How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (2024)

Do you like to experiment with scones? Try to take shortcuts or make improvements whenever you can? If so, this article is for you. We’re going to tell you which steps are crucial (don’t skip the rubbing in of the butter) and which can be flexed! So you can make your own ‘ideal’ scone!

Before we dig in though, let’s have a look at what scones truly are.

What we’ll be discussing:

  1. What are scones?
  2. Why are scones light and crumbly?
    • Absence of a gluten network
    • Pockets of fat
    • Air bubbles create lightness
  3. How to create a crumbly scone?
    • 1. Rub in the fat
      • Which fat is best? – Solid over liquid
      • How to rub in the fat? – A machine works great!
    • 2. Knead/mix as little as possible
      • How to knead a scone dough?
  4. Add fillings to a scone – An extra dimension
    • Cheese scones
    • Fruit scones
  5. Wait – Should I cut the scone dough?
  6. Scone troubleshooting
  7. Do's and don'ts of making scones
    • Definitely do…
    • And don't…

What are scones?

The ‘traditional’ scone comes from the United Kingdom. Served with clotted cream and jam, as part of a British afternoon or ‘cream’ tea. These scones are round, almost cylinder like shaped, often with a curved on the outside. They’re slightly sweet, but not overly so – hence the jam. Most importantly, scones are flaky. They break apart easily into tender, fluffy pieces of bread.

From there, scones have traveled the world. They don’t have to be round anymore and come in various shapes, sizes and even flavors. Compare a ‘typical’ British scones to an American one and you’ll likely notice a difference in size, sweetness and absence (or presence) of fillings.

But, all scones have that characteristic flaky texture. It unites scones.

Ever compared a scone to an American biscuit? You might have noticed that they’re very similar. Both are crumbly, light and moist and use very similar preparation techniques. But, biscuits tend to be savoury, even salty, whereas most scones are more neutral, or slightly sweet.

How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (1)

Why are scones light and crumbly?

Ensuring a scone is flaky, or crumbly, is crucial. So what makes a scone this way?

Absence of a gluten network

To understand, let’s first have a look at the opposite of flakiness. An example of a non-flaky bread would be a baguette, or a loaf of sourdough. You can tear a chunk from a baguette, but it won’t break or fall apart easily. You’ll have to pull, stretch and tear the bread.

The reason these breads behave this way is because of the formation of a gluten network. These breads are kneaded extensively, or left to rest for long periods of time. This causes the proteins in bread, the gluten, to form a network. This network makes a dough flexible and stretchy. It helps make the final bread strong as well.

When making scones on the other hand, you do NOT want this gluten network to form. The absence of a gluten network helps keep a scone flaky.

Do not create a gluten network when making scones.

Pockets of fat

Another important factor contributing to the flakiness is the presence of pockets of fat. Fat prevents proteins, but also starches in the flour from coming together and forming a structure. Instead, fat creates ‘ruptures’ in this structure. It’s easiest to break a scone at a spot with a layer of fat.

A little confused? A very similar principle occurs in croissants as well as puff pastry. The multitude of layers of dough within are formed due to the presence of thin layers of butter in between the dough! Of course, scones do not have as many extensive layers, but the underlying concept is the same!

Air bubbles create lightness

A final crucial ingredient in scones is some sort of leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda. In the oven, these leavening agents will react and form carbon dioxide, a gas. This puffs up your scone – it’s why it increases in height in the oven!

To create a nice, light texture, it’s also important to add the right amount of liquid. Too much, and the dough will be sticky and not hold its shape. Too little, and the dough will be stiff and dry. It’s best to err slightly on the sticky side, as opposed to the dry side.

Not sure whether to use baking soda or baking powder? You can use baking soda if you’ve added an acidic ingredient to the dough (e.g. buttermilk, vinegar, lemon juice). Use baking powder if you have not added anything acidic. Learn more here.

How to create a crumbly scone?

If you’re making scones with wheat flour, you can’t prevent the presence of gluten proteins in your scone. Wheat naturally contains gluten. However, you can prevent them from forming a network! Combine that with some strategic incorporation of fats, and you’re good to go.

The next two steps are crucial when making scones. Don’t skip or neglect them. They truly add value!

1. Rub in the fat

Step one of most scones recipes tends to be to: rub in the butter (or other type of solid fat) into the flour. This way you can create those pockets of fat, spread out throughout the dough. These pockets of fat cover the flour, limiting further interaction between those flour particles. The fat serves as a barrier.

