Yes, scones! Have one, won’t you?
Oh wait. We haven’t invented that yet. Sorry.
I’ll give you the next best thing – a recipe for some pretty tasty scones.
What the devil is a scone, you ask? At its simplest definition, it’s a quickbread – meaning, it uses chemical leaveners, such as baking soda and baking powder, rather than yeast, to rise in baking. It also has no rise time outside of the oven, and a fast baking time, hence the “quick” in quickbread.
Okay, great. But what is it? Well, it’s a pastry of sorts. I like to think of it as a hybrid between a muffin and a (Southern U.S.) biscuit – a bit crunchy or crumbly on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside. Nice and incongruous texturing, there, and perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. You can make sweet or savory scones, just as you would muffins or other pastries. I’ll be focusing on the sweet kind today.
Some people use cream, or a combination of whole milk and cream for their scones, ironically, for “lightness.” That’s fine and dandy, but I’m a fan of using buttermilk or, even better, sour milk. Last week, we used probably about a quart of our milk that had gone too sour to drink, but was perfect for baking, for scones. Like, a lot of scones. The sour milk acted as an extra leavening agent, making the scones light and fluffy while adding just a tinge of tanginess. Waste not, want not, my friends.
Baking-wise, a scone is, again, very much like a biscuit in its preparation (some might say a biscuit is like a scone, and they’d be objectively wrong). You cut butter into a flour mixture, add wet ingredients, pat it into its final shape, and bake. These are relatively simple steps, but, just as when making biscuits, a final product that can go awry if you don’t follow The Rules.
What are these ruuuuuules?
- Keep your cold stuff cold until you’re ready to use it. This is especially true for butter. Scones aren’t flaky and buttery like biscuits (they use a lot less butter, for one), but you still want them to be light and fluffy on the inside. If you allow your butter to melt or get to room temperature, you risk a hard, dense scone. Nope.
- Make sure you get a good, even crumble when cutting the butter into the flour. Large butter chunks = holes in your scones.
- Only add enough liquid to hold the dough together in a sticky mass. You don’t want it to be goopy and soupy (this isn’t cake or muffins), but you also don’t want it to be dry. If it’s not sticking to your hands, you didn’t add enough milk. Alternatively, if you have to use a cookie scoop to get it out of the bowl, you added too much liquid.
- Avoid handling and kneading the dough too much. You only want to mix it enough for the ingredients to just barely come together and for the scones to hold their shape long enough for you to transfer them to a baking sheet. (This means, like pancakes, that a few dry spots are okay.) Overmixing will result in dense, sad scones. Don’t do it.
The more times you work with scone/biscuit dough, the better you’ll get a feel for what’s right and what will make you sad. Don’t worry too much, though – even a dense scone can be dunked into coffee and turn out all right, so you may not be sad, ever.
Ready to scone? Let’s do it.
Like biscuits, you don’t want to mess with this dough too much - just mix, pat, and bake. Variations at the bottom of the recipe.
you will need:
- 2 c all-purpose flour (you can sub up to 1 c wheat flour), plus more for sprinkling
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ c sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 5 tbsp cold salted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- ½-¾ c whole milk (sour milk is fantastic here), plus 1-2 tbsp for brushing
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper (you can also just leave it bare – I just like less cleanup).
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two forks until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. You can also do this step in the food processor: put the dry ingredients in the bowl first, then the butter cubes, and pulse 3-4 times until you get coarse crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
- Whisk the egg with ½ c of the milk, then fold into the flour mixture enough to get a solid, fairly sticky dough, adding milk a little bit more at a time as needed to achieve this. The dough will stick to your hands a bit – this is good.
- Turn dough onto a lightly floured countertop, sprinkle the dough with flour, and lightly pat the dough until it just comes together. Pat it into a circle about 10 inches diameter and 1 ½ inches thick. Cut the dough into eight equal wedges.
- Transfer each wedge to the prepared baking sheet (this is more easily accomplished with the help of a bench scraper or flat spatula), spacing each wedge about 2 inches apart. Brush the tops of the wedges with milk. Bake at 450 degrees F for 10-12 minutes until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack, allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer the scones to a cooling rack to cool completely, about 20 minutes.
Whole Wheat Scones: Sub in half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour. Mix as directed. You’ll likely find you’ll need more milk to get the dough to come together, as the wheat flour absorbs liquid less readily than all-purpose.
Whole Wheat Oatmeal Scones: Sub in ⅔ c wheat flour and ⅓ c rolled oats for half of the all-purpose flour. After brushing the scones with milk, sprinkle 2 tbsp rolled oats on top of the scones before baking.
Oatmeal Chocolate Scones: Mmm, chocolate. Sub in the same items as Whole Wheat Oatmeal Scones above. Add ½-¾ c chopped chocolate or chocolate chips to the batter just before adding the egg and milk. Sprinkle with oats, and bake as directed.
Spiced Scones: Add ½ tsp cinnamon and a pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg to the dry ingredients. You can also sub in whatever spices your heart desires – experiment!