Post #511 Scones, Learning a British Staple

October 10, 2016 at 12:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #511 Scones, Learning a British Staple

Okay, first, what’s a staple?  I’m not talking about the tiny metal bit you use with a handheld machine to fasten paper together.  In cooking terms, a staple is an item that a cook keeps on hand all the time, or ingredients for a dish they make all the time.  Flour is a good example of a staple.  So is salt, or milk, or eggs.  In my house, bacon is a staple.  In the UK, scones are a breakfast staple.

Scones can be pronounced either as SCONE rhyming with STONE, or as SCON rhyming with ON.  As far as I can tell, it’s a regional thing and you can pronounce it however you like.  We typically say scone/stone because we’re American and that’s what it looks like to us.  Scones are a quick bread similar to the banana bread I wrote about last week.  They are very similar in taste and consistency to our American biscuit, and just as easy to make.

Scones are slightly sweetened, and typically are served with clotted cream and jam.  Apparently, there’s a raging discussion over whether the jam is spread first or last.  I simplify it by using butter only.  If I put anything on it at all.  Scones can also be made in wedge shapes or round shapes.

I have no idea why I decided to teach myself to become proficient at scones except they make a nice breakfast treat that can be thrown together and ready in about a half hour.  Just about the right time to cook and cool bacon or sausage.  So here’s the basic recipe:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 beaten egg, optional
  • various berries, nuts, seeds, chips, etc. optional

Sift the dry ingredients together until very well blended.  Cut the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the milk into it.  Lightly combine the flour and milk taking care to keep the mixture as airy as possible.  Add any optional ingredients at this point using only 2-3 stirs to combine.  When just combined, roll the dough onto a well floured surface and knead five or six times to bring everything together.  Gently pat the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 an inch to 1 inch thick using flour on your hands or sprinkled on top of the dough to prevent sticking.  Using a floured knife, or a floured biscuit cutter, gently cut the dough into the preferred shape.  DO NOT twist the biscuit cutter or knife after the cut as this will crimp the sides and reduce rising.  If desired, brush the tops with beaten egg to produce a shiny golden finish.  Place on a treated baking sheet and bake at 425 for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove to a serving plate.  Scones can be kept for a few days in an airtight container.

See?  Totally simple.  I’ve watched the contestants on the Great British Bake Off throw scones together almost as an afterthought.  The Two Fat Ladies are fond of scones and made them often.  Of course, me being me, I wanted to read the recipe over and over.  I bought a really cheap e-book for my Kindle about making scones and supplying me with about three dozen recipes.  I had some chocolate chips I wanted to use.  So, as a bull in a china store does, I plunged ahead.

First, per The Two Fat Ladies, I used my food processor to combine my dry ingredients and cut my butter into it.  You’re supposed to just pulse the mix 5-6 times, but I didn’t see the right texture so I did several more until I decided to stop.  Then going one step further, while the blade was spinning, I added the milk.  But I wanted tastier scones, so I used buttermilk.  I dumped the result out onto my floured countertop, and it was a dry mess.  It had not come together at all.  I couldn’t stop now, so I pulled it all together and kneaded it until it was a dough, kneaded some chocolate chips into it, and tried to shape it into wedges.  The dough was very stiff and very flat.  The recipe I was following called for the oven to be at 450, and to bake for 15-20 minutes.  I omitted the egg wash and put my “scones” into the oven.  Here’s what came out.


Very little rise, not a scone-like consistency, and it was like eating a large hardtack cracker, very tough.  But the chocolate chips made it taste good.  You couldn’t even cut them in half to put butter on them, not that you’d want to with chocolate chips in there.  I was disappointed and wondered what I’d done wrong, although I suspected it was adding the milk to the flour with the food processor.  I wanted this batch to get eaten, so I didn’t plan on making anymore right away.

I was puzzled so I went back to my sources to figure out what I’d done wrong.  That wasn’t much help, and since I tend to be a visual person, I went to You Tube and watch a few videos on “How To Make Scones”.  They pretty much confirmed what I was already suspecting.  You have to treat them gently and the food processor was not the way to go.  I actually learned a new technique in one video about mixing the flour and milk.  It was the lifting and turning process I wrote about in making the banana bread.  Overmixing is a killer when you want good lift.

So I went back and replicated my first recipe with the chocolate chips, buttermilk, and all.  Again, I didn’t do the egg wash, but I did treat the dough properly and with respect.  I also turned the heat down a bit and lessened the baking time.  I baked for 15 minutes at 425.  And I used a circular cut this time.


They were better.  They were moist, tender, very tasty, but this still didn’t get the rise I wanted and knew should have happened based on the videos I’d watched.  Again, I reviewed everything but the only thing different I was doing was buttermilk versus whole milk.  I wondered if my baking powder was too old, but the date on the can said not.  Maybe I’d overmixed, but I didn’t think that was possible.  Then I had an epiphany.  The only thing in the recipe causing a rise was the baking powder.  Something had to be interfering with it.  So I went to the internet to read about baking powder.  I learned a lot about baking powder, but one thing I noted and took back to this recipe was this:  don’t use an acid with baking powder since it will inhibit its ability to do its job.  And guess what buttermilk is?  I remembered that the combination of buttermilk and baking soda provide extra lift.  That doesn’t work with baking powder.


Back to the recipe.  Made plain scones.  I decided to start with the basic recipe and make that every time I wanted scones so I could master the basics then start adding things.  I used whole milk; I did the egg wash; I treated that dough as gently as a newborn.  I patted the dough out to 1/2 inch thick.  I didn’t twist the cutter.  I followed every instruction to the letter.


Looks like it worked.  We had these for breakfast on Saturday with link sausages.  The were light but doughy, lightly sweet, exactly what I was expecting them to be.  I’m going to continue making them and tweaking them until I have the consistent perfection I want, but in the meantime . . . .



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