|Scones fresh from the oven, still on the baking sheet.|
I tried several methods. I used self-rising flour, since lots of traditional English recipes call for that. I used baking powder, and I used a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar (baking powder is essentially a combination of those two ingredients), I used eggs in some and not in others. I got recipes from all over the place, including a couple from some online English friends. I even tried to get one from the V & A, but as I said on Monday, they never answered the email.
Finally, this week, I made some that really seemed to have the qualities I admired from the museum. They were light and flaky inside, but crispy and sturdy outside. The secret? Yogurt. Yogurt?!? Obviously, no traditional English cook ever used yogurt; they might have used buttermilk. Buttermilk and yogurt are pretty much interchangeable. Yogurt, in my experience, gives a bit moister result, so I like using it. But if you don't have yogurt, you can use buttermilk if you have some on hand, or you can even make a good, quick substitute: just put a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar into a measuring cup, then add enough fresh milk to make a cup. Let it stand on the counter for a few minutes to clabber, which is a polite way of saying sour, curdle, etc. Then just use it as you would the buttermilk or yogurt. Scones made with yogurt or other sour milk seem lighter, moister, and just sconier than those made with plain milk. It's probably got something to do with the acid giving more oomph to the leavening.
Here's how I made the scones.
(Click on the title to open the recipe in a printer-friendly version. When the new window opens, hit Control-P on your keyboard to print.)
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8 ounces by weight) (don't use self-rising flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder (be sure it's fresh; baking powder loses potency fairly quickly)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick (4 oz., 8 tablespoons) good unsalted butter
3/4 cup yogurt (or buttermilk or milk you have soured using the instructions above)
a little extra milk as needed
about 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 400* F.
2. Measure the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar and put it in a large mixing bowl. Give it a stir with a fork to combine. (Or you could sift it together if you want, but I find mixing it with a fork works just fine.)
|A good pastry blender. Rock it, don't mash with it.|
4. Add the yogurt and stir rapidly with the fork to combine. Add a little milk, about a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture just comes together to form a soft dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl. (I'm guessing you might use about 2 - 4 tablespoons of milk here, but to be honest, I didn't measure it.)
|The dough after forming. Click on the photo to enlarge it and see the texture.|
|Brushing the top with cream.|
|Cutting and separating the dough.|
Notes: You could probably do this in a food processor, but it's pretty quick by hand, and it's low tech. I like using a pastry blender, but here's a word of caution: be sure you use a rocking, cutting motion with it; don't push down on it like you would a potato masher. The trick with all short doughs (pie crust, biscuits, etc.) is to handle them as little as possible to avoid developing the gluten in the dough. I like brushing the tops with cream before cutting up the dough: the tops get more evenly coated with the cream, and you're less likely to dribble any down the sides, which would prevent a good rise. If you want, you could sprinkle some sugar on the tops of the scones just before you put them in the oven. If you have leftover scones, what's wrong with you? Just kidding. Put them in an airtight container and reheat them at 350* for 3 or 4 minutes. Or freeze them, thaw them, and reheat them. But they're really best when they're fresh.
As with bagels, I'm a scone purist: I don't much care for chunks of things in them. A traditional addition to scones is dried currants. If you want, you could quickly stir in 1/2 cup of dried currants with the yogurt and milk. (I will try some currants in my next batch.)* Americans have a penchant for putting bits of things in stuff, and if that's what you like, knock yourself out. Try dried cranberries, dried blueberries, raisins, dried cherries, or even chocolate chips. About 1/2 cup of any of these is likely to be right, but to be honest, I haven't tried it!
Final note: this is all a whole lot easier to do with two hands, as opposed to one hand with a camera in the other. Just sayin'.
*ADDENDUM (3/16/11): I've made two batches of these in the last couple of days using 1/2 cup of dried currants. I stirred them into the dough just before adding the yogurt and milk. I don't think I'll ever skip them: they're delicious! I've also taken to sprinkling just a bit of sugar on the top of the scones before they go into the oven. I may spring for some coarse white sugar (you can get it from King Arthur Flour), because I think that would add a nice--if somewhat American--touch. When we get to Maine and can get dried wild blueberries, I will add some of those in place of the currants. Another Americanism, but it should be delicious.
Now, here's the crucial question: what's the difference between scones made this way and buttermilk biscuits? Good question. To me, they are similar but don't taste much alike. Scones seem heavier, flakier, and crisper. Near as I can determine, the ratio of butter to flour is much higher for scones--scones have somewhere between 50% and 100% more butter than biscuits do. Biscuits don't usually have sugar in them. This small amount of sugar changes the flavor of the scones but doesn't actually make them sweet. The method of mixing the dough is virtually the same for both scones and biscuits, so if you already make decent biscuits, you'll do just fine with scones. Scones and biscuits have different traditional shapes, but if you want, you could certainly cut scones the way you do biscuits. (Although with the softer dough, I think cutting them with a knife is much easier than using a biscuit cutter. Also faster, and you're not re-rolling the scraps, so you don't risk toughening any of the scones.)
I hope you try this; it's much quicker and simpler than it sounds. You can be eating delicious scones in 30 - 40 minutes. And while it probably won't evoke a trip to the V & A Museum for you (a truly wild and quirky place--utterly wonderful), you'll make your own memories. Memories are almost as good as food, and you can have them any time you want.