Clotted cream, jam and scones, a great snack with your afternoon tea, or for your morning breakfast. Making a good scone isn’t hard, but, you need to know a few simple tricks to create a perfect scone (dough).
In a lot of cases recipes for baked goods have very specific orders in which ingredients have to be added. However, in a lot of cases this order actually isn’t as important. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for scones. The order is important, but also makes scones a lot easier to make since it makes it harder to mess them up.
So today, some scone science, the most important do’s and don’ts on scones and my favorite scone recipe. Only interested in the top tips for making scones? Scroll down all the way, it’s at the end of the post. But honestly, if you read the bit above, it’ll help you understand why those tips actually work!
What are scones?
Let’s take one step back for those of you not so familiar with scones. Scones are a slightly sweet baked product. An important characteristic is that they are very crumbly. They fall apart easily and are light and kind of fluffy. It’s that lightness and crumbliness which might be hard to achieve, but once you understand how it works, it won’t be hard.
Scones are probably best known as being part of the British afternoon or cream tea. Also, they are actually very similar to the Southern American biscuits. Biscuits though tend to be savoury, whereas scones are sweet(er).
Why are scones crumbly?
The reason scones are crumbly has all to do with the butter/fat in the recipe. As we’ve discussed before, with short crust pastry pie doughs, a flaky, or in this case crumbly, consistency can be made by creating pockets of fat in a dough. These pockets can be made by mixing flour with fat without adding any other liquid. The fat will sit in between the flour particles and once moisture is added, it’s hard for the flour to form gluten and make one whole network.
When the scone (or pie) is baked, the butter in these pockets will melt, and they prevent the flour particles from coming together and forming one whole mass. This will create the different layers in the scones and makes them fall apart easily.
What makes scones light and fluffy?
The crumbliness we just discussed and which is caused by the butter, also lightens up a scone, but only slightly. For making a proper light and fluffy scone you need a raising agent such as baking powder or baking soda. This introduces extra air inside the scones, creating those nice gas bubbles in the scone which lighten it.
The scone recipe
Now that we know how to make a crumbly & light scone, let’s dive into a recipe so we can actually start making scones! This is my current best working scone recipe, it’s a modified recipe from Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen and worked out very well:
- 250g flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 65g cold butter
- 30g sugar
- 135ml milk
- Mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Add the cold butter to the flour and knead through the flour until you have a slightly crumbly texture. It shouldn't be as crumbly as when making a fruit crumble, but it should look more crumbly than the flour did at the start.
- Mix in the sugar.
- Pour in all the milk and mix it through gently, either with your hands or a spatula/wooden spoon. It is important to stir as little as you can and stop stirring at soon as you have a cohesive dough.
- Split the dough in 7 equal parts and loosely shape into a ball (again, don't knead/shape any more than necessary). Place the ball on a baking tray and push down slightly. The other option (which will give prettier looking scones) is to roll out the dough, either by hand or with rollers. Cut the dough into squares/triangles, separate them and place them on a baking tray.
- Coat the top of the scones with some milk or egg.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for approximately 20 minutes. The scones should be a light brown when they're finished.
Top tips for making perfect scones
Based on the analysis we did at the start and this recipe, there are some top tips that will certainly help you make great scones again and again. Food + science = super food!
The best tip for making scones is definitely to: use a stand mixer: Ever since I have a stand mixer I’ve discovered you can use it for so much more than just making bread. Scone recipes tend to have very elaborate instructions on how to make them, but if you just do everything in a stand mixer almost nothing can go wrong. Here’s a super short instruction (read recipe for full details and quantities):
- Mix in butter into the flour with the stand mixer, use a low speed and don’t worry if it takes several minutes.
- Mix in the sugar, this should go quick.
- Add the water. Mix at a low speed for only 15-20 seconds until it starts coming together. This goes super fast!
- Take the dough from the mixer and continue with the last steps of shaping and baking.
Cold butter / cold hands: Remember the trick of making a perfect short crust pie pastry? Indeed, it’s to use ice cold butter. Reasons was that we wanted little humps of butter all through the crust which didn’t melt. The humps would prevent the flour from forming one large network. We want those same structures in a scone, so use cold butter or have cold hands 😉 or use tip no. 1.
Kneading: never knead a scone dough more than necessary to incorporate all ingredients. This has all to do with gluten in the flour. For a scone you do not want the gluten to develop as you would like when making a bread (read why here). You can prevent this by not kneading the scone dough.
Shaping: I like taking shortcuts in the kitchen if I don’t see a reason not to. So instead of rolling out a dough and cutting out shapes I prefer to shape the scones straight away. If you do this carefully it will work just as fine, although the overall look might be a little less classy.
Liquid content of a scone dough: Not enough liquid makes a sturdy scone dough. If a dough is very dry it simply isn’t flexible enough to expand, no matter how much baking powder you add, it will remain small. At the same time, you don’t need any more liquid than is required to bring it all together into one ball. Some batches will help you figure out your best quantity.
Sugar content: In my opinion scones should be sweet, but not overly so. Sugar will also help to brown the scones.
If you follow these few tips and tricks for makig your next scone dough you should be able to make a amazing scones as well! Good luck and let me know how it went.
Do you see that little pot of jam next to the scones? That’s what I ate them with, my favorite home made fig jam. Making jam with your scones is really worth the work, read how here.