Which fat is best? – Solid over liquid

Remember that the fat serves two purposes: serve as a barrier and create crumbliness. To achieve the latter, it’s important that the fat melts in the oven. By melting, the fat leaves behind an empty pocket. This will become an easy location to tear apart a scone.

As such, scone recipes will use hard fats, fats that are solid at room temperature. Most commonly you’ll find recipes using butter, margarine, lard, or shortening. They can all make a good scone, with slight differences in texture.

You should not use a liquid oil. The liquid oil won’t be able to make those larger pockets of fat. It will spread out too much!

How to rub in the fat? – A machine works great!

You can’t really overmix a fat + flour mixture. As we’ll learn in the next step, overmixing only becomes a problem once water joins the party. As such, you can rub in the fat by hand, but you might just as well use a food processor, or a stand mixer for instance. The machines sure speed up the process, especially for larger quantities!

2. Knead/mix as little as possible

For a gluten network to form, you need water, time and kneading. Water ensures the protein molecules can move freely, to find each other and interact. Without enough water, you can’t form a network.

The other major factor for creating a gluten network is kneading. When kneading a dough, you’re actively helping the gluten network to form. It’s why any scone recipe will caution you against extensive kneading or mixing once you’ve added the water.

How to knead a scone dough?

Once the water is in, be careful using any electric mixers. It’s very easy for them to mix too much. You can use them. Just use them at a (very) low speed and for as short as possible, until the liquid has just been incorporated. As soon as the dough starts to come together, stop the mixer and continue by hand.

Add fillings to a scone – An extra dimension

As long as you keep to the basic guidelines above, you actually have quite a lot of creative freedoms! You can jazz up a basic scone and include fillings.

Keep in mind though that some fillings help improve the flakiness of a scone, whereas other can do the exact opposite! Generally speaking, fat-based fillings will be easy to incorporate without ruining the texture. Water based, very liquid fillings on the other hand, should be handled with care.

Let’s have a look at a few examples!

Cheese scones

You almost can’t go wrong when adding some grated cheese to your scone. Cheese is mostly fat, with very little liquid. Therefore, cheese will serve a similar function as the butter in your scone, it will help keep it crumbly and light.

How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (5)

Fruit scones

Fruit contains a lot of moisture. So you should be careful when adding it. It is best to add the fruit towards the end, when you’re bringing the dough together. Try not to break the fruit. The more you knead and break it, the more moisture will be released and the more the scone will be affected.

If you want to add berries, use frozen ones. That way, they won’t break down during kneading. A good fruit we found is cranberries, they barely release any moisture when they’re uncooked!

If you do want to add more moist fruit, reduce the amount of milk you’re adding. Fruit contains a lot of moisture, so reduce the amount of milk by the weight of 50% of the fruit as a start. If it’s still too dry you can always add water back in.

Herbs & spices – Why not?!

One of the easiest ingredients to add to a scone that almost never impacts its overall texture? Adding dried herbs and ground up spices. You’ll only need small quantities to add flavor. As such, the overall texture is barely affected!

Add some cinnamon to fruit scones. What about some basil or oregano to add a more savory touch?

Wait – Should I cut the scone dough?

After all that hard work, your scone is just about ready to get into the oven. You’ve got a nice dough, ready to be baked. Just one more step: shaping the scone. How and why should you shape it?

There are roughly two ways to shape a scone.

  1. Roll out the dough into a thick sheet and cut it into pieces.
  2. Shape them into individual balls and flatten them

The first one is the ‘traditional’ method and it does show a lot of advantages. During baking, scones will rise up. A neatly cut side of a scone helps the scone to lift and reach higher heights. The edges at which the scone have been cut allow for easier expansion. It’s why the lift can be more vertical.

However, when shaping a scone into a ball, the lift can happen anywhere on the scone. It can ‘crack’ or grow on the side or top when expanding. A bit like bread does.

How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (6)
How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (7)
How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (8)
How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (9)

Once cut, all that’s left to be done is baking! This is where you can sit back and relax, and start to think of your next experiment!

Scone troubleshooting

Even if you’ve done everything right according to the theory, it go can wrong in practice. Different flours, different egg sizes, different butters, all affect the recipe. So what to do when things don’t turn out as you would have liked them to?

