Light and soft with a delicate buttery aroma, a freshly baked scone is a thing of beauty and skill.
But how do you avoid making scones as flat as pancakes and as hard a grenades? As with all timeless crafts, it’s best to start with the basics. We’ve drafted in resident baking expert, Good Living cookery assistant, Vanessa to give us to the low-down on how to make sure your scones puff up to the challenge no matter what.
With these tips and our ultimate homemade scone recipe in your arsenal, you'll be ready for any scone-related challenge. Scroll on to see Vanessa’s expert guide below.
As flour is the primary ingredient in these afternoon tea treats, it's a good idea to choose the right kind for the job.
Vanessa says: “You want a flour with a relatively high protein content, as this will give the scone a good structure inside. Something like a bread flour or self-raising flour is perfect - either one will work perfectly in our recipe."
Next up: butter. Choose a good quality, super creamy salted butter, just like in our ultimate homemade scone recipe. Bear in mind, cheap butter tends to have a higher salt content though, which could lead to a too-salty scone.
Once you've picked the butter for the job, chuck it in the fridge for as long as possible so it's extra hard.
“Make sure your butter or fat is as cold as possible when you add it into the flour. Cool temperatures help to slow down the gluten’s development, helping you achieve a delicious flaky texture," advises Vanessa.
"Cut the cold fat into cubes and work it into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture turns sandy. If you’ve got hot hands, you might notice that the butter starts to melt quickly, resulting in great greasy clumps in the flour. To avoid this, use a palette knife or a strong metal whisk to ‘cut’ the butter into the flour for as long as possible, then use your finger tips for the very last bit of the process. If you're adding fruit or cheese, add it now - before any liquids - so that it's evenly dispersed."
“If your dough looks dry and flaky, add a dash more milk to loosen it up," says Vanessa. "A moister dough will get a better rise in the oven while baking, as the moisture evaporates and creates lots of little air pockets, helping you get that light and airy texture we all know and love."
Treat your scone dough as you would treat shortbread: you want a short (tender) crumb, which requires as little handling as possible.
Vanessa says: “Try not to overwork it - don’t over-stir or knead it too much, as this will make the gluten in the flour work harder, resulting in a tougher scone. Instead, only work it until it starts to come together, then roll it out to your desired thickness and cut it into even rounds.”
Vanessa advises that your scones will probably double in height in the oven, so when rolling out the dough, opt for somewhere around an inch.
“An inch will give you a good 2-inch-tall baked scone, perfect for slicing in half and filling with jam and cream!”
It also doesn’t matter if you opt for a crimped or straight cutter; what matters is how you cut them, according to Vanessa.
“Push straight downwards with the cutter, and don’t twist it! This compresses the dough, sticking the top to the bottom, and will stop it from reaching its full rise in the oven.”
We weren't joking when we said to keep your butter cold. Vanessa advises giving your cut-out scones a blast in the fridge before baking to stiffen up the butter again, which will stop your scones from slumping as soon as they hit the oven’s heat.
When it comes to a gorgeous, gleaming finish, Vanessa advises brushing your cut-out scone dough with egg or milk to give it a shine and a bit more colour after it's baked.
“A milk-wash or egg-wash will give your scones a gorgeous, golden finish. Beaten egg will give the finished result a lovely shine, while milk will help the top to brown slightly more than the sides. If you’re using egg-wash, make sure none drips down the sides of the scones as this added weight can stop the scones from puffing up to their full height in the oven.”
“If you really want to go the extra mile, put your scones onto a hot baking sheet to kickstart those raising agents and guarantee an impressive rise,” says Vanessa.
“What’s more, your scones will be fluffier and moister if you crowd them together nicely on the baking tray. This stops each scone from losing too much moisture in the oven and drying out. Place them on the baking tray about an inch from each other - this just ensures they're not going to spread and touch each other as they bake."
Everyone knows that scones are best on the day they’re baked (nothing beats a warm scone fresh from the oven) and Vanessa agrees.
“If you want that freshly-baked feeling but don’t have time to make them from scratch on the day, make and cut out the scone dough ahead of time then freeze them on some baking paper on a baking tray before storing in a freezer-safe tub or zip seal bag. Then, when you want your scones, transfer to a prepared tray and slide them straight into the oven from frozen. You might need to add a couple of minutes to the baking time, but otherwise they’ll be perfect!"