I’ve eaten a lot of bad scones. And I don’t mean gluten-free scones, although I haven’t had much success with them before this week. I mean regular gluten scones, the ones I ate before six years ago.
You know the ones, right? The big-chain coffee shop scones. The ones that crumble like cheap grocery-store cake as soon as you touch your lips to them. Or the ones that crumble at first touch right onto your lip. Or the ones that sit like rocks in your stomach. Poor scones. They’ve received such a bum rush.
Scones, to me, should have a solid texture — you should know you’re eating more than air — with the flaky layers of a good pie crust. Substantial yet light, like that friend you adore who never makes you talk about the state of your friendship, makes you laugh so hard you snort, and sits next to you the minute you say you need someone there.
Wow, it seems I’m asking a lot from a scone.
Scones are lovely wonderful things. And finally, I have mine down.
Two forces finally made scones easy for me.
1. The Gluten-Free Ratio Rally.
This band of bakers is making me tackle baked goods I left until later. It’s such an honor to be talking with and baking with people who care deeply about getting this right. Going from a ratio means we understand better how these ingredients tumble together into something as lovely as a scone. (And how they are different than a pancake.)
(To see this month’s entire spectrum of scones made by ratio, check out this post by the lovely Lauren at Celiac Teen.)
Scones, it turns out, need a lot of flour, a good chunk of butter, some liquid like buttermilk or cream, and some egg.
After lots of playing, I realized the ratio for scones that works for me: 7 parts flour/4 parts liquid/2 parts butter/1 part egg.
So, if you think of it this way, you can play with any flours you like, any liquids you like, any fats you like, and an egg. (Or an egg replacer, like the ones suggested in this post.) Think of it this way and you have total freedom. What kind of scone do you want to make?
We really only bake with whole-grain flours around here now. It’s clear that we’ll be baking most days. I’ve grown tired of the starches. Forget the gums — you just don’t need them. Once I cut those out, I realized that I want the flavor and substantial texture that whole-grain flours provide. I’m done with white stuff.
We’re also playing with alternative sweeteners. It’s funny when cane sugar in its raw state is considered alternative to the refined stuff. I’ve fallen in love with sucanat lately. I love its sort of molasses/almost caramel taste. And since it’s not refined, it feels good to be using it in our kitchen.
So, I knew some of my ingredients. But I needed a great recipe, based on the solid ratio, to guide me toward great scones.
We recommend recipes from cookbooks here frequently. And we recommend individual cookbooks too.
However, listen to me say this, in as clear and definitive voice as I can use:
If you are interested in becoming a better baker, you must buy Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe. You must buy it.
Joanne Chang’s book is precise and inventive at the same time. She explains everything she knows about baking in mathematics and poetry both. Her headnotes are playful. Her recipes are airtight.
Every single recipe we have made from her book has been superb. And since she gives her recipes in grams, all I need to do to make the recipes gluten-free is to substitute an equal weight of grams of our whole-grain mix for her all-purpose flour. It’s that simple.
I’m not kidding. Buy a copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe if you are at all serious about baking.
Now, let’s have some scones.
CURRANT SCONES, adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
Scones seem intimidating at first. However, once you have made them a couple of times, you’ll see there’s a rhythm to them. Combine the dry ingredients and the butter. Freeze. Break up the butter, a bit. Combine the liquids. Add the liquids until a dough forms. Pat it down, cut wedges, do an egg wash. Bake. Cool. Eat.
You’ll see directions to put flours and doughs into the freezer. Don’t skip this step. Working with everything cold means you’ll have flaky layers and a light dough instead of the hardened clumps so often sold as scones in coffee shops.
Consider this recipe a template — as all the ratio rally recipes are — for the kind of scone you’d like to make that day. Cranberries? Walnuts? Cilantro and tomato? Have fun.
390 grams whole-grain gluten-free mix
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
70 grams (1/3 cup) sucanat
80 grams (1/2 cup) currants
114 grams (1/2 cup or 1 US stick) cold butter, cut into 8 to 10 pieces
120 grams (1/2 cup) cold buttermilk
120 grams (1/2 cup) thick Greek yogurt or crème fraiche
1 cold egg
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons raw sugar
Preparing to bake. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Or, if you want your scones to puff up higher, grease a 9-inch pie pan (preferably not glass). Preheat the oven to 350°.
Mixing the dry ingredients. Pour the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sucanat, and currants into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix them together on low speed until they are well combined.
Add the pieces of butter. Put the entire mixing bowl into the freezer for at least 5 minutes and no longer than 15 minutes.
Mixing the liquids. While the bowl is chilling, combine the buttermilk, yogurt, and egg. Whisk them together well.
Making the scone dough. Put the bowl back on the stand mixer. Mix on the lowest speed until the butter has broken down a bit. The pieces of butter should be the size of lima beans.
Slowly, pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour-butter mixture with the mixer running on low speed. As soon as the dough comes together — with loose flour remaining on the bottom of the bowl — turn off the mixer.
Forming the scones. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Turn over the dough with your hands. It will be a bit wet, with the loose flour at the bottom. Gently, turn the dough in the loose flour until all the flour is mixed in. Do not over-mix. You want to keep the buttery layers in the dough.
Dump the dough onto the baking sheet (or in the pie pan). Pat the dough into a 7-inch circle about 1 inch thick. Brush the egg yolk over the top, then sprinkle with the raw sugar. Cut the circle of dough into 8 wedges. Put the dough into the freezer for 15 minutes.
Baking the scones. Slide the dough into the oven. Bake until the entire circle of dough is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 50 minutes. Allow the scones to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then slice the wedges.
Makes 8 scones.
A few notes:
If you want to make cheddar chive scones, take out the sucanat and currants. Replace them with 84 grams of cheddar cheese, diced into ¼-inch cubes, ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika, and a good handful (about ½ cup) fine-diced chives. Use about 100 grams of cornmeal and 290 grams of whole-grain flours. Brush the top with the egg yolk and a pinch of coarse sea salt. All the rest is the same.
All scones are best the day they are made, but they will keep in an airtight container for 3 days. After a day, heat them in a 300° oven for 8 minutes or so. You can also freeze these — plastic wrap works best — for up to 1 week. A scone a day!