Beginning to bake #3: Scones for tea

Baked scones

Scones are easy to make at home, but so hard to buy. If you’ve never had a homemade scone, the chances are you’ve never had a good one.

Scones also keep very badly. Even the next day they become dry and crumbly. So the solution is to bake them the day you want to eat them, and if necessary, freeze any leftovers that day. They are the sort of thing the fifties domestic goddess would start to make because someone had dropped around unexpectedly – quick, and best eaten fresh from the oven.

Why are scones next on the ‘how to bake’ list? Like pancakes and muffins, the ingredients for scones are pretty simple, and rely principally on baking powder to make them rise. You just need flour, butter, milk, baking powder and maybe a little sugar to to put them together. Some add eggs to the recipe, but I’m sceptical – that seems to make a much cakier thing, and not a proper cream-and-jam scone.

The differences are that you use cold butter, and you rub the butter into the flour, creating crumbs. ‘Rubbing in’ the butter is something you also do with shortcrust pastry. It involves cutting the cold butter up into pieces about the size of peas. Then you use your fingertips to rub the lumps of butter into the flour. This distributes the butter through the flour, coating some of the flour with fat, and waterproofing it to restrict the development of the gluten when the milk is added. You want soft and tender scones – too much gluten would make them tough and chewy.

For the same reason, you want to play with the scone dough as little as possible – don’t knead it or smush it around. Use a spoon to mix the dough together, then your hands very briefly to make sure all the floury bits are incorporated. You need to make sure it forms a single lump of dough, but no more than that.

To make the scones, you can flatten the dough with a rolling pin or just use your hands. It just needs to be patted out to about 2cm high. The thicker the dough at this point, the taller your final scones will be.

You can use a cutter or a glass for round scones. For minimum waste, just cut the dough into wedges or squares with a sharp knife.

Glazing the scones is optional, but it will give you a beautiful shiny golden top. The ideal is a beaten egg, or a yolk beaten with a little egg or cream. Some milk or cream on it’s own will also do, but won’t be as golden. Try not to drip glaze down the sides – it can limit the rising in the oven.

Equipment:

  • Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Knife
  • Pastry brush
  • A solid baking sheet. That means thick sheets of metal, probably aluminium. Can be non-stick, anodised or plain. You need it thick and heavy so it won’t warp and twist in a hot oven.
  • A round cutter (optional: the end of a water glass will also work, or use a knife to cut squares.

Basic recipe:

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess’:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 70g cold butter
  • 2 tbsp / 30g caster sugar
  • 130ml milk (full fat if you can)
  • 50g sultanas or raisins for fruit scones
  • 1 egg plus 1 tbsp milk for the glaze

Method:

Put the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and mix togther with a whisk.Slice or cube the cold butter and put it into the flour.

Flour and butter

Use a butter knife to slice through the butter, reducing it to small pieces in the flour.

Once you’ve sliced it up as much as you can, use your fingers to rub the butter and flour together. The movement you want is something like the ‘money, money, money’ gesture – rubbing your thumb along the fingers of the same hand and back again. The trick is to get the bits of butter and flour in there so that as you rub your fingers together, the butter and flour get pushed together. Using your fingertips keeps everything from warming up too much – your fingertips are cooler than your palms.

Butter rubbed into crumbs

Once the butter has almost disappeared, and the mixture looks sandy without any big lumps, add the sugar, and raisins or sultanas if you want to use them.

Add the milk and stir everything with a spoon or a knife to make a dough.

Mixing into dough

Once it’s almost all mixed, use your hands to push and squash it until there are no more floury parts and the whole thing comes together in a single ball, leaving the bowl virtually clean.

Ball of dough

Take a small handful of flour and scatter it over a counter. Tip out the ball, and if there are any big fissure or cracks, push them together. Push the ball out to flatten it to a roughly rectangular piece about 2cm thick. Use a cutter to cut round scones, or a knife to cut into 6 square ones.

Cutting scones

Cut scones

Put the scones carefully on a baking sheet.

Scones on the tray

Beat the egg with a little milk (or just use milk on its own) and use a pastry brush to glaze just the top of the scones. This will make sure they get a golden colour in the oven.
Bake for 10-15 minutes at 200C until risen and brown on the top.
Cool on a rack and eat as soon as possible (or freeze).

Baked scones

Variations:

The Guardian: as part of a series, Felicity Cloake investigates the recipe for the perfect scone

Baker Paul Hollywood was featured on BBC2’s the Great British Bake-off. He says his scone recipe is perfect.

Delia has a step-by-step on how to make scones on her website.

Published by

louise-marston

I’m Louise, and I’m a compulsive baker, cookbook hoarder and a bit of a food geek. I learnt to cook at home, and later at Tante Marie’s cooking school in San Francisco. With a science degree and a background in IT analysis, I like to understand why a recipe works, not just how to do it. Why the rules are there and when they can be broken.

4 thoughts on “Beginning to bake #3: Scones for tea

    1. I just try and wipe my hands between shots, but yes, the camera is probably a bit more floury than it should be. 🙂

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