Ever since I started baking, I’ve grown to realise that one of my favourite breakfasts and tea-time treats to eat and make are scones. Nothing quite hits the spot like a soft and tender bake enjoyed quietly alone on a lazy day, and to have this comfort food on your plate in under an hour, without the hassle of butter softening, or yeast proofing (yes, I’m looking at you, yummy-yet-time-consuming cinnamon rolls), is surely an added bonus, if not an impetus. Yet, each time I blog or tweet on scones;– I must admit I bake them more than I can blog;– I will almost always receive either laments on differing results, or questions on my ‘secrets’ to baking them. This post certainly is a long time coming, but here’s sharing some of my tips on baking perfect scones, and pssst, even if you’re not interested, there is a great recipe awaiting at the end of the post, in celebration of Nutella Day last Sunday.
Tip #1: Keep everything cold
When baking scones, it is important that your ingredients (both fats and liquids) remain cold. No room for room temperature ingredients here! Possibly the most important ingredient to mention is butter. It is important for the butter and the rest of the ingredients to remain cold until baking time, to ensure that the butter remains a solid, melting only under the high temperature of the oven, thus creating flaky layers and pockets in the scones, which in turn would help the scones to rise.
#1a: Freeze your butter
Most scones recipes call for the rubbing-in method, that is, fat (butter or shortening) is rubbed into flour, using your fingertips or pastry-cutter. until it resembles breadcrumbs. At this stage, however, it is common to overwork the butter, causing the bits of butter to soften in the flour mixture, resulting in big sticky lumps, rather than coarse or fine breadcrumbs. To avoid this, you must ensure that the butter is really cold, and you work fast with your fingertips (do not use your palms; the fingertips are the coldest part of your hands). An easier way around this would be to freeze your butter. This works like a charm. Simply measure out the amount of butter you need, and stick it into the freezer until it is perfectly solid. Then, using a cheese grater, grate the solid butter directly into the flour, thereafter tossing and mixing to coat the bits of butter with flour. The butter will remain cold longer, and you won’t have to worry about large clumps of soft butter.
#1b: Chill the scones prior to baking
This is absolutely optional, but it’s something I personally do. Prior to baking, I always place the tray of scones in the refrigerator for about 5-10 minutes. This ensures that the scones remain cold before baking, especially after having had worked the dough in our hot and humid weather. Cold dough plus high oven temperature = flaky tender scones!
Tip #2: Do not overwork the dough
Upon mixing the liquids into the flour, you will be tempted to knead the mixture into a smooth dough. Kneading converts the protein in the flour to gluten, which results in a chewy scone; we want tender, and flaky. To avoid overworking the dough, mix the liquids in the flour mixture with a knife, until it is just combined, or comes together. Turn the dough out onto your floured working area, and simply pat it into a circle (don’t bother with a rolling pin, seriously), before scoring it, or cutting into your desired shapes.
Tip #3: Wet is good
Yet another common mistake besides having room-temperature ingredients and overworking the dough is adding more flour into the dough. In wanting to knead the dough into a perfect ball to be rolled out, it is always tempting to add more flour to the sticky dough, just to make it knead-able. It is imperative to remember that we’re not making cookies here, so just like any bread dough, the stickier and wetter the dough, the better. Don’t worry about not being able to shape the scones; the extra flour from your work surface will handle that.
Tip #4: Do not twist your cutter
If you are intending to cut out shapes for your scones, make sure that you do not twist your cutter upon lifting it from the dough. Press the cutter directly down onto the dough, and lift it up straight, without twisting it. This will ensure that your resulting scones will not rise in a lopsided manner. Also, do not attempt to smooth out the edges of the cut-out scones; these rough edges will give that quintessential flaky cracks of scones.
Tip #5: Arrange your cut-out scones close to one another
Much like cinnamon rolls, arranging your scones side by side, just touching one another, helps in making the scones rise evenly, and higher. Since the heat causes the scones to rise, if they are placed side by side, the scones will be forced to rise upwards, not outwards. Thus, scones arranged closer would rise higher than those baked apart.
(adapted from Baked Explorations; Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito)
2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped (I omitted this)
1/2 cup Nutella, divided
Preheat oven to 375°F / 19°0C. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicon mat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add the butter to the flour. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the chunks of butter become pea sized and the flour holds together when squeezed.
Whisk the cream and egg together. While mixing, slowly pour the cream mixture into the flour mixture until the dough just comes together.
Stir in the hazelnuts, then pour the dough onto a floured surface. Knead the dough into a rectangle.
Spread 1/4 cup of the Nutella over the dough, then roll it into a cylinder. Flatten the cylinder into a disk, then slice it into wedges (6 or 8).
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Once baked, place on a cooling rack.
Warm the remaining 1/4 cup Nutella, then drizzle it over the cooling scones.