Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!
Ah, the humble scone! Oft-overlooked, but really, when you come down to it, isn’t it a fine thing? They are so easy to make, require so few ingredients and are very versatile. My favourite is the simple plain scone – flour, baking powder, butter and sugar brought together with cold milk to make a satisfying snack with butter, jam, clotted cream or all of the above. When I was little we used to have them with butter, jam and skooshy cream – you know, the pretend cream that comes in a pressurised container that you can never resist skooshing straight into your mouth at least once? Yum. However, the scone can take on many guises. Here in Scotland, you most commonly see plain, fruit, treacle or cheese scones – if I’ve missed any classic scones off the list do let me know! You can add whatever you fancy, though, as the Daring Bakers have more than ably demonstrated – if you Google the quote at the start of my post you’ll be able to see all the other posts from this month. Or, if you have a lot of free time, you can work your way through the DB blog directory. Fair warning – it’ll make you hungry.
As Audax explained to us this month, scones and biscuits are almost the same thing. Scones tend to be kneaded before cutting and baking, so they’re soft and bready inside, while biscuits tend to be folded and turned multiple times, as when making pastry, which makes them more crisp and layered. Biscuits will be served with dinner, in the place of Yorkshire puddings or bread rolls, or served as a meal in their own right with gravy; sausage gravy, for preference. I also saw a few DBers making sandwiches with them. Scones will be served as a snack, or sometimes for breakfast. They’re a quintessential part of an afternoon tea, with cucumber sandwiches and tea in china cups. They’re like long lost twins, biscuits and scones, fallen into different habits but at heart still just like one another.
Audax did a very thorough job in writing the challenge, and in providing screeds of hints and tips for making perfect scones, as well as giving his usual support and encouragement throughout the month. You can find the PDF file of the recipe and different methods here. I made three versions – it is so quick and inexpensive to make scones (or biscuits) that really I feel that I should have tried more!
First, I made plain scones, adding two tablespoons of sugar to the ingredients of the recipe challenge to make them sweet. In this attempt, I found that the specified amount of milk was too much, so the scones were a little too sticky to handle easily. It also meant that they needed a little longer to bake, and even then they were very soft and pale. On the upside, the extra liquid meant the crumb was very soft and moist. They were smashing with butter and jam – tiny little treats!
Second, I made sourdough biscuits, to another recipe that Audax linked to. This was Louie’s last outing before his major surgery, and the biscuits were very strongly flavoured – almost like cheese scones. They were particularly good with butter (unsurprisingly) and I served them with some questionable stovies, which I may post about, or I may wait until I’ve made a nicer looking batch… I folded and turned this dough, rather than kneading, and left bigger pieces of butter when I was rubbing the butter into the flour. I found that this gave nice layers and a great crispness to the biscuits, though they were still soft and bready inside.
Finally, I made my piece de resistance – smoked salmon and chive scones. I added less milk to these ones, and kneaded them instead of folding, to make sure they were tender inside. Here is my recipe for them, which makes only five 2.5 inch scones and one little misshapen one, with the rolled up cuttings:
- 150g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- generous pinch smoked sea salt
- 30g butter, grated and then frozen
- 3 tsp finely chopped chives
- 45g smoked salmon, torn or cut into tiny scraps
- 60ml milk – you may need a little more
- 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones
*Note: don’t preheat your oven just now; wait until later and have it heating while your scone mix rests and chills*
First, mix the flour and baking powder together. For the optimum rise in your final scones, sift these into the bowl; Audax’s recipe suggests sifting them three times. I am lazy in this respect and very, very rarely sift anything. I drop it into the bowl from a height, to try and get some air in there.
Next, add the grated butter, and use pinching motions to rub it in to the flour. It’s important to use the tips of your fingers, to keep the butter cold. If the butter gets too hot it will melt into the flour and make your scones tough. Keep rubbing the flour and butter together until you have that famous ‘breadcrumbs’ result – some people describe it as looking like coarse sand, too. A good tip for this part is to vigorously slide and shake the bowl back and forth across the counter, or tap it sharply, to bring all the biggest lumps of butter to the top. You can then make sure you’ve rubbed it in to the flour fully. Good, eh?
Add the chives to the bowl, and toss through with your fingers, then do the same with the salmon. Put the mix in the fridge, and turn on your oven to 220C. After twenty minutes, take the mix out of the fridge and proceed.
Add the milk and stir in with a butter knife. A knife is easier to scrape off than a spatula or spoon and somehow brings the dough together better. Once it has come together, which won’t take long, have a feel of it. You want it to be a little wet and sticky but not unmanageable. This is another one of those recipes where practise will really help you to know how the dough should feel.
Line a baking sheet with foil and dust with flour.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, and gently knead until smooth. This will take four or five kneadings. I don’t know if kneadings is a word, but that’s how many of them it’ll take. Pat it out until it’s about 3/4 of an inch thick. The thicker your dough is, the taller the final scones will be, but the fewer scones you’ll be able to make from one batch. Press a cutter into the dough *without twisting it*, then lift – the scone should come up with the cutter long enough for you to drop it on to the sheet. You can re-roll and cut any scraps, until you only have enough to roll one weird looking non-scone. Other people might throw this out, but I like to keep it – nobody likes waste. If you don’t have a cutter, or prefer square scones, you can pat the dough into a rectangle, and use a sharp knife to cut them out. Brush milk over the tops (but not the sides) for colour.
Your oven should be ready by now – if not, the scones will be happy to wait in the fridge until it is. Bake them for five minutes before rotating the baking sheet, and bake for another five. Take the scones out and put them on a cooling rack.
When they’re cool enough, serve them with cream cheese, and maybe a cheeky slice of cucumber. Fancy!