Even though they’re of humble origins and ingredients, scones are one of the most challenging baked goods to master. These pastries are so simple that they depend on an excellent technique to turn out as light, scrumptious, and crumbly as you expect them to. After all, the whole draw of a scone relies on its texture.
Here’s how to get scones to rise evenly:
- Keep your ingredients cold.
- Use self-rising flour.
- Double sift the flour.
- Don’t overwork the dough.
- Dust your cutter with flour before using it.
- Never twist the cutter.
- Chill the dough before baking.
- Place the scones side by side on the baking tray.
- Refrain from handling hot scones too much.
In the following sections, you’ll learn more about each of these simple yet highly efficient techniques. As long as you stick by them, I guarantee that when you take your next batch of freshly made scones out of the oven, you’ll notice that the glistening golden brown top will decorate a perfectly risen piece of pastry.
1. Keep Your Ingredients Cold
Let’s get the most important scone-making rule out of the way, which is that butter is non-negotiable. The pastry’s signature flaky, crumbly texture and rich taste depend on the use of cold, good-quality butter.
Therefore, it’s best to avoid using any type of oil, margarine, or shortening if possible.
However, even the most exceptional butter won’t give you evenly-risen scones if you don’t use it at the right temperature. Butter, along with all other refrigerated ingredients, such as eggs, milk, and cream, should be kept cold until they’re mixed into the dough.
The aim is to keep the butter as cold as possible until it gets in the oven, which is why you’ll also want any ingredients coming in contact with it to be cooled as well. Otherwise, the scones will turn doughy and saggy instead of airy and flaky.
Using cold butter is the key to getting those beloved air pockets (or layers) that create the signature pastry texture that we know and love. Therefore, not only is it important to keep all ingredients refrigerated right up until you need them, but it might help to chill the mixing bowl and utensils beforehand too.
When it comes to butter itself, the colder, the better. You can even freeze it if the weather is particularly hot and you don’t want to risk your butter melting too soon.
An excellent technique to use frozen butter in this instance is to grate it beforehand, freeze it, and then add it to the dough. You can even go as far as to laminate your dough just as you would when making croissants, puff pastry, or pain au chocolat, but this isn’t necessary.
2. Use Self-Rising Flour
A mistake I often see home bakers making when making scone dough is using all-purpose flour.
Granted, this error might not be as damaging to the end product as, say, using room temperature butter, but it still might be the reason why your scones aren’t rising properly.
Alternatively, you can opt for a combination of AP and self-rising to get that perfect, fluffy, airy texture you’re looking for. Different types of flours have different compositions, and as a result, the variety you choose will affect the density or lightness of the end product.
For example, all-purpose flour has a higher protein content than its self-rising counterpart. As a result, scones made using the former will be notably denser than those made using the latter or a mix of the two.
It’s also essential to note the importance of checking the “Consume By” date on your self-rising flour beforehand. This type of flour generally includes a leavening agent, such as baking powder, that can lose its efficiency as time goes by.
3. Double Sift the Flour
Double sifting the flour is another excellent way to combat your scones not rising evenly. When putting your flour through a fine mesh sift, you’ll be able to break any lumps or prevent any small impurities or debris from making their way into the dough.
Therefore, not only will you be able to measure your ingredient much more accurately, which results in a better overall butter-to-flour ratio, but you’ll also help your pastry rise more evenly in two ways.
First, big lumps or impurities can mess with the consistency of the dough and lead to an uneven bake.
Secondly, unsifted flour takes much longer to knead into a dough, as you need to break down any lumps along the way. As you’ll see in the following section, overworking the dough can significantly hinder the quality of your scones.
4. Don’t Overwork the Dough
This is a mistake all novice bakers make at one point or another. After all, it’s natural to want our dough to look as smooth and uniform as possible. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to baking perfectly-risen scones is overworking the dough.
Doing this leads to increased gluten activation, leading to a bread-like chew consistency instead of the flaky, tender texture you’re looking for.
You’ll want to knead your dough just until it comes together. Lumps are okay too, and as long as there’s no visible separation between the ingredients, your batter is ready to be cut, chilled, and baked.
5. Dust Your Cutter With Flour Before Using It
Now that your dough has come together, it’s time to roll it out and cut it. However, be aware that at this point, the texture will still be lumpy and sticky, which is why you’ll want to keep a bowl of flour nearby all throughout the process.
Here’s how to cut your dough:
- Dust the working surface with flour before rolling out the dough. If necessary, sprinkle some on top of it as well.
- Dust your cutting tool of choice with flour and tap off any excess. You can either use a round cookie cutter that’s big enough or opt for a traditional approach and use the rim of a thin water glass.
- Proceed to cut the dough as usual. An unclean cut could severely impact the baking quality of your scones, which is why making sure that any cutting device you use doesn’t stick is of the essence.
6. Never Twist the Cutter
I’m sure you’ll find this advice plastered on any scone recipe you choose to follow. However, it bears repeating, which is to never twist the cutter. Pressing the cutting device firmly into the dough should suffice to separate the shape you want from the rest of the batter.
Twisting the cutter can significantly impair the rise of your scones, even if you’ve done everything right up until this point. Therefore, no matter how instinctual it might seem, refrain from twisting the cutter at all costs.
7. Chill the Dough Before Baking
This is another tip I’ve seen many novice bakers make, as even when they see this step mentioned in a recipe, they believe it’s optional. However, chilling the dough before baking can significantly increase your chances of getting perfectly-risen scones.
Remember how important it is for the butter to go cold into the oven?
No matter how cold your ingredients or equipment are, kneading the dough, rolling it out, and cutting it, can notably warm up the mixture. This might not be much of an issue if you’re working in an especially cold kitchen.
However, when making scones in a warmer environment, it’s imperative to chill the cut-out pieces in the fridge for at least half an hour before putting them into the oven.
You can also use this time to preheat the oven if you’ve forgotten to (like I have so many times), so it’s a win-win. Not only does this final chill keep the butter nice and cold, but it also relaxes the activated gluten in the dough, leading to an even lighter and airier texture.
8. Place the Scones Side by Side on the Baking Tray
When placing scones into a baking tray, treat them like cinnamon rolls, not cookies. You’ll want to bundle them close together to encourage them to rise higher instead of spreading out. You want the pieces to be barely touching one another.
I assure you this type of placement can make a significant impact on the evenness of their rise and overall bake.
9. Refrain From Handling Hot Scones Too Much
Congratulations! You now have a perfectly-risen batch of freshly made scones. The only ingredient you’ll need now is patience. I know it can be tempting to touch and feel the light texture you’ve achieved, but doing so can hinder the results you’ve worked so hard for.
Therefore, take the scones out of the oven and let them cool until they reach room temperature, or at least aren’t hot to the touch. Then, you can start plating them as you wish, such as serving them with a side of homemade jam.
Scones can be a challenging pastry to master. Considering their humble list of ingredients, getting that flakey, airy texture just right is crucial when it comes to a mouth-watering batch of scones. Luckily, by following these nine simple tips and tricks, you’ll be able to get evenly-risen scones every time.