We all know the scene, someone’s coming to tea, what shall I give them? – I know, I’ll knock up some scones, they’re quick and easy. But how often does the result turn out to be disappointing? Yet scones are supposed to be very simple to make – it may surprise you to know that even meringues do not have as many pitfalls.
But why is this, after all there are only a few simple ingredients – flour, baking powder, butter, sugar (unless they are savoury) milk and eggs, so what can go wrong? Well watch out for the flour, eggs and amount of milk added. Flour differs in the amount of moisture it absorbs, especially wholemeal flour. If using wholemeal in place of white flour, you will find it absorbs more liquid. A good alternative is to use 50% each of white and wholemeal flour.
The size of the eggs is important. The difference between the amount of liquid in small and large eggs is considerable, so stick to the size stated in the recipe. And even then I tend to be wary, it is easy to overdo the quantity of liquid and end up with a sticky mess! It’s a good idea to hold back a small amount of milk until the dough has formed, then if it is too dry, add extra.
A successful scone recipe is one with self-raising flour (which contains baking powder) and also baking powder. So why is this added? The answer is to give the scones an extra boost. But remember, because of the added baking powder, the scones can go dry if not eaten within a day or two.
When making by hand, remember light handling results in light scones. Scones are easy to make in a food processor. Just whizz the flour, baking powder, sugar and chopped butter until blended. Pour beaten eggs through the funnel, and then gradually add milk until the mixture begins to form a ball. If not too sure, stop the machine to check, and always switch off the moment the ingredients combine.
If the surface of the dough is cracked, cracks will appear on the scones, so give it a gentle kneading until smooth – but try not to handle more than necessary. Before rolling out think about how you roll. I know it seems simple enough, just roll backwards and forwards, but most of us have one arm stronger than the other. This can mean more pressure is put on one side of the dough – resulting in lopsided scones. It’s just something to bear in mind. And keep it gentle!
Scones should be deep, about 2cm (3/4in). If the cutter keeps sticking, dip it into the bag of flour. An alternative method is to cut the dough into equal sized squares.
Now we come to another crucial moment. Yes, I know you are saying ‘not something else to look out for’. Well, not really, but just to be aware of what could happen. To give an added attraction to scones, glaze the tops with egg/wash, in other words, brushing with beaten egg and milk. It is worth taking this little extra trouble as it makes a shiny glaze. But make sure the liquid doesn’t run down the sides, otherwise it may prevent the scones from rising.
And finally, when displaying the scones, leave them whole then everyone can enjoy lavishly piling on the jam and cream. Another idea is halve the scones, place a dollop of whipped cream on top (or if you wish pipe a large rosette) and finish off with a thinly sliced strawberry, arranged in a fan shape.