxseed meal has lots of “good” fat, and can even be used as an egg substitute. I found success with my traditional scones when I added another egg yolk. Could adding flaxseed meal improve healthy scones?

When I tasted the scones right after they came out of the oven, I could instantly tell they were better. The cherries and chocolate chips weren’t fighting for dominance, and the ground oats and walnuts made the texture much less chewy. When I tried both scones a few hours later, then differences were even more dramatic.

How healthy is this scone? It compares favorably to a bowl of oatmeal. A bowl of oatmeal has 300 calories, 7.5 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. A healthy cherry-chocolate scone has 245 calories, 6.4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. The scone has a lot more fat in it, thanks to the butter and buttermilk. But, like my reader said, it’s delicious.

This recipe makes 8 scones.

Healthy cherry-chocolate scone ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal (this is widely available from Bob’s Red Mill at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen cherries, diced

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla and add the flaxseed meal. Set aside to rehydrate.

Step 2. Grind the oats, then chop the walnuts. Combine them with the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Step 3. Cut in the chilled butter with knives or a pastry cutter. Mix until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the chocolate chips and diced cherries.

Step 4. Add the wet to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and shape into a disc. Slice into eight portions.

Step 5. Bake for 12 minutes. (Note: I’ve found that many scone recipes call for much longer bake times. In general, if your scones are turning out dry, try baking them less!)

As always, these are best served immediately. The ground oats should help them stay moist and palatable for a bit longer than traditional scones.

  • Jen

    Eager to try these.

  • randeegf

    I will make these this weekend!  Can’t wait!

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