As promised to our Facebook friends, here is the first of three little scone making tutorials. This first tutorial is on the science, or “the magic” behind yummy baking and the importance of quality ingredients. The second tutorial will be on some techniques, for example: “if you can’t see your butter bits, you have gone toooooo far!” The third will be THE recipe. So…….
Before I share my favorite scone recipe with you, the recipe I used for nearly all the scones served in our beloved old tea shop, we really need to start at the beginning with ingredients. It would not do at all for me to give you the recipe and for you to jump right in, IF you don’t have fresh, quality ingredients at the ready. My recipe will give you a lovely, light, somewhat sweet Devon style scone, perfect for enjoying with butter and jam, or cream and berries. To get that nice tender scone, you really do need good ingredients. We’ll start with a chat about wet ingredients and move on to the dry.
For wet ingredients you will need large eggs (organic free range eggs with their rich yokes, if you can), real vanilla, unsalted butter, and half & half or other milk/cream combo of similar thickness. More on that in a moment, because I want to talk about butter first. Most bakers only use unsalted butter for baking, and reserve salted butters for table use. Why is this so? Two reasons. One, in some inferior brands salt can mask off flavors and sometimes even generate a little bitterness in the finished goods, and two, the salt content can vary greatly from brand to brand. Without some label reading and math work, you’ll not know how much salt is really in your butter. Better to have a little less, than too much. If a recipe for baked goods does not specify salted or unsalted, err on the side of caution and assume it is calling for unsalted. (My favorite butter here in the PNW is Tillamook. It’s a lovely firm, sweet cream butter.)
Now, back to the half & half, consider how thick it is. It’s thicker than milk, but thinner than heavy cream or whipping cream. You can substitute a number of things for the half & half. For example, use buttermilk, or whipping cream thinned with a little milk, or you might add a big dollop of sour cream or yogurt to regular milk. You just want a similar thickness or viscosity. If your liquid is too thick, you’ll probably need more, if too thin, you’ll need to be careful not to add too much. (I have tried the recipe with unsweetened almond milk and yogurt with nice results, and have also used soy creamer.)
On to the dry ingredients…..you will need: a nice white all-purpose unbleached flour, white sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Hands down, the most important ingredients here are the baking powder and baking soda. These are the leavening agents, and provide the lift and the loft of a lovely scone. If your baking powder is old, you are going to end up with little hardtack biscuits! That simply won’t do!
So, if you have not baked for awhile I want you to get up and go find that little tin of baking powder. Most baking powder today is double acting baking powder. The ingredients react with moisture and with heat to create the gas which makes your baked goods rise. Look inside. Are there lumps? If so, it means moisture has found its way inside. If there are just a few tiny lumps, there is probably enough oomph left in the baking powder to do the job. Just scoop out the little lumps and toss them. However, if there are many lumps or, heaven forbid, you have one solid mass, you must toss the lot and start fresh!
Regarding baking soda. Baking soda gives a little more pop to your scone by reacting with an acid such as buttermilk or sour cream, and helps prevent collapse by binding with the egg proteins.. Since I frequently use yogurt or sour cream in scones, my basic recipe includes a little baking soda, so I don’t even have to think about it. After baking thousands of scones, I really do feel I get better results with the addition of a little baking soda. Baking soda basically lasts forever, however it does love to absorb odors. If you keep a box in your frig to help reduce odors, don’t you even think about using it for baking. Your baking soda should have no odor. I recommend keeping a little in a small canning jar just for baking use.
Wednesday, I’ll have a tutorial with tips on mixing and forming your scones. Friday, just in time for weekend enjoyment, I’ll post the recipe and serving ideas.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment area!