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.