When I take an interest in something, I get obsessed with it. In this case, it was finding the recipe for The Perfect Scone. For nearly 2 months, I made a batch of scones every single day. I tried every method out there to achieve the butteriest (yes, that’s a word), flakiest, most tender melt-in-your-mouth scones ever produced on the planet.
I learned the hard way that nothing can be perfect (though our Italian Meringue Buttercream gets pretty close but that’s another blog post, of course). What I’ve developed instead, over the years of trial and error in search for the perfect scone recipe is more a fool-proof method for achieving the best results possible. To be honest, food science plays a big part. Just understand the principles of heat (and cold) management, how butter behaves, what steam brings to the party and how the slightest hint of gluten formation can wreck the tender texture of the scone.
Follow my simple rules and you can’t go wrong. I promise. It doesn’t matter which recipe you use. Just change the method to follow these principles.
Chef Terri’s Principles for the Best Possible Scones:
1) Keep your ingredients, especially the butter, as cold as possible. This is counter-intuitive, I know, when all you’ve heard all your baking life is how all ingredients must be at room temperature for good baking results. Chilled butter, not softened, is best for scones.
2) Mix your scone dough by hand with a wooden spoon instead of using a mixer. A mixer can over-mix your dough and develop that evil gluten. OK, a food processor might work well to cut the butter, but mix the wet ingredients in by hand, please.
3) Soak your dried fruit (such as raisins, cranberries, cherries or blueberries) in hot water for a few minutes. Drain them just before you add them to the dough. The dried fruits will soak up any moisture they can, robbing your scone of its precious steam during the baking process. Alternatively, the heat of the oven could dry out the fruit even more — producing hard pellets, not soft, luscious flavorful fruit.
4) Don’t use a rolling pin. There is no knead for it. ;) Instead, gently use your palms to flatten the dough into one even layer. Lift up and fold it in half, then give it a quarter-turn and pat down again to flatten. Do this 4-6 more times. Your hard work will be rewarded. Our patting-folding-turning method is great to achieve multiple layers of butter and dough with very little toughness, rewarding you later with tender flakes when it’s baked.
5) Chill your dough between every stage — even before sliding the prepared scones in the oven. In fact, the best scones I ever made were frozen before they hit the hot oven. Remember, if the dough (and consequently, the butter) is warm and soft before it goes into the oven, the butter will melt quickly and not have a chance to leave behind the flaky layers we so desperately desire. If ever you feel as if your ingredients are getting warm at any time during the scone-making process, just return everything to the fridge for a few minutes to firm up the butter. You’ll be glad you did.
Remember, when working with our recipes on the blog, simply hit the blue hyperlinks to see the technique video associated with the recipe. It’s our way of guiding you through the recipe. Alternatively, you can view our Vimeo Portfolio, where all of the scone-related videos are bundled: http://vimeopro.com/dearmartini/scones
Cranberry-Orange Scones (Makes 24 scones)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups plus ¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of one orange
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (or regular sugar) (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
Soak the cranberries hot water for 10 minutes, or at least as long as it takes to prepare the rest of the recipe. Drain and set aside.
Cut up the butter sticks and keep in the freezer until you are ready to use them. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest with a wooden spoon.
Add the butter. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or by rubbing the butter and flour together between your fingers. Do this very quickly and randomly. You should still have lumps of butter varying from small (pea-sized) to large (blueberry sized). Do not let the butter get soft. If it does, return the bowl to the fridge for a few minutes.
Combine the eggs and heavy cream together and add to the flour mixture. Stir gently with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a shaggy, lumpy mass. It’s ok that it’s not smooth or uniformly mixed in. It’s ok to see random lumps of butter still not mixed in. Drain the cranberries and add them and the remaining cup of flour to the dough. Mix gently until the cranberries are distributed evenly in the dough.
Transfer the dough onto a well-floured surface and gently, with floured hands, pat it down into a rough rectangle shape about 1-inch thick. Use a spatula and pick up one end of the dough and fold it over in half. Pick up the entire dough piece and turn it 45-degrees. Flour your hands and pat it down into another rectangle. Pick up one end and fold it over, then pick up the entire dough piece and turn it 45-degrees again. Repeat this patting, folding, turning method 4 more times. Keep flour dusted underneath the dough as you turn it.
For the last pat-down, make sure the rectangle is about 10-12 inches long and 6 inches wide. Use a sharp knife and cut three strips of dough, each strip being about 2 inches wide and 10- 12 inches long. Cut each strip into 8 triangular pieces and lay each piece on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or foil. You can fit 12 pieces on one tray, and prepare another tray for the remaining 12. Refrigerate the scones for about 30 minutes to firm up the butter.
Just before baking, lightly brush the egg wash over the tops of the scones and sprinkle the tops with the turbinado sugar.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool.