If you want light, tender scones, don't overwork the dough (2024)

If you want light, tender scones, don't overwork the dough (1)

Photo: martinturzak / iStock / Thinkstock

Edd Kimber, author of Patisserie Made Simple, shares the proper way to make a scone.

The humble British scone

David Leite: We think of scones as British, but where do they come from?

If you want light, tender scones, don't overwork the dough (2) Edd Kimber

Edd Kimber: They are definitely British, but there is a debate about where they actually originate from. A lot of people will say they come from Ireland. People here would assume they come from the South, so either Devon or Cornwall, mainly because they are so associated with that part of the country.

But there is also one other argument. There's a place in Scotland called Scone Palace, which is where traditionally our monarchs went to be crowned king or queen. Because the name is exactly the same, there is a theory that they also come from there. They are definitely seen as a Celtic thing.

To the Brits, the scone is something almost like peasant food. It's very humble. It's very lightly sweetened, sometimes with nothing else in it. It's a very light, sweet bun, often with some dried currants or raisins. It's a very humble thing in this country. It's something very, very common.

DL: How about American scones versus British scones?

EK: The way I think of American scones is that they've taken the very humble British scone and they've added elements to make it not better necessarily, but a little richer and more extravagant with buttermilk and lots more tasty ingredients like chocolate or blueberries.

DL: When would you eat your humble version of the scone in Britain?

EK: It's definitely an afternoon tea kind of thing. If you went to afternoon tea at any hotel in this country, you'd be guaranteed scones. They would come with jam and clotted cream.

It isn't something you necessarily have as a dessert, but it's not a treat either. It's something more everyday. It's not that sweet and it's not filled with heavy butter, creams or chocolate. It's a lighter product.

Savory scones

DL: What place do savory scones hold?

If you want light, tender scones, don't overwork the dough (3) Patisserie Made Simple

EK: I think to Brits scones are almost the same thing. They're stuck in the head as the old-fashioned, the classic. You can find savory scones, but they are much, much rarer. Apart from a cheese scone -- you can find those in supermarkets -- generally you don't see savory scones very often. That again is more of a riff on the classic.

DL: You have a version of the savory scone don't you?

EK: I do. I quite like the American style of scone just because it gives you good flexibility. You can almost put anything into it. I do a lot with cheese and ham, and you can put mustard in there. If it sounds like it will taste nice, you can put it in a scone. You can play around in all different ways.

DL: I love the idea of mustard. Dry mustard, I'm assuming?

EK: Yes. You can use mustard powder or you could add a little bit of English mustard. You can use whatever you want really, but a little mustard powder just with the flour would be delicious.

Making a good scone

DL: What makes a good scone texture-wise, taste-wise, ingredient-wise?

If you want light, tender scones, don't overwork the dough (4) Kimber's recipe: Classic Scones

EK: They're so simple in the ingredients; it would be flour, sugar, salt, butter and then some raising agent, some baking powder. Really simple. And then milk, maybe an egg. Egg tends to make it slightly richer.

But for me, the key to the texture of a scone is that it should be really, really light and tender. That comes from how you make them. Anyone who baked as a child was always taught by their mom or their grandmother to make a scone, you have to have a really light hand. You don't want to work the dough too much; it ends up making it tougher.

The way I learned to make scones originally was from my mom. That's how I started baking, full stop. I was on a show in the U.K. called The Great British Bake Off, which is starting to air on PBS. When I finished the show, I was very lucky to be invited to go and work in a kitchen in a restaurant called Le Manoir, which is a two-Michelin-star restaurant. It is run by a chef here called Raymond Blanc, who is one of those chefs to the U.K. who's been around forever. Everybody knows him. He is a very well-regarded chef.

I worked in that pastry kitchen for a few weeks, and I learned some very different techniques from how most people at home make them. 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.

But the way I was taught was using a technique called "chaffing." I'm still not sure if that's the true word for it.

DL: What is that?

EK: It's a type of kneading, but it's the lightest possible kneading you can do. You're not stretching the dough, it's more of a fold. You're trying to incorporate a little bit of tension into the dough and also lots of air. Then you cut out your scones as you would do normally. But then you leave them to rest for about an hour.

