Sunday, September 4, 2011

Scones - not just for British Tea Snobs

They take different forms: round, lumpy, or wedge-shaped, and they can be filled with sweet or savory goodness. They're scones, and though the name may sound far-away and dainty for the more practical among us, they're only one or two ingredients away from what Americans call biscuits.

Best of all, they're nearly fool-proof to bake, the batter and the scones themselves freeze well to make-ahead for bento box treats or upcoming rainy days, and you can flavor them to suit even the pickiest of eaters in your entourage.

There are three different ways to approach scones.

1. You can go the traditional route and make your batter from scratch. I recommend the recipe from America's Test Kitchens that was shown during an episode several years ago on PBS, and from which I gathered a "Eureka!" fruit-blending tip that must be shared.

Scone batter isn't meant to be fluid, it will be flaky and sticky and less moist than a cake batter. This is because it's more about blending the flour with butter than with making sure the batter is smooth, and this is also why scones are so delectable.

If you're adding fresh fruit like blueberries or raspberries, don't mix them in directly to the batter as you're blending the flour ingredients. You'll get a very tasty bowl of blue or red mess. Instead, keep the batter cold and your fruit cold or just-about-frozen and fold it in as a last step. Your batter will stay a nice color and your fruit and other ingredients will maintain their color integrity as well.

2. You can buy a pre-mixed batter such as the one I've featured and prepared for this post. Every major grocery will have a selection, and the one shown here I purchased from my local tea shop. They carry the Sticky Fingers brand, based in Spokane, and they have just about every variety you could want in a tea or coffee accompaniement : black currant, cranberry, pumpkin, and the one I chose - Raspberry White Chocolate, among others.

As you can see in the photograph, you simply add water to the flour and ingredient mixture and it reaches a sticky, pliable consistency. There are no egg ingredients listed, and you'll notice traditional scone recipes won't call for eggs either unless you're coating the top with a special icing glaze. The Sticky Fingers instructions call for 3/4 cup of water, but I needed to add another 1/4 cup to get all of my flour wet.

I got 10 very large scones from this prepared mix, and the ingredients estimated about 12 spoon-size scones could be yielded, so I'd say I got my money's worth. The Sticky Fingers directions also include preparing the mix for wedge-shaped scones, which simply means putting the batter in a round cake pan and pre-cutting 8 wedges so they're formed in baking.

I used a heaping tablespoon to place my scone batter on the baking tray, oven heated to 325F. No special need to form the glops into a special shape, as scones are supposed to be lumpy circles or wedges.

3. You can also prepare your scone batter in a similar pre-mix way with Bisquik (yes, this is the second or third time I've recommended Bisquik). Follow the instructions for making biscuit dough and simply add sugar and cold (yes - important that it's cold and not soft) butter along with your other flavor choices. They offer several different kinds of Bisquik batter - low fat, and so forth - so if you're looking to cut back on calories or other things, this may be the way to do it. For an idea on how Bisquik works for scones and tea-infused pastries, take a look back at my previous post featuring Boston Tea Co's Peach Passion Oolong in a sweet biscuit recipe.

Baking the scones is a breeze. A medium temp, 325F for 15 minutes is what Sticky Fingers recommends. They shouldn't rise much, if at all, and their color should remain fairly uniform. You will know they're ready to take out of the oven to cool when there are spots of golden brown on the lumpier bits, as seen below:

There's just a hint of browning on the outer edges, and though the color on the outside hasn't changed much, the outer scone is "crusty" to touch. The bottom of the scone will be lightly brown.

Here's the finished product : it resembles a crumbly, flaky, soft biscuit in the center, and has a crustier outer shell. Let them cool for 15-20 minutes and store them in a tupperware container or in plastic wrap if you're not going to serve them immediately so they maintain their inner softness.

Freezing tips:

Make up several batches of the batter ahead of time to freeze and remove for quick snacks or as something to help fill a gap in your loved one's bento box for those weeks when you just haven't the time to get to the grocery.

1. Roll the dough into a log shape and wrap with saran wrap, place in a large freezer bag.

2. Pre-portion individual scones to wrap and store in the freeer bag, to take out as needed if you only want to make several at a time.

3. You want to limit their freezing time to a maximum of 2 weeks to 1 month, for best results. Take the freezer bag out in advance of your baking and allow to thaw at room temperature, or place in the refrigerator overnight for preparation the next day.

Budget-stretching ideas:

1. Make up several batches of non-flavored dough to freeze. When there's a small amount of fruit needing to be used up before it goes bad, or if you have jellied preserves that are lingering in the bottom of a jar, add those bits to the batter along with some sugar to flavor them.

2. Scones can be savory too! If you're making a batch from scratch, eliminate the sugar and fruit and instead add olive oil and rosemary - herbs and aromatics you may already have in permanent collection in your cupboard. No need to buy new ingredients, and you might discover a combination that goes perfectly with your favorite chai or strong black tea.

Try cardamom, anise, terragon, or basil with fresh lemon juice. Channel your inner gourmet!


The sky's the limit, but the traditional British scone is nearly always served with Clotted Cream (which for us Yanks is like a sweetened sour cream or whipped cream). Butter, jam, and preserves are next in line. Olive oil with mixed herbs would be interesting if you were going the savory route. Peppered jellies may also be interesting add-ons if you're looking to spice things up.

I'm more of a purist. I prefer to let the scone accompany the tea. My kitchen helpers agree - the scones are pretty fabulous on their own if you're selecting your ingredients carefully.

Diesel - my sister's 6-month-old Lab/Australian Shepherd mix helped supervise the baking of this post.


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