Why are my scones too crumbly?


The liquid that you add after adding the butter is required to keep the whole dough together. If there’s not enough water to keep the dough together, it will fall apart too easily and it will be very hard to bring it all together.
Also, it is important that you mix long enough for the ingredients to mix evenly. If there are still large clumps of flour or pockets with a lot of water, it won’t hold together in those areas.

Why aren’t my scones crumbly?


In order to get that crumbliness, you need those fat pockets. Not starting by mixing the flour and butter at the start can cause them not not form properly. However, there’s another thing to keep in mind. The butter has to remain solid while making the scones. If the butter melts completely those pockets are gone and it will become more bread like than scone like.
Also, remember to not extensively knead the scone dough. Knead so that everything just comes together, but not anymore or again you will lose those air pockets.

My scones have turned out more like a cookie than a scone!


This can happen if you add too much butter. If you double the amount of butter in our recipe, they’ll turn out more like cookies (we tested it for you).
So, try to reduce the amount of butter. Keep in mind that after rubbing in the fat into the flour, it should give a crumbly texture.

What liquid is best to use?


To bring the scone together it’s important to use an ingredient that contains plenty water. You can just use water, that works well. However, you can also use milk, buttermilk, oat milk, and most plant based milks. Using milk instead of water can give a slightly browner scone and a little (but not much) extra flavor.

My scones are too thin


Two possible solutions for you:
1. Don’t roll out the dough too thinly. It’s best to maintain a thickness of at least 2,5 cm (about 1 inch). This ensures you have enough layers and flaky pockets. (It’s what happened to the scones on the image below.)
2. Add some extra baking powder/soda, they might not have raised enough.How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (10)

My scones haven’t risen enough


If your scones barely rise in the oven, reconsider the amount of water you’ve added. You might want to add more. Otherwise, increase the amount of baking powder/soda.
If you’re using baking soda, take care that you’ve added at least one sour ingredient (e.g. buttermilk). The baking soda needs something acid to be activated (read why here).

How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (11)

Do’s and don’ts of making scones

By now, it’s hopefully clear that you do have a lot of creative freedoms when making scones. You can change out fats, tweak the flavor to your liking, change the shape. But, there are a few non-negotiables.

As such, we recommend to:

Definitely do…

  • Mix in the fat before adding the rest. This ensures an even distribution of the fat and the creation of those buttery pockets.
  • Make a sticky, wettish dough, it will give a better rise.
  • Add enough baking powder to puff it up well.
  • Add something sour if you’re using baking soda.

And don’t…

  • Knead a scone dough more than is needed for it to come together.
  • Add all ingredients in one go.
  • Add too much butter (unless you’d like a cookie).
How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (12)
How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (13)

Scone Dough - Do's and Don'ts

Yield: 8 scones

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

A basic recipe for scones with a few suggestions for variations. Use the tips mentioned above to optimize and improve your scones. Make sure you do not skip on the rubbing butter step and treating the dough gently. Otherise, feel free to modify fillings and tweak it to your preferences.

Ingredients

  • 250g flour
  • 30g sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 50g cold butter
  • 135ml milk*
  • Little of milk (optional for a wash)

Optional fillings

  • 60g roughly grated cheese (larger pieces are better than very finely grated cheese)
  • 60g fresh cranberries, cut in half, it is very hard to knead them in when they're whole and round, they tend to bounce away

Instructions

  1. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the cold butter to the flour and knead through the flour until you have a slightly crumbly texture. It shouldn't be as crumbly as when making a fruit crumble, a slightly coarse sand is what you could compare it to. You could do this with a stand mixer, continue mixing until there's no large pieces left.
  3. Pour in all the milk and mix it through gently, either with your hands or a spatula/wooden spoon. It is important to stir as little as you can and stop stirring at soon as you have a cohesive dough. You can again do this with a stand mixer. Mix at the lowest speed until it just comes together, that happens in just a few seconds.
  4. If you're adding the fillings, now is a good point to add them. Knead the dough just a little so it comes together well and isn't too crumbly anymore.
  5. Flatten the dough into a rectangle/circle, whatever you prefer. Keep it quite thick (about 2 cm/1 inch) for a nice fluffly scone). Cut out your scones, we tend to just shaped the dough in a circle and cut out pie pieces, little triangles.
  6. Coat the top of the scones with some milk or egg wash for an even prettier top (although I always skip this!).
  7. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for approximately 20-25 minutes. The scones should be a light brown when they're finished.