It's a hotel technique. It gives you a different look. Because you allow them to rest and you've given them this light knead, they start to ever so slightly spread and get a rounded side. It looks just a little more refined. It's slightly a trickier technique. It goes against a lot of the rules I was taught as a kid and a lot of other people get taught as children on how to make them. It gives you a very professional, polished look to them.

If you want light, tender scones, don't overwork the dough (2024)


How to not overwork scone dough? ›

The key is to use a light hand and work the dough until it just comes together. Follow this tip: Expect your dough to have lumps and bumps in it — once it just comes together, its ready to be used.

Should scones be light or heavy? ›

So what would you prefer? A thicker and denser scone or a lighter and fluffier one? If you'd prefer a thicker one, go for a self-raising flour or a bread flour. But if you'd prefer a lighter and fluffier scone, we'd recommend all-purpose or pastry flour.

Why aren't my scones light and fluffy? ›

Avoid using a food processor to mix scones: A food processor will work, but it often overworks the scone dough. We recommend using your hands until the mixture comes together. Overworking the dough will lead to scones that are tough and chewy, rather than light and flaky.

Why you should not over knead a scone dough? ›

Over kneading is the death of a good scone, the delicate creatures that they are. You want to handle your dough gently and as little as possible, otherwise your dough will become tough and won't be as fluffy.

What is the secret of making good scones? ›

7 Baking Tips for Making Better Scones
  • For a better rise, use cold butter — or even frozen butter. ...
  • When it comes to mixing, don't overdo it; mix until the dough just comes together. ...
  • Use pastry flour for the lightest scones. ...
  • "Once you've shaped your scones, chill them before baking," Youngman says.
Jun 28, 2023

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.

Is heavy cream or buttermilk better for scones? ›

Heavy Cream or Buttermilk: For the best tasting pastries, stick with a thick liquid such as heavy cream or buttermilk. I usually use heavy cream, but if you want a slightly tangy flavor, use buttermilk.

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.

How do you get the best rise on scones? ›

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.

Why are my scones so dense? ›

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.

Why do you put eggs in scones? ›

Scones can be made either with self-raising flour or with plain flour and baking powder. Sweet scones and cheese scones have an egg added to enrich them. Both will rise but whatever scone you make its important that they are handled lightly and not rolled too thinly.

How do you keep scones soft? ›

Don't overbake! If you bake scones too long, they'll dry out, so keep an eye on them through the oven window. (Don't open the oven to look — it'll let out the heat.) “Bake your scones until they are just golden brown,” Bethany recommends.

Is milk or cream better for scones? ›

Cream is higher in lactose (a natural milk sugar) than butter, which helps the scones brown in the oven. I cut that richness with a splash of milk to hydrate the dough. Using 100% cream would make a dry but rich dough that's golden and tender, but far too crumbly and dense.

Why put scone dough in fridge? ›

Rested dough is far easier to shape cleanly than unrefrigerated dough is, and it bakes up noticeably taller, smoother, and with crispier edges.

How long should I knead scone dough? ›

Plain scones – made easy!

Self raising flour and cold butter – blitz 8 seconds. Add milk – blitz 8 seconds until ball forms. Turn dough out, knead lightly 10 times (no more), lightly roll across the top to smooth surface. Cut scones out, bake 12 minutes.

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.

Does scone dough need to rest? ›

The explanation is simple: As with other doughs, including pizza dough, resting lets scone dough's gluten relax completely, so that it doesn't snap back during shaping or baking.

Why is my scone dough not coming together? ›

Lightly turn the mixture and add more liquid as needed. Add just enough buttermilk or milk (preferably low-fat) to make the dough stick together. The dough should still be crumbly with some flour dregs when it has enough buttermilk. Otherwise, the scones may come out tough.

Should you chill scone dough before baking? ›

Keep scone dough as cold as possible. To avoid over-spreading, I recommend chilling the shaped scones for at least 15 minutes in the refrigerator before baking. In fact, you can even refrigerate overnight for a quick breakfast in the morning! Bake until golden brown.

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