Hong Kong!

So I’m not going to have much of a chance to bake for a while as I’m off to Hong Kong with the little Dormouse for a month! Instead, I’ll be posting some of our culinary experiences. We’ve made a deal that we will try to taste something we’ve never eaten before every day. We are there for 28 days, so that’s quite a lot of new food. We’ll see how that pans out…

The Great British Bake Off starts on 24 August, and I’m hoping to be able to watch while I’m away as I do love Bake Off. And perhaps when I get back there might be a bit of baking along once again.

A New Project – Perfecting Genoise Sponge

GenoiseSo scones are done and new project looms. This one is a request from a reader, who asked me to look at how to perfect Genoise sponge. I’ll get right on it!


Perfecting Scones – The Conclusion

Scones - Flour variable - 16 of 18It has been an epic journey. I am sick of scones. I am sick of jam. I do not want to eat any more whipped cream.

But it has been enlightening. Here are my conclusions and my final recipe.

  • 500g bread flour
  • 125g butter (cold)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 4.5 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml cold milk
  • 2 eggs

Sift the flour and baking powder at least once. Grate the chilled (even frozen) butter into the flour (which can also be chilled beforehand). Rub in the until it is like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar. Whisk milk and eggs together and add to the mixture. Cut through the mixture as you turn the bowl, using a pastry scraper or spatula. Turn the mixture over the get the dry bits from the bottom. When all ingredient are combined and it’s just coming together, turn it out and press it together very gently. Give it one or two folds if necessary to make a dough. Pat it into a round between 2.5 and 3 centimetres high. Cut out rounds using a floured cutter (don’t twist). Place on buttered baking tray quite close together. Brush with milk (don’t let it run down the sides) and bake at 220C/220C fan for between 16 and 20 minutes depending on size. Remove when golden brown. Eat warm.

Some conclusions

Some things are crucial to good scones. A light tough, a hot oven.

Some things are a matter of taste. Cold butter rubbed in quickly will give a more open-textured scone, while warm butter will make the texture closer. Leaving flakes of butter will make it a bit bouncier. Bread flour works for me, but you might like something else, just remember to adjust the liquid accordingly — less liquid if you use lower protein-content flour. I like my scones quite open in texture, but you can use a little less liquid and again make them a little more biscuit-y. it is worth chilling the dough for at least 30 mins (up to 2 hours) before baking.

Some things seem to make no difference. For me, that’s buttermilk. For you it might be something else.

Make the scones you like best. I hope this helps you do just that. And put the jam wherever you like. It’s your scone, after all.

Perfecting Scones – Tips for Scone Perfection!

Scones - Flour variable - 11 of 18The Internet and baking books are awash with tips and tricks about how to make the perfect scone. Some I think are great, some I’ve never bothered with but you might want to try them. Here, I collate all those tips.

