I have to try a scone in every coffee shop I visit – it’s a bit of a family joke. I have my favourite places for eating scones, but I am always amazed at how something as simple as a scone can vary so much in taste, texture and scale. What is it, with these giant scones being served in some cafes and tea rooms, big enough to feed a small family. I’ve eaten my fair share of dry and dusty scones as well as tasteless and along the way I’ve experimented with my own scone making. So today I’m sharing with you my top 10 tips for making great scones, every time. I’ve used these techniques to teach lots of people (well you want to make sure when you visit friends there is a decent scone on offer) who’ve never been able previously to turn out a vaguely edible scone, so I know this works.
Temperature is critical
Keep everything cold, including your hands. The objective in scone making is to keep the butter solid and not let it melt. Cold butter makes the scone rise higher. The pieces of butter form small pockets, which are filled by the CO2 from the raising agent, making your scone rise.
The type of flour matters
Use a low protein flour (too much protein, leads to too much gluten which can make your scones chewy). You will find recipes that use flours with higher levels of protein (usually by experienced bakers) but generally it is more difficult to control the results.
Sift flour to aerate. Three times if you can. The butter can be rubbed in by hand or in a food processor. Your mix should resemble rough breadcrumbs, with pea sized pieces of butter. Alternatively you can grate frozen butter. I keep the right amount of butter chopped up into small pieces in my freezer, ready to make a batch of scones at any time.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients together using a butter knife. It should take about 30 seconds. Don’t work the dough too much. Kneading converts the protein to gluten, which will make your scone heavier and more chewy. Think of it as handling clouds.
Try not to use too much flour when rolling out. You can use a rolling pin but I prefer to just use my hands. If you make two letter folds, that is fold in half, a quarter turn and fold in half again, in opposite directions, this will help build flakey layers, like pastry making. Don’t make it too thin – 2.5 cm or 1 inch is the minimum depth. I cut mine around the depth of the cutter. You can rest the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes before cutting out.
When cutting out, flour the cutter before you cut out each scone. Push the cutter down firmly, avoid twisting.
Line the tray with parchment paper. Sit them snuggly on the tray. This helps keep the sides straight and even as they bake and they will rise higher. For a soft sided scone place them side by side on the tray, so they are just touching. For a crispier edge, place them slightly further apart. Glaze the tops if you want a golden colour, giving them what Nigella calls ‘make-up for cakes’. You can use egg or milk. Don’t let any liquid run down the sides as this will prevent an even rise. Flouring the tops is more traditional.
Keep scones as cold as possible
Keep the scones cold until they are ready to go into the oven. If you need to prepare ahead of time you can put them in the fridge until you need them, or freeze them at this stage. Just remember to give them a bit longer in the oven if they’ve been chilling overnight or frozen.
Bake in the top third of the oven
Baking in the top third of your oven, even when using a fan oven. They are ready when the edges begin to go brown. Don’t overcook or they will be dry and dusty. Remove from tray immediately and place on cooling rack.
Scones are best eaten fresh out of the oven. They do freeze well but mine never seem to last long enough to make it into the freezer. Adding homemade jam makes the joy of eating them, just about perfect. You need to add friends to the experience for total perfection.
So let me know how you get on and share your photos please. Happy scone making.