These gruyere and ham scones might make you fall in love at first bite

March 18, 2024

At the risk of sounding unromantic, I’ve never experienced love at first sight. Love at first bite, though? That’s another story. The latest object of my gustatory affection: a savory scone studded with country ham, pungent cheese and scallions, and topped with sesame seeds and flaky sea salt.

I first encountered this scone at Little Egg, a tiny-but-mighty breakfast and lunch restaurant from chef Evan Hanczor of Egg, the wildly popular Williamsburg, Brooklyn, eatery that closed during the pandemic and re-hatched with a new name last spring.

The scone is the handiwork of pastry chef Tanya Bush, who is just 27 and preternaturally talented, considering she has only four years of professional baking experience under her belt. She comes up with beguiling flavor combinations, such as slab almond cake with vanilla custard, sour cherry compote and salty cream cheese frosting. Her Cara Cara orange olive oil cake is so generously garnished with poppyseeds, that you get an audible (pleasant) crunch with every forkful. Grub Street called her sublime cruller one of New York’s most coveted pastries.

But it’s Bush’s scones that stole my heart and caused many months of taste memory obsession. And it’s because of how unusual they are.

When I asked Bush about the inspiration behind the bake, she wrote in an email that the scone is “a classic pastry with Southern flair … a decadent, nutty wonder with an extravagant fat content, toeing that nebulous line between traditional scone and biscuit.”

If traditional scones and southern ham biscuits got together, Bush’s scones would be their progeny. They have a deeply umami taste, aided by ham, scallions and cheese. (At Little Egg, Bush uses Calderwood cheese, which is sold exclusively by Saxelby Cheesemongers, but I substituted Gruyere for easier availability.) The sesame seeds and flaky salt on top add a burst of salinity and crunch. The scones are best eaten warm, fresh from the oven, when they are most tender.

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After Bush shared her recipe with me, I immediately got to work simplifying it for the home cook. Instead of hand-chopping the ham and cheese, I pulsed them in the food processor. And while that left me with a few more dishes to clean, I managed to do the chopping of both ingredients in less than three minutes – tasks that would have taken me considerably longer to do by hand – which means it took me very little time to throw the dough together.

At Little Egg, the scones are adorably squat in their hockey puck-like shape, seeming more like biscuits and less scone-like in lack of scraggly-ness. While it’s no big deal if they spread out in your oven – they’ll still taste amazing – I wanted to crack the code on their shape. The trick, I discovered, was to thoroughly chill the scones before the final shaping, egg wash and baking.

Since we’re a household of three people – and my son refuses to eat anything with Gruyere – baking more than four scones at a time is an overkill. But! Good news! The scones are also a dream to freeze. Shape them, flash-freeze them on a sheet pan, then transfer to a lidded container or zip-top bag and freeze until needed. When ready to bake, let the scones sit on the counter while the oven preheats, then glaze with the egg wash and bake. Keeping some unbaked scones in the freezer makes quick work for an impromptu brunch or a last-minute afternoon tea.

In addition to making spectacular pastries at the restaurant, Bush is also a co-founder of Cake Zine, an independent print magazine that explores society and culture through sweets; and the pastry chef for Tables of Contents, a creative salon celebrating books, art, music and culture. And if that weren’t enough, Bush is also at work on what she calls a “literary cookbook that brings together narrative with recipe-writing.”

With her involvement in so many projects at once, I asked Bush where she finds inspiration. “I am inspired by bakers who are playful and collaborative in their pastry making. … I find my main source of inspiration these days through the collaborative dessert program I run Sundays and Mondays at Little Egg. It’s such a privilege to team up with other New York-based pastry chefs, to experiment together and bring an abstract idea to the plate,” Bush wrote. She cites pastry chefs Kaitlyn Wong and Zoë Kanan, as well as Ham El-Waylly, as people she continues to learn from.

I can’t wait to see what Bush bakes up next.

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