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Scone /skōn (noun) a small, round cake that is like bread, made from flour, milk, and a little fat.

Miriam-Webster Dictionary

When you break it down in words, it somehow fails to capture the deliciousness of buttery biscuit-pastries smothered in jam and pillowy cream, or the essence of a tea party. You don’t even want to know what it means in slang!

Tea and scones go together like peanut butter and jam. A perfect match. And when they’re fresh and warm from the oven, it’s a glorious thing!

(are you starting to drool too?)

I am hardly a master baker!! My crime scene photos attest to just how bad it can be! But I can bake a few passable, edible things, which include scones. Plus there’s that old expression:

You can teach an old dog new tricks!

Well…maybe it’s can’t teach, but this old dog has discovered a few tricks for baking light, fluffy scones. Let’s start with a couple of the key ingredients…

Julia Child said, “With enough butter, anything is good.” I haven’t kept up with the argument about which is better: butter or margarine. Like all lovely tasting things, the answer is probably neither. When it comes to scones, butter is the perfect fat because it adds a richer flavour to scones.

Julia Child also said, “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream”. The best scones use both. Cream is the higher-fat that rises to the top of unhomogenized milk. But cream can be substitited with milk, buttermilk, yougurt, sour cream, or my personal favourite, sour milk. Buttermilk will produce a lighter, more bread-like texture, while I’ve found scones made with milk may not rise as well. I have gotten into the habit of adding a drop of vinegar to my milk and letting it sit for 3-5 minutes to let the milk thicken. One baking blog suggested that the natural acidity of sour milk (whether forced by vinegar or naturally neglected in the fridge) counteracts any “fizzy” taste from the raising agent, baking powder. It may look gross but the end result is delicious!

Here are 5 tips for making stupendous scones:

1. Rub in cold butter. Warm or room temperature butter will start to melt as you work with it. But if it’s cold, it won’t melt until it’s in the oven, which releases steam and creates the flaky texture of the scone. Cut your butter into 1″ cubes (or in my case, smaller pieces). Rubbing in involves literally rubbing the butter in your dry ingredients with your finger tips, and lifting and dropping the powder in your bowl, to incorporate air. (does it incorporate air? I don’t know, but it feels good!) When it’s incorporated, your dry ingredients should resemble fluffy sand, not heavy clumps. Yes, your fingers get messy, so remove your jewellery beforehand. Some bakers choose to use frozen butter and grate it into the dry ingredients. Others use a pastry cutter because they don’t like messy fingers. Both will work, but I think part of the pleasure of creating, even in baking, is tactile.

2. Watch your liquids. I’ve discovered the hard way that a lot of recipes overestimate just how much liquid you need. If the dough is too dry, you will end up with tough, dry scones. Too wet and it’s impossible to cut out or transfer neat shapes to a cooking tray, not to mention the dough will ooze, resulting in flat scones. I read that biscuits and scones should have a 3-1-2 ratio: 3 parts flour, 1 part fat, and 2 parts liquid. I’m a bit too lazy overconfident and I don’t consider the math. Instead of slopping it all in the first time I try a recipe, I slop most of it in to see how it starts to come together. I’d call it “baker intuition” but I suspect if I had any intuition it would be, stop baking! What are you looking for? As you combine your wet ingredients, your dough should be soft and slightly sticky, with a short, crumbly texture. In fact, when I turn it out onto my floured counter to shape, it’s still a bit soft and slightly sticky. I know the dough will absorb some of that flour and I don’t want it to be too tough. As if that piece of the puzzle isn’t tricky enough, step 3…

3. Don’t overwork your dough. The more you stir it and handle it, the more you will develop the gluten. You’ll end up with a bread-like scone, or worse, a hard, tough scone.

4. Don’t knead your scones. You may want to give it 4 or 5 gentle rolls to reduce a bit of the stickiness so the dough doesn’t stick to the countertop when you cut your shapes and transfer it to a pan, but that’s it! Pat your dough into a simple circle and cut into wedges, or cut with a cookie cutter. But don’t flatten it too much. Some recipes recommend rolling the dough with a rolling pin, but I’ve found I end up with a flat, dense scones. It’s hard to slice and butter a flat scone. Another mistake I’ve made is cutting too many wedges. I wanted more scones (duh), but because they were so small, I ended up with more tiny hard scones. Just use your common sense. Stop laughing! If you’ve eaten a proper scone, you know what to do!

5. Bake in a hot oven to form a crisp crust on the outside. Brush with cream or milk on the outside (adding sugar is an additional option) to add crispness, sweetness, and colour. Some bakers chill their scones in the fridge or freezer for up to 30 minutes before baking to ensure the butter is cold, but I’m too impatient. Keep an eye on your scones so they don’t overbake (but use the oven light). Opening the door releases the hot air, which impacts your bake. Plus some ovens run hotter than others, and the size of your scones may differ from the person who created the recipe. So, I usually knock 5 minutes off the time given in the recipe because if they’re underbaked, I can give them more time.

Scones should be cooled and stored at room temperature in an airtight container (or popped in the freezer), and eaten within 1-2 days. Reheat in the oven, not the microwave…or better yet! Enjoy them fresh from the oven. Yum!

Feel free to pass on your favourite recipes or pics of your bake and I’ll post them.

Better yet….pass on some scones.

This was why she enjoyed baking. A good dessert could make her feel like she’d created joy at the tips of her fingers.

Marissa Meyer, Heartless

Happy Monday!