This month for our Daring Bakers’ Challenge we went back to basics. We were challenged to create “scones.” Now, when I read that I immediately thought of those triangular shape pastries with the crisp crust usually covered in sugar and generally have some sort of dried fruit in them. That is not what we are making here. You see, our host this month, Audax of Audax Artifex is Australian. In Australia what we know as biscuits, they call “scones” and what we call scones, they call “rock cakes.” Learn something new every day!
Being from North Carolina before I transplanted myself in New Jersey many moons ago, I decided I wanted to go ahead and make a buttermilk biscuit because that’s just good ol’ Southern food right there. I’ve never made biscuits before and as I read the recipe it seemed almost too easy. With all those biscuits in refrigerated cardboard tubes, I think I just assumed they must be time-consuming or difficult to make thus the need for a convenