After neglecting to participate in last month’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge due to holiday hustle and bustle, I was very pleased to start the year off right with a new challenge. Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens! That’s right – scones (a/k/a biscuits). Say that again?
As it turns out, the Daring Bakers offers the opportunity to learn not only the ways of kitchen, but also the ways of the world. Or should I say the ways of the words? I learned, via a very thorough explanation from Aud, what I refer to as a biscuit in the States, he refers to as a scone in Australia. After baking such seemingly complicated dishes like Povitica and Sans Rival, I was now faced with a dish I knew how to pronounce and had eaten countless times before.
Because I was so familiar with biscuits, I fell right into the trap Aud warned of. He suggested such a simple recipe masked the complexities of making biscuits. The image above is evidence of this point. On the left is a biscuit served at The Flying Biscuit. On the right is a whole milk biscuit served in my kitchen. I’ve got a way to go…
I tried my hand at four biscuit varieties: whole milk, buttermilk, spicy cheddar, and sweet dried fruit. All of the varieties can be found in Aud’s recipe at the end of this post. To make the spicy cheddar biscuits, I simply omitted the chives from the cheese and chive variation and kicked up the cayenne pepper a pinch. I used Craisins to make the sweet dried fruit variety.
I experienced the most success with the whole milk biscuits which, ironically, was my first attempt. I measured success (literally) by how tall my biscuits puffed. My buttermilk and sweet dried fruit biscuits were flat, though without further trial and error, I can’t explain why. If the whole milk biscuits weren’t my first attempt, I’d explain the flat biscuits to a lack of refined technique. But things just went downhill after my semi-decent first batch. Perhaps it was baker fatigue.
I do not cook a lot of full-on meals, but when I do, I like to serve bread. Biscuits offer a great option if time or funds are short. They are also very versatile. In addition to the many variations in the recipe itself, biscuits leftover from dinner can be re-purposed into breakfast sandwiches. I’ve also taken to eating the sweet dried fruit biscuits with a cup of tea. This recipe will likely require some experimentation, but even flat biscuits are delicious topped with sausage gravy, jam, or honey. Try them!
- 1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (1/3 oz) fresh baking powder
- ½ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt
- 2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
- Approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk
- Optional – 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones
- Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
- Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)
- Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
- Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
- Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
- Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
- Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
- Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.