Every baker should know their scones

  • Wed Feb 15th, 2012 9:59am
  • Life

By Martha Stewart

There are three favorite “breads” served for breakfast in America: muffins, scones and biscuits. The basic ingredients in scones and biscuits are essentially the same: flour, butter or shortening, milk or cream, leavening and a bit of salt and possibly sugar.

The method of preparation, too, is pretty similar: Sift the dry ingredients, cut in the fat and add the liquid. As with biscuits, the scone dough is rolled and cut into shapes. (Generally, muffins are made the way a cake is, by creaming butter and sugar, and then adding liquids and dry ingredients.)

Scones, which originated in Scotland, are associated with British high tea. They are leavened, fluffy or crumbly breads, once rather plain, that over time have been embellished with fruits and grains and even nuts and mashed potatoes.

Scones have become a common and desirable breakfast bread that can be eaten simply with coffee and tea or topped with butter and jam for a bit more substance.

Biscuits, on the other hand, are American and have been made in pretty much the same way for centuries. Home cooks have very particular ways of dealing with the simple ingredients, and while some vary the ingredients — substituting buttermilk for milk or cream, or butter for shortening or lard — the result is usually a light, layered, high-sided bread that can be used to soak up gravy or the soft yolks of poached eggs, or split open and eaten with butter and jam.

There are many different techniques for making scones. Rolled and cut, or patted into rounds, squares or triangles, scones now are made in an interesting array of flavors. Home bakers are always adding something new to the dough — chocolate chips, raspberries, pureed pumpkin, dates, dried cranberries or sour cherries, and even cheese — to entice the family.

Whether you eat flaky scones for breakfast or serve them as a lovely after-school snack, they are worthy, I think, of inclusion in your baking repertoire.

Scone tips

No matter the recipe, follow these tips for professional results.

Folding: For this process, you fold the dough as you would a letter, and then roll it out to distribute the pieces of butter throughout the layers of dough. The butter pieces form pockets of steam in the oven and give the scones their light and flaky texture. Go to marthastewart.com/scones-101 for a step-by-step how-to.

Sugaring: Sprinkling on sugar adds an extra element of sweetness and crunch. You can use one of the wet ingredients from your recipe — egg, egg white, buttermilk, cream — to adhere the sugar. Try granulated, sanding and raw sugar for different textures and finishes.

Cutting: This technique can be used for almost any scone. Form a rectangle, and use a long chef’s knife to cut the dough into squares. It’s quick, requires no special cutters and leaves no waste behind.

There’s no rerolling, which can diminish the texture of a scone. Remember to dust your knife with a little flour.

Rich cream scones

1cup cake flour (not self-rising)

2cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling and cutting

1/2cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

2teaspoons baking powder

1/2teaspoon baking soda

Salt

1 1/2sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 1/4cups cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing

1/4teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or rub in with your fingers. (The largest pieces should be the size of small peas.) With your fingertips, flatten butter pieces into small disks. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until butter is very firm, about 20 minutes.

Combine cream and vanilla in a small bowl, and stir into flour mixture with a wooden spoon until almost absorbed and dough just comes together. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface; roll out into an 8-by-10-inch rectangle. With a short side facing you, fold rectangle into thirds, as you would a letter. Rotate dough a quarter turn clockwise.

Repeat rolling out, folding and rotating dough 2 more times. With floured hands, pat out dough to a 1 1/4-inch thickness, and cut out as many rounds as possible with a floured 2 1/4-inch round biscuit cutter.

Gather scraps, reroll once, and cut out more rounds (you should have a total of 12).

Place scones 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush tops with cream, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12. Scones keep, wrapped in plastic, for 1 day.

Address questions to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 601 W. 26th St., Ninth floor, New York, NY 10001. Send email to mslletters@marthastewart.com.

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