Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens! This month, we were assigned a super simple task for our monthly challenge: scones. But not the scones you think about seeing in your local bakery, a traditional British scone, or Australian scone, which would be better known to many of us as biscuits. The recipe we were given to replicate has no sugar as most American “scones” do, and simply consists of flour, leavening, fat, and liquid. The recipe was created to be quick, easy, and cheap – all of which it is, in addition to being delicious.
I made this recipe start-to-finish in less than an hour, and created two types of scones in that time – the basic recipe with no additions, and Cranberry Chocolate Orange scones. The dough is extremely easy to assemble and to work with, requires little hands-on time, and a maximum of 10 minutes in the oven. When you consider how beautiful and tasty the final product is, it’s a wonder scones aren’t a breakfast/tea time/snack time staple everywhere.
I enjoyed this challenge a lot, because it forced me back to the basics, to a seriously simple recipe that took away all of the additives I’m accustomed to, and left the bare bone product which is much more wonderful than the credit it’s given. The resulting scones are extraordinarily soft and tender – almost fragile, and so beautifully golden and buttery. I used cream as the liquid in my scones because cream scones are my absolute favorite, and definitely think I got a slightly fattier, more dense and flaky final product. And my oh my were they ever delicious!
After I made the first basic batch, I added a few flavorings to my next batch to liven things up. I swapped out half of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat pastry flour. Though I do love my indulgent baked goods, I also love adding a healthier flare whenever possible, and using whole wheat pastry flour is one of my favorite ways to do that. I’ve had great success using it in place of half the all-purpose flour in nearly every recipe I’ve tried without altering the flavor too much, and I feel a lot better knowing I’m not filling myself up completely with refined carbs and empty calories.
In addition to the flour swap, I added in chunks of bittersweet chocolate, grated orange peel, and dried cranberries, plus a tablespoon of sugar. The sugar probably wasn’t necessary because the scones still tasted more buttery than anything, but it’s always interesting to see how a recipe behaves when you introduce new ingredients. The scones turned out great – sinfully buttery, with bursts of fresh citrus, rich chocolate, and chewy dried cranberries. I was impressed with what a few flavorings could do to make this recipe shine. While the overall feel and flavor of the scones in both recipes was pretty similar, the scones with flavorings flattened out more, whereas the basic batch puffed up more. No surprise there. I think I patted them all down too much initially so they were flatter than I’d have liked, but I was still pleased with what came out of just a few minutes of work.
I can see these being a great vehicle for your favorite jam or spread, and really an anytime snack. The British certainly know what’s going on when tea time rolls around! I’m excited to give them a try with different toppings in the coming days!
Basic Scones (Biscuits)
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (⅓ oz) fresh baking powder
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt
2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk
optional 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones
1) Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
2) Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)
3) Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
4) Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!
5) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
6) Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
7) Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
8) Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
9) Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.
** These were the instructions as provided to us for this challenge. For the flavored scones, I added a handful of chopped dark chocolate, a handful of dried cranberries, and zested half an orange.