The 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.
- 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