  • Full-fat milk, not skim – scones are about butter and fat and cream. That is when they taste best.
  • The flavour partly comes from the butter, so use a nice one. I like French butter, which is easy to get in the UK, like Lescure, which is delicious. I try to use higher-welfare products if I can (not sure how Lescure rates on that one…). Lescure even comes in ready-formed sheets for making puff pastry! I’m fond of Yeo Valley Unsalted and also Duchy butter (from Prince Charles himself). Sometimes I use salted, sometimes not.
  • Sift, sift, sift! I sift the flour three times, partly to make sure the raising agents are well distributed and partly to remove any lumps that would mean I needed more stirring. It also brings air into the mix, and that’s a good thing.
  • Grate the butter into the flour using the coarse side, then rub it in. This makes rubbing in easier. You can even freeze the butter before doing this to ensure it all stays really cold, suggests Epicurean Escapism (amongst many others) but be warned – if it’s a cold day in your kitchen, it you over-do the cold butter it becomes really hard to rub it in. Conversely, on a hot day this tip will save the butter melting into the flour and making close-textured scones.
  • Rub butter rather than process it. I find it coats the flour better, and so gives a nicer texture. However, plenty of people process it in and it’s just fine, so don’t sweat that one.
  • Whisk the eggs and milk together before adding in one go.
  • Mix the dough as little as possible. I cut it with a palette knife or spatula, turning the bowl as I go. It keeps it cool and prevents over-mixing.
  • Handle the dough as little as possible. You don’t want to develop the gluten, so just lightly bring it together, then one or two folds to make it hold and that’s it! Your scones will look scruffier, but they will be lighter.
  • Wet dough is a good thing. Don’t keep adding flour to stop it being sticky; just dust the surface and work with light, gentle touches and flour the cutter to cope. David Herbert suggests the dough should be “stickier than a shortcrust pastry”. You may need to tweak the liquid content to accommodate the type of flour you’re using. If it’s high protein bread flour, this will need more than a low protein cake flour. Experimentation is key as flours differ between brand, type and even where the wheat was grown. For example, if you use Canadian Bread Flour (as it’s labeled in the UK), my guess is it will need even more milk than the recipe I’ve given, so if you produce a dry dough, this might be the reason.
Rolling, Cutting and Getting Ready to Bake
  • Don’t roll the dough, just pat it. So says almost everyone.
  • Dough should be at least 2.5cm thick before cutting. Delia says 3cm is better and suggests it is ‘vital’.
  • Rest the dough for 2 hours in the fridge before cutting (a wise suggestion from Azelia). Cool dough into a hot oven leads to taller, lighter, fluffier scones.
  • Dip the cutter in flour almost every cut to make them drop out easily.
  • Don’t twist the cutter. It seals the sides and they won’t rise as much.
  • After the first cuts, don’t roll the dough up too firmly. I press all the scraps together by pushing the dough from either side into the middle and then as gently as possible try to get them to stick. The aim is always to knead as little as possible.
  • You can brush the tops with milk, egg and milk (for a more golden colour) or even egg wash topped with a dusting of caster sugar to create a sweet crust. To do this, either dust the whole batch once done then place on the tray (to avoid sugar all over the tray, which is no fun to clean once it’s been heated) or dip each egg-washed scone into a saucer of sugar before placing on the tray.
  • Place them close together on the tray as they rise upwards, rather than falling over. You get a crisp top and soft sides, too, which is nice.
  • Bake at 200C (fan) or 220C and make sure your oven really is at temperature before putting them in. A blast of high heat is crucial to a good rise.
After Baking
  • Wrapping scones in a teatowel when they come out of the oven will keep them warm and moist, suggests Philippa Grogan. If you like them more crisp, leave space for steam to escape or simply cool on a rack.
  • Scones keep for a day or two, but are best eaten warm on the day they were made. You can warm them up in the oven at 180C for a few minutes. You can freeze them.
  • Then the only decision you have is what to put on first – the jam or the cream! There is a debate about this, of course, but for me jam first is best. There is a divide between Devon and Cornwall on the right order. The Devonshire way is to first spread with clotted cream, then top with jam, while the Cornish approach is the reverse. Should you feel inclined to learn more about this vital question, here is some further reading:

The Guardian – How To Eat… Cream Tea

The Guardian – How To Eat… Cream Tea (again)

Cream Tea Society – History of the Cream Tea

Cream Tea Society – Etiquette

And finally, a ‘scientific’ article on the best way to assemble and eat your delicious scones:

Scientific Formula for the Perfect Cream Tea

Perfecting Scones – Buttermilk?

OK then, so one more thing to try. I can’t help myself, though I am quite sick of eating scones now and may be ‘scone-blindness’. Buttermilk. I see it mentioned a bit as a way to make super-fluffy scones. This makes sense given that the buttermilk makes the dough a little more acidic and this increases the raising effect of the bicarbonate of soda in the baking powder.

I did this test when I tested the rubbing-in variable, so I have crumby and flaky doughs made with milk and with buttermilk. Here they are

The buttermilk batch puffed up more after the resting period as you can see here:

Post-bake, here’s the four scone from the crumby/flaky test as well. It goes Milk/Crumby, Buttermilk/Crumby, Milk/Flaky, Buttermilk/Flaky.

L-R: Milk/Crumby, Buttermilk/Crumby, Milk/Flaky, Buttermilk/Flaky

Did it make a difference to flavour or texture? None that I could discern, and I couldn’t pick between them on a blind taste test. The buttermilk ones are a little higher, but not a lot and even though this was the case, they weren’t that different to eat. It might make a difference for some people in some recipes, but not me. I wouldn’t bother with the faff of getting buttermilk again, but if you have it, go for it.

