- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DUBLIN, Ireland — Don’t be fooled by those crumbly pastries masquerading as scones at American coffee shops.

They might be a tasty complement to your morning cup, but they bear about as much resemblance to the real thing as margarine does to the clotted cream that so often tops scones in Britain and Ireland.

Authentic scones, recipes for which date back centuries and may be either sweet or savory, are more like an American biscuit — a simple flaky, cakelike bread leavened with baking powder and best eaten warm (and often with butter and jam).

Of course, getting the real thing in the United States may mean baking up a batch yourself.

To do that, you’ll need to know the basic ingredients and simple (yet vital) methods that mean the difference between stunning scones and coffee shop impostors.

Here’s the breakdown:

MILK

The best variety of milk for scones is hotly debated in baking circles. This is partly because the most traditional option, buttermilk, is used so infrequently by modern cooks, especially home cooks. As a result, many bakers now use whole milk or half-and-half.

For authenticity, buttermilk, which has a thick consistency and tangy flavor, is best. Not only is the slightly sour taste key for traditional flavor, but buttermilk also acts as a binder, says Michelle Moore, a bread researcher in the Food and Nutritional Sciences Department at Ireland’s University College Cork. “It gives it the added flavor, and it probably gives it the softness, as well,” she says.

Historically, buttermilk was made from the liquid left behind when butter was churned. Today, it is made by adding friendly bacteria to nonfat or low-fat milk. It is widely available in the dairy case at most grocers and also can be purchased as a powder.

Thickness is key. If your buttermilk isn’t thick (many powdered versions aren’t), Derek O’Brien, the head of the National Bakery School at the Dublin Institute of Technology, suggests whisking a bit of yogurt into it before adding it to the other ingredients.

SUGAR

Size matters. Common white sugar, also called granulated, is too coarse for scones. Most traditional scones are made using so-called castor sugar, which in the United States is sold under the name superfine sugar. This is not the same as powdered sugar.

The ultrafine granules of superfine sugar dissolve better and faster in the dough than granulated, says Mr. O’Brien. “If you use granulated sugar, it will show up on the top of the scone as tiny burnt specks.”

FLOUR

Although many British and Irish bakers today favor the simplicity of so-called self-rising flour (which comes premixed with baking powder and salt), a more authentic flavor and texture is produced by using all-purpose flour and adding baking powder separately. This is because using self-rising flour (less common in the U.S.) locks the baker into that product’s baking powder-flour ratio.

Darina Allen, one of the founders of Ireland’s renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, prefers using her own ratio, which includes more baking powder. This provides more lift during baking and a more distinct flavor.

MIXING

Experts throughout Britain and Ireland agree that great scones are all in the mixing. And minimal mixing is key. “It’s kind of crucial. You’re supposed to be able to mix your dough with your liquids in five turns,” says Elaine Nuzum, who bakes the scones at Ireland’s famous Avoca Cafe in County Wicklow. “You don’t work it too much. That’s really the trick.” That means no electric mixers, which are too powerful and too fast for this sort of dough.

For the best results, Miss Allen suggests running your hands through the flour to aerate it before adding the other ingredients. Once those ingredients are added, keep mixing to a minimum — just enough to incorporate all ingredients.

The mixture should be moist, pliable and somewhat sticky, but not wet. The dough is finished by a few quick kneads on a floured surface.

Even the container used for the mixing matters, says Miss Allen. The bowl must be big. As big as you’ve got.

“That may seem like a little thing, but it makes a huge difference,” she says. That’s because smaller mixing bowls “constrict (the dough) and you can’t mix easily and get the air in.”

ROLLING AND CUTTING

The depth of the rolled dough matters greatly. It is absolutely vital to be “careful about the thickness when you roll them out,” says Allen. “If you roll them too finely, you have all crust. … If they’re too thick, what happens is the top and the bottom cook and they’re not properly cooked inside.” Most baking experts agree that rolling the dough out to a thickness of an inch is ideal.

Scone shape is more a matter of personal preference. Some people form the dough into a rectangle and cut it into squares. Others form it into circles (this recipe would make two circles), then cut each into six wedges. Biscuit cutters work well. A 21/2-inch round cutter produces about 12 scones with this recipe. Be sure to dust it with flour to prevent sticking. And press it down through the dough in one quick motion without twisting it, which can result in less rising.

The following recipe produces excellent basic buttermilk scones with traditional texture and taste. Currant scones are a common variation. For those, add 8 ounces of currants to the dry ingredients before adding the liquids.

Scones

From start to finish, this recipe takes 40 minutes.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 cup superfine sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 extra-large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Measure the flour into a large, wide bowl. Run your hands through it several times to aerate. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter (also called pastry blender) or two knives to cut the butter into the flour until the butter is reduced to fine crumbs. Add the baking powder, sugar and salt and mix well. Form a well in the center of the mixture, then set aside.

In a large measuring glass or medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the mixture into the well in the dry ingredients. Using a large spoon and as few strokes as possible, mix the dough until just combined. It will be moist and sticky.

With lightly floured hands, transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Knead it gently several times, then form into a thick rectangle. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Use a 21/2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut about 12 scones from the dough, gently recombining the scraps as you go.

Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until the tops of the scones are a light golden brown. Move to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Makes 12 scones.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide