Perfecting Scones – Introduction

SconesI can’t resist a project… and despite being quite fatigued post-Choux, it’s time for a new one. This time, scones. Scones are complicated and yet also simple. Simple in terms of how you eat them, how you bake them. Bake fast, eat with jam and cream. Feel free to debate what to call them (‘skon’ or ‘skone’ – I’m beastly careless) or whether to put jam or cream on first (again, beastly careless here… it all goes down the same, although if I had to choose, jam first because it melds better with the scone, but then jam on top of the cream does look prettier… stop!).

They are complicated in the sense that there are so many views on what makes them perfect. Google ‘best scone recipe’ and you’ll see. Felicity Cloake offered a superb exploration of this in The Guardian, and I don’t intend to just rehash what she did. My goal is not to determine some ideal scone – that can’t exist, because it’s a matter of opinion. Rather, I want to offer advice on how to achieve the scone of your dreams (and also mine). To do this, I’m going to set a few criteria for what I consider a good scone, and also some that are more a matter of opinion. I’ll explore how to achieve both. You can choose what you want to create. In doing this, I’ll identify the variables I want to test.

A good scone is light, soft and flavoursome. It should rise in the oven. It should be a supportive base for conveying jam and cream into your mouth. It should not be a biscuit, a cake, a shortcake, an English muffin, a standard muffin, a bun, a danish or a bread roll. That’s it. It’s defined by what it is not as much as by what it is.

What are the variables in achieving this? First, eggs – to include or not to include, that is a real question. Flour – cake, bread or plain? Most recipes opt for plain, but Paul Hollywood goes out on a limb with bread flour and Dan Lepard suggests Italian Type 00 is a winner. We’ll see. How much butter? Sugar? Should you use lard (I just don’t want to. Sorry, Felicity). Should you, as I’ve been told, use lemonade? I confess the thought of that makes me throw up in my mouth a bit, but I’m game to give it a try in the interests of unbiased research. Which raising agent or combination thereof? Baking powder? Bicarb? And what about Cream of Tartar? How much milk? Then there’s the method. Chaffing? Hmm, I’ll try. How much kneading is too much? Rolling pin or no? Plain cutter or scalloped? Rest the dough in the fridge, as Azelia’s Kitchen suggests? Quite a lot to think about.

Let me just make a quick spreadsheet and I’ll get back to you.