Perfecting Scones – The Rubbing-In Variable: Crumbs v Flakes

So, it is often said that one must rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mary Berry is on Team Crumb, but every now and then I see someone advocating leaving big flakes in the mix. Two examples are Rosie Bakes It (a lovely cake-oriented blog) and here’s another on Team Flake.

Obviously, testing had to happen.

Here’s the crumby one and the flaky one pre-liquid.

And post-liquid (I went for 75ml mixes).

The crumb mix was a bit softer, but the flaky one felt wet in a different way. I let them both chill before baking and both puffed up fairly well.

Here they are post-bake.

L-R Crumby, Flaky

L-R Crumby, Flaky

On balance, I think the crumb method was preferable. The flaky ones were fluffier, I guess, but sort of bouncy, while the crumb ones were crumblier, more friable. I think this one is a matter of taste, though.

Perfecting Scones – The Milk Variable and Resting the Dough

L-R 50ml 75ml 100ml - FridgeIt’s been some time since my last post because I’ve been away on holidays in Italy, but I’m back now and ready to bake yet more scones! This time, the milk variable – how much? I also tested the option of putting the dough in the refrigerator overnight before baking, the idea for which came from Azelia (as does the basic recipe).

I kept to my standard recipe, which is Azelia’s, but then altered the milk in the batch. One had 50ml (which would proportionately be the same as her recipe), one had 75ml and one had 100ml. I was baking while dealing with children, so no photos of the mixes. The 50ml was quite firm while the 100ml was pretty sticky (and I think using sugar affects this too).

Milk variable results

I initially felt the 50ml we best, but in the end Mark and I both opted for 75ml. 50ml felt a little dry, 100ml was getting a bit away from being a scone and was a smidge ‘bouncy’ rather than buttery.

L-R 50ml No Fridge Fridge

L-R: 50ml No Fridge v 50ml Fridge

L-R 75ml No Fridge Fridge

L-R: 75ml No Fridge  v 75ml Fridge

L-R 100ml No Fridge Fridge

L-R: 100ml No Fridge v 100ml Fridge

You can see from the pictures that the higher liquid ones bulged out rather than puffed upwards, but they were still light and lovely, just not as melt-in-the-mouth as the less milky ones. But I’d prefer 75ml over 50ml as it just a smidge more soft and moist. That said, the difference was surprisingly small despite the big variation in quantity. 100ml was a bit tricky to handle.

I think mine needs more milk than Azelia’s because I used bread flour and she uses all-purpose flour. Bread flour can hold a bit more liquid and not be sticky (and vice versa needs a bit more liquid to make a soft dough).

Fridge variable results
L-R: 50ml 75ml 100ml - No fridge

Without resting in the fridge L-R: 50ml, 75ml, 100ml

With resting in the fridge L-R: 50ml 75ml 100ml

With resting in the fridge L-R: 50ml, 75ml, 100ml

You can see that the ones that were rested rose a bit more and they were a little lighter. It didn’t have a huge impact, but we could just tell the difference and preferred the ones that had been rested. Azelia points out that you don’t need to leave them overnight – she tested it and 2 hours is sufficient. I’d second that, particularly if your ingredients are already cool.


On balance, I’d rest the dough before cutting scones out. 2 hours or so would be good, but a bit more or a bit less would be fine.

I’ve revised the recipe (I’m not calling it mine, because it’s still really Azelia’s with a few tweaks) to:

  • 500g bread flour
  • 4.5 tsp baking powder
  • 95g sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 150ml milk
  • 2 eggs

A few more things to test and then on to the next project. I want to tweak the amount of sugar and see what happens. I also want to compare butter incorporation – whether to rub to complete breadcrumbs, or leave some big flakes. I’ll also end this project with a bunch on other tips I’ve gleaned from my own experience and from other blogs and recipes. I’m getting a bit sick of eating scones so it’s good that the end is in sight.




Perfecting Scones – Cold or Warm Butter?

