Imagine strolling in a frosty, pre-dawn landscape, your breath an exhaled puff of steam in the early morning air, russet leaves and brittle, ice-glazed twigs gently crackling under your boots. The scent of woodsmoke might hover in the air. A sweater and a warm, woolen shawl wraps you up tight as you walk with wide strides towards home. Your hands, reddened with the cold, reach out to press open a door and you step inside to find warmth, light and company. What is the best thing that someone could possibly hand you in this scene? If you said 'a steaming hot cup of dark coffee and a tender, buttery scone,' then you're right. But if, for example, you said 'the same cup of coffee, plus a tender buttery scone studded with juicy chunks of sugary dates and rich, salty bacon, lightly brushed with a sweetly tart orange zest,' then you and I can really and truly be best friends for life.

These scones are basically the platonic ideal of breakfast, an absolute dream of a morning pastry (whether or not that morning included a brisk, woodsy pre-dawn walk, or just a mad dash to the train or freeway to make it into the office on time). A great scone can be surprisingly hard to come by. We've all had truly terrible scones often enough, haven't we? We've all suffered through the stodgy, brick-like lumps offered by some coffee shops, or else the soft, crumbly impostors that seem almost overly eager to be cake instead.

This scone is neither of those things, friends.

This is a scone that manages to be hearty yet tender and yielding. Somehow both airy and dense, as the fragile, citrusy glaze yields under your teeth and each bite reveals sweet dried dates or savory bacon, you'll keep coming back for more until you find, suddenly, that the scone you once held is gone. It's going to be a long morning. You might have to reach for another one, after all.

Bacon & Date Scones with Orange Zest Glaze

Makes 16 scones
Total preparation & cooking time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

10 thick bacon slices 
2 cups all purpose flour 
1/2 cup light brown sugar 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt 
1 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates (I love great big, juicy Medjools) 
1 stick unsalted butter (very cold, or pre-frozen if possible) 
1 cup buttermilk 
1 large orange (Navel, e.g.)
1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

Start by lining a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until it is cooked through but still chewy and just shy of crispy. Transfer bacon to a stack of paper towels to drain and let cool.

Whisk flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Coarsely chop the cooled bacon into pieces roughly a quarter inch in size. Add bacon and dates to the flour mixture; toss a few times until coated. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, coarsely grate your cold butter directly into the flour mixture. This evenly divides the butter throughout the mixture without melting it, causing tiny buttery pockets that will give your scones a flaky & delicious texture! Using fork, stir in the butter. Add buttermilk; continue to stir with fork until mixture becomes clumpy. 

Using hands, knead the mixture briefly in bowl until a very craggy, rough dough forms. Seriously, even if the word 'craggy' has never entered your vocabulary before this moment, it should be reserved for describing this dough. Over-kneading may lead to tough scones, so only work the dough until it just begins to hold together, then hands off!

Transfer dough to a floured work surface (a clean cutting board, granite slab, marble counter, etc). Pat and shape dough into 8-inch square slab. Slice three times horizontally and three times vertically (into 16 2-inch squares). Transfer scones to lined baking sheet, cover and chill in refrigerator for at least an hour before baking. Don't be tempted to skip this step, it's pretty crucial in terms of allowing the dough to firm up and the flour to absorb as much moisture as possible. While waiting, prepare orange zest glaze by zesting the outside of your whole orange (using the small holes of your cheese grater, or a zester if you have one) until you have gathered about a tablespoon of fresh zest. Then slice the orange in half and squeeze about 3 tablespoons of juice from it. Add both to a bowl with confectioner’s sugar, whisk until smooth and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake scones until very lightly golden, about 16 to 18 minutes. Let cool completely, and brush each with glaze. Serve once glaze has set up after a few minutes, and enjoy!