Perfecting Scones – Cold or Warm Butter?

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!