Cold v Warm

Warm ingredients versus cold ingredients

One of the interesting differences in scone recipes is whether you should keep all the ingredients, particularly the butter, cold. Those who take the cold approach then advocate rubbing in the butter as quickly as possible, some even opting for pastry cutters or knives. Examples of this approach include Felicity Cloake, Luna Café and Rachel Allen. Others, such as Azelia, suggest soft butter.

I tested this by making two batches with exactly the same ingredients, the only difference was that for the cold batch, I chilled the milk, flour and butter as well as the bowl. I also re-chilled the flour/butter mixture before adding the chilled milk. I wanted to make sure the contrast was as big as possible. You can also cut the butter in with knives to avoid warming it with your hands (or a pastry blade like this one). If you do use your hands, make sure you use your fingertips only as they’re cooler. For the other batch, everything was warm, and I mean really warm, as it was the hottest day of the year so far!

I had helpful guest tasters in the form of my brother, his wife and their two adorable children. Having their perspective proved to be invaluable as we shall see. I don’t have any decent pictures because I was also busy making a Thai curry, but the scones didn’t really look very different.

What was the difference, then? The cold batch did puff up slightly more (it’s the scone on the right in the picture above). The main difference was in the texture. The cold batch scone was much lighter and fluffier, while the warm batch scone was more close-textured. But… and here’s the interesting thing… we didn’t reach any consensus on which was nicer (and we really did do a lot of comparative research). My niece pointed out that both were nice, it just depended on what you felt like eating. A fluffy scone is a lovely thing, but a sweet, buttery, closer-textured one was great too.

Conclusion – make the scones you prefer to eat. Closer-textured? Don’t worry about warm ingredients. Want them super-fluffy? Get everything as cold as cold as cold and work fast!

Perfecting Scones – The Flour Variable

We went through a lot of jam...

We went through a lot of jam…

The recipes use a range from SR flour, Plain flour and Bread flour. Dan Lepard also recommends using Italian Type 00 (pasta flour). I wanted to get a full range to see the differences, so I used Cake flour, but left out SR Flour for now (as that’s essentially Plain flour with raising agent in it, but the protein content is more variable, so Cake flour is more precise).

Protein content of the four flours was:

  • Cake flour: 9%
  • Pasta flour: 14%
  • Plain flour: 11.8%
  • Bread flour: 12%

I used the recipe from Azelia’s Kitchen to start with because, frankly, it makes excellent scones. It is:

  • 500g flour
  • 4.5 tsp baking powder
  • 95g sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 100ml milk
  • 2 eggs

Here are the mixes before mixing

And after mixing.

The Cake flour mix was very wet and soft, hard to handle and sticky. Pasta flour felt wet, but not as wet as Cake. It was a bit grainy. Plain flour and Bread flour were pretty similar. Bread felt driest of the lot and was the most difficult to bring together without kneading. In keeping with my no knead position, I merely gathered the mixes, folded them once and then patted (no rolling with scones) and tried to get them to the same height before cutting.

L-R top: Cake flour, Pasta flour L-R bottom: Plain flour, Bread flour

L-R top: Cake flour, Pasta flour
L-R bottom: Plain flour, Bread flour

I cut four of each with the same cutter, no twisting.

Scones - Flour variable - 8 of 18

L-R: Cake flour, Pasta flour, Plain flour, Bread flour

Then egg wash and baked at 200C fan. And the results…

L-R: Cake flour, Pasta flour, Plain flour, Bread flour

L-R: Cake flour, Pasta flour, Plain flour, Bread flour

Then the tasting began. Mr Dormouse (Mark) and little Ollie Dormouse helped. Ollie’s verdict – Pasta flour was ‘stiffer’ and Plain flour ‘way stiffer’. He liked the Cake flour one best because it was ‘very VERY fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside’.

hmm, should have cleaned those finger nails...

hmm, should have cleaned those finger nails…

Mark and I then embarked on quite an intense tasting session. He takes these things very seriously, especially if it means he gets to eat more scones, jam and cream. We didn’t completely agree, so we had to taste things quite a few times…

Scones - Flour variable - 13 of 18Cake flour

Lovely when it first came out of the oven. Crust was crisp and golden and delightful, inside fluffy. But as it cooled, its star began to fade. We both found it claggy in the mouth. But it was definitely the most crumbly. They virtually disintegrate in your mouth. If you loaded it up with cream, it would be lovely if you like a crumbly scone, but eat it fast.

