When I first told Ari Berenbaum I wanted to talk about the Asiago scone he'd just unveiled at the downtown Durham institution Ninth Street Bakery, he balked.
"Why?" the unassuming and soft-spoken baker wondered over the phone. "Chefs are doing scones with yuzu, all kinds of complicated things. This is just a savory scone. It's simple."
Berenbaum had answered his own question: Ninth Street's latest test product, sold from its counter for only the last two weeks, is simply perfect, perfectly simple. The sweetness of the scone, made from much the same recipe as its chocolate-walnut brethren, is like a pillowy platform for the tang of the shredded cheese, cut into the biscuit-like, buttermilk-based dough by hand by Ninth Street veteran Maria Rivera. She is gentle with the mix, kneading it gingerly so that little pockets of air rise through the scone when her husband, Jose Cortez, bakes them overnight.
"If you bang all the ingredients, you're going to end up with a hockey puck," Berenbaum explains. "You can see all the butter bits on top. If you squish it down and hit it too hard with a rolling pin, it squashes out all the nice tenderness we worked so hard to create. So you slowly thin it out."
The result resembles an oversize yellow arrowhead, as if it were meant to be weaponized by some mythical warrior. But the scone's size belies an enviable delicacy. It's fluffy like a well-formed biscuit, with crisp, almost chewy edges concealing the moist matrix inside. That look foreshadows the taste, which suggests a piece of cheesy cornbread wrapped in parmesan crisps, or a cheese sandwich chased with sugar cookies.
Not long after I tell Berenbaum this, he finally admits, with a sheepish grin, that nearly every batch of these fluffy wonders has sold out. Rivera slides the next tray into the cooler.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Savor the Scone"