Last Saturday, in our test kitchen, we demonstrated how to make English scones. These are the baked kind, leavened with baking powder, not yeasted dough that is fried. It was a casual affair with usually just a handful of people watching and asking questions (and eating). We made strawberry scones, cinnamon bun scones, and butter pecan scones all topped with frosting.
At one point, we had three young, blond-haired girls pulled up to the counter, standing on black chairs and intrigued with what was going on. They were a stair step of sisters: 6, 4, and 2 years old.
“You girls have been eating cute pills.” They were full of giggles. With their mother’s permission, I squirted a squiggle of frosting on their forefingers. They liked the cinnamon bun scones better than the butter pecan ones but that’s because they didn’t like nuts “so much.” I think the butter pecan ones are to die for.
If you can make biscuits, you can make English scones. The principles are the same: Cut cold butter into the dry ingredients, add the water and mix the dough, cut it into shapes, and bake them. You can make them plain and serve them hot with a pat of butter and maybe a good jam. You can fancy them up with inclusions like raspberry chips, dried fruit, and nuts. If you are making them for brunch or a snack, drizzle them with frosting. With a basic recipe, you can add whatever you desire at the time. In our store, we sell a half dozen mixes—the ones we made last Saturday plus raspberry white chocolate, blueberry lemon, cranberry orange, and a triple chocolate one that’s admittedly a bit indulgent.
There are three keys to great scones:
- Keep the dough cold. The butter that you cut into your dry ingredients has to remain a solid; it can’t melt. If the butter melts, it makes the dough a soggy mess. Use rock hard butter straight from the refrigerator. Use ice water. The first thing that I do when I’m making scones is to measure the water and place it in the freezer to chill while I’m preparing the other ingredients.
- Don’t handle the dough too much. Scones should be flaky and tender, not chewy like bread. Handling the dough develops the gluten. Besides, the warmth from your hands will melt the butter.
- Use a hot oven. Most recipes will call for 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter is 15% water. You want the water to quickly turn to steam and delaminate your scone into flaky layers.
Serve your scones hot from the oven. Like biscuits, they are much better fresh. To drizzle them with frosting, prepare the frosting while they’re baking and scrape it into a zipper-type plastic bag or disposable pastry bag. (Tie the pastry bag with a wire tie to trap the frosting.) Soon after your scones hit the cooling rack, snip a corner and squeeze away.
Here are other suggestions:
- We use unbleached pastry flour because it has less gluten, but all-purpose flour will do.
- You can cut them into any shape you choose. Traditionally they are cut into wedges, but we usually cut them into rectangles 2 x 2 1/2 inches or so. (Don’t worry too much about making them uniform; scones are intended to be rough-hewn and they are going to expand a bunch in the oven anyway.) We often cut them into circles with a biscuit cutter–at which point, they’re fancier, richer biscuits.
- We usually place them 3/8 to 1/2-inch apart on the baking sheet, close enough together that they grow together as they expand. That way the sides don’t dry out and when you pull them apart, they’re soft and moist.
You won’t need much for equipment: a pastry knife, a baking stone or baking sheet, and a bench scraper or wide-bladed knife. You can buy these at your favorite kitchen store or at The Prepared Pantry.
You can buy the mixes mentioned or the ingredients for your own recipes at The Prepared Pantry including the raspberry, strawberry, blueberry chips, and cinnamon chips plus fruit and nuts. The cinnamon bun scones are made with lots of really good Korintje Cassia cinnamon and cinnamon chips. The frosting is flavored with brown sugar flavor. The butter pecan scones are made with really good mini butterscotch chips and chopped pecans. The frosting is made with butter rum flavor but they are also good with caramel flavor. (We carry 27 flavors and extracts.)
The following three recipes will get you started. The first is Buttery English Scones. It makes traditional scones, biscuit-like but richer and sweeter. You could add cranberries or currants to this recipe but it is very good plain with a bit of jam or honey. We love these simple scones with flavored honey. My favorite is peach flavored honey.
The next two recipes have chips for inclusions and are frosted. Both are very good. You can substitute fruit or nuts for the chips and try different flavors.
We think you’ll enjoy your journey with scones. These recipes will follow in another article.
- Buttery English Scones
- Cinnamon Chip Scones with Brown Sugar Icing
- Raspberry Scones with Cream Cheese Frosting
Dennis Weaver is the president of The Prepared Pantry, a full line kitchen store in Rigby, Idaho. The Prepared Pantry sells kitchen tools, gourmet foods, baking ingredients, and baking mixes including scone mixes and over 100 bread mixes.