Scones - Flour variable - 15 of 18Pasta flour

My favourite initially, Mark less convinced. The texture was slightly grainy almost, and very moist feeling when warm. Light, soft and buttery with a lovely flavour. More buttery and less claggy than the Cake flour. It was lovely warm and cold.

Scones - Flour variable - 12 of 18Plain flour

Texture was closer than the previous two. I found it gluey, Mark didn’t. Its flavour was, for both of us, a bit bland really. Mark felt it was a good carrier for jam. If you wanted something bland and not too buttery feeling so that you could load it with cream, then this is the one. It was the water cracker of the bunch.

Scones - Flour variable - 11 of 18

Bread flour

This one was a bit glue-y when warm, but was a delight when it cooled a little. Then it came into its own. The most buttery in the mouth (very similar to the Pasta flour) and moist. Less crumbly, but that was fine. You could eat this on its own. Definitely Mark’s favourite although he worried it might be a bit much when loaded with cream et al.

Scones - Flour variable - 16 of 18Verdict

It seems that even when the butter and liquid are the same, the type of flour can make a huge difference. I’d avoid Cake flour – it was fine but did get a bit claggy. Plain flour was … fine… Type 00 and Bread flour were pretty similar and surprisingly, the best in terms of texture and flavour. Type 00 was a smidge more crumbly and grainy, which I liked.

I will ponder why this all turned out as it did in Scone Theory later in the week.

Scones - Flour variable - 17 of 18

Perfecting Scones – Getting Started

I’ve been having a look at scone recipes… there are a lot… they’re all very different. So where to start? Obviously a spreadsheet.

Scones spreadsheetIt shows a huge range in amounts of milk, egg, sugar and even raising agent. The range of flours wasn’t a great, or at least so it seems. Self-raising flour is a slightly unhelpful way to describe an ingredient if you’re trying to be precise. The protein content of the main brands in the UK ranges from 9.3% to 10.5% but generally it’s lower than Plain flour (which is pretty similar to All-purpose flour). If you choose “Sponge Flour” that usually has a lower protein level than standard SR flour. Bread flour, by contrast, usually about 12% or higher here. Cake flour (usually you need to get this from places like Shipton Mill) is closer to 8%. Pasta flour, as the wildcard, is 14% (the Waitrose brand I used). I’m going to make flour type the first variable to make things simpler from hereon. That will be first bake test.

Then there’s the question of to egg or not to egg? I’m Australian, so I used to consider eggs in scones an abomination… ok, perhaps just odd. But, after 11 years in Britain and many scones eaten here, I’m a convert to the egg. At least, I prefer that style of scone. Australian scones are just a different beast. Lighter, fluffier, but more bland. They are an ideal way to convey large amounts of jam and cream into your mouth without interfering with the flavour. A bit like water crackers for cheese. But there needs to be a proper comparison (because I’m all about the scientific method… ) so I’ll make egg the second test bake. How much milk? Clearly wide differences on this one. Third test bake. Butter can be number four and raising agent number five (if I haven’t expired or exploded by then). Then there are the other more unusual permutations – buttermilk, yoghurt and the like. I’ll have a go at those once I have all the rest sorted out.

The other variables I see from pottering around people’s recipes are whether to rub butter in cold or warm, and within that whether to rub to ‘breadcrumbs’ or leave it flaky. I’ll try to test across some of the future bakes. I’m very strongly in the never ever ever knead scone dough camp, and I don’t particularly want to bake a batch of rubbish scones to prove what I think is well-accepted as a big mistake in scone-making. Happily, Felicity Cloake has already done this, so I’m saved the job. She concluded that

In every single case, the overworked dough produces a denser, less well-risen result, and the scones that started off flatter remain so.

I consider that confirmed, then – no kneading.

Then there’s temperature – big variation on that one to be tested. Twisting the cutter? Best test it as it’s a bit of a thing. A really interesting thing I want to test for myself is chilling the dough. Azelia’s Kitchen offers a superb discussion and test of this, and that’s where I got the idea.

That’s enough to be getting on with for now. Next post, I’ll test flour then a bit of scone theory the post afterwards before going any further.

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