Notes

*If you don't have milk at home, feel free to use water. We tested it out and the scones taste just fine, maybe even a little better than using milk.

How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts (2024)

FAQs

How to Make Scones - Dough Do's and Don'ts? ›

Just a reminder: Don't overwork the dough or the scones will turn out rubbery – or worse, bullety and hard. Cut out your scones cleanly. Twisting the cutter can impair the rise. If you use a fluted cutter, you can't twist it.

What not to do when making scones? ›

Just a reminder: Don't overwork the dough or the scones will turn out rubbery – or worse, bullety and hard. Cut out your scones cleanly. Twisting the cutter can impair the rise. If you use a fluted cutter, you can't twist it.

What is the trick in making good scones? ›

Baking tips for making the perfect scones
  1. Use cold or frozen butter: For a better rise, preferably use cold butter or even frozen butter. ...
  2. Use pastry flour: This will create a noticeably lighter scone. ...
  3. Mix the butter into the flour: If you don't start by mixing the flour and butter, your scones can fail to form properly.
Nov 14, 2022

How to not overwork scone dough? ›

Generally you would rub the butter into the flour, kind of like you're making pie dough. You'd rub it in until it resembles a bread crumb mixture, which is the same. But you would then, very briefly, bring it together into a dough, and you would stop touching it as quickly as possible. Then cut out your scones.

Is scone dough supposed to be wet? ›

It all boils down to making the right dough. Scone dough is not supposed to be really sticky. It is made by mixing wheat flour, butter, water, and other ingredients resulting in a moist and sticky mixture.

What is the secret to making scones rise? ›

To ensure taller scones, start with a thicker dough disc and place the scones on a tray with sides, allowing them to slightly touch one another. This arrangement encourages the scones to push against the pan and each other, promoting height.

Should you chill scone dough before baking? ›

As previously mentioned, it's crucial to keep the dough cold so that the butter doesn't melt before the scones are baked. Using cold ingredients helps, but your hands can warm up the dough when you're working with it. For extra precaution, it helps to chill the dough again before it's baked.

What type of flour is best for scones? ›

Use all-purpose flour for a higher rising scone that holds its shape nicely, both in and out of the oven. To make more delicate, lower-rising, cake-like scones, substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour.

What does egg do in scones? ›

Egg: Adds flavor, lift, and structure. Optional: Vanilla extract adds necessary flavor to sweet scones, but skip it if you're making savory scones.

Why aren t my scones light and fluffy? ›

Overworking the dough: when you overwork your dough, your scones can come out tough and chewy, rather than that desired light, crumbly texture. The trick is to use light pressure and only the work the dough until it just comes together.

Why don t my scones rise high? ›

Placing a dough in a cool oven that then slowly heats up actually affects the rising agent. Make sure your oven is at the right temperature you will be baking the scones at before you put them in. Also having an oven that is too hot or too cold will affect the baking of your scones immensely.

How long to rest scone dough? ›

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Stir in the sugar, add the butter and rub quickly into the flour, creating a fine breadcrumb consistency. Add the milk, a little at a time, working to a smooth dough. This is now best left to rest for 5-15 minutes before rolling.

Is it okay to over mix the scone dough? ›

Over-kneading your dough will result in scones and biscuits that are tough, dense, or rubbery. The longer you knead the dough, the stronger the gluten network will be. We want just enough gluten for the scones to hold their shape, but not so much that we sacrifice the light and flaky texture.

What causes scones not to rise? ›

Placing a dough in a cool oven that then slowly heats up actually affects the rising agent. Make sure your oven is at the right temperature you will be baking the scones at before you put them in. Also having an oven that is too hot or too cold will affect the baking of your scones immensely.

Why aren't my scones light and fluffy? ›

Overworking the dough: when you overwork your dough, your scones can come out tough and chewy, rather than that desired light, crumbly texture. The trick is to use light pressure and only the work the dough until it just comes together.

How to prevent scones from burning at the bottom? ›

If you are baking one cookie sheet of scones, cookies, or biscuits–set the rack to the central position in the oven. 3. If despite your best efforts they still scorch slightly, double up your cookie sheet. Just the little bit of extra insulation on the bottom does wonders!

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