Pastry Series: Scones

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

 We are starting a new series that will feature recipes and lessons from pastry school. After spending nine months learning the proper techniques to the art of baking and pastry science, what remains is a thick spiral bound notebook of countless recipes, tips, techniques and drawings that I would be devastated to loose. That is not being dramatic, as I take my baking and desserts quite seriously. Since not everyone who shares my passion has the privilege to learn the basics of baking from a French master in a school setting, I thought it would be fun to share some of the amazing recipes and tell a few stories of what I learned along the way.

Where to start? The first section of school was devoted to proper food handling, and though I found it extremely interesting, I will skip over that section and dive right into our first recipe of Section 2 – Quick Breads, Breads and Breakfast Pastries. It was a rather intimidating section to begin with for the novice bakers who stood quietly in our places that first morning with our neatly pressed chef coats, striped black and white pants, and may I say, terribly nerdy white hats. Our French teacher had jury duty that week and so he asked his Belgium pastry friend to step in. These men with their French accents and deep knowledge of their craft were truly amazing to watch. I hold a deep respect for their patience in teaching and their expertise and commitment to their work. But back to that first day with the Belgium teacher who decided on scones as an icebreaker first demonstration and recipe. I thought it was a wise choice to start with something simple.

We were first explained a bit about the French term mise en place, which translates to prep work and instills a method of preparing your ingredients and game plan for the recipe ahead no matter how simple or basic. This first lesson is an essential tool for success in the kitchen. Read over your recipe multiple times, measure and set everything up before you begin. There were no measuring cups in school as they are rather inaccurate. If you do not have a kitchen scale I strongly suggest to anyone who likes to bake to invest in one. That all said… step one is to read through the recipe and measure out your ingredients.

Below are photos to help guide you through the recipe, but here are a few additional tips from the notes in the demonstration. (In school most often we would read through our very simple instructions and measure out our ingredients as a class. Then we would watch a demonstration of making the recipe by the teacher and then would try the recipe on our own. We usually had a time constraint and I often felt like a contestant on one of those TV cooking shows. One, two, three… Go! We certainly didn’t make things at a leisure pace and instead were practicing to be extremely time efficient, as one would in a commercial kitchen. As the perfectionist in the class I had the hardest time with the time constraint.)

Tips for Basic Scones:

Use room temperature eggs – cold eggs can break down the fats and do not incorporate as well. To make scones with dried fruit, soak the fruit in a bit of orange juice overnight in the fridge.

Flour gets drier over time so slowly add the milk. You can always add more if needed. The dough should be moist but not wet and sticky.

Do NOT over mix the dough, as it you will develop the gluten and the scones will be tough. If the dough is too difficult to slice, place in the fridge for 20 minutes.

It is easier to cut when cold. You can make the dough ahead of time, slice, freeze, transfer to a zip lock bag and bake at a future time.

Options – Chocolate chips, fresh, frozen or dried fruit all make nice additions to the dough. Scone can be cut into triangles or rounds. Just before baking scones can be glazed with an egg wash (egg and water mixed thoroughly together) and dusted with sugar or sanding sugar for a sweet crust. Or after baking, a glaze of powdered sugar and juice can be drizzled atop cool scones. It is best to keep it simple.

I hope these tips are useful. This recipe is nothing extraordinary, but that is not the point. This is an icebreaker recipe, something basic to start us off -easy enough for the novice and good enough for the baker. Success in baking is all about finding that right balance – don’t work the dough too much or too little, don’t add too much or too little milk and bake for just the right amount of time. The weather, the flour, the particularities of your oven are all changing variables that make baking an art and not the exact science that some want it to be. Learning to make a recipe can take multiple tries and I promise you, even those Belgium and French experts have a few flops.

Basic Scone Recipe

Makes 6-8 scones


9 ounces all purpose flour
2 ounces sugar
½ ounce baking powder
pinch of salt
4 ounces butter, softened
1 egg
2 ounces whole milk
1 pint berries or 1 ½ ounces dried fruit

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and pinch of salt with a whisk. Use your fingertips to break up the butter over the dry ingredients. Use your hands and fingertips to gently mix in the butter until it is mostly incorporated.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg with a fork and add to the dough along with the milk. Use your hands or a spoon to gently mix the dough until it comes together, being careful not to over mix the dough.

Flour a clean surface and pour out the dough. With floured hands gently pat the dough into a round shape. Use a sharp knife or board scraper to cut the scones into even sized pieces. If you want large scones cut into six pieces and if you want medium size scones cut into eight. Use a spatula or board scraper to transfer the scones on to the prepared baking sheet. At this point the scones can be sprinkled with sanding sugar (optional) and go in the oven or can be placed in the freezer until hard and then transferred to a zip lock bag for up to a week.

Bake at 375 degrees F until the tops and sides are lightly golden, which will take anywhere from 10-15 minutes depending on the size. Frozen scones can go right into the oven but will need 2-3 minutes longer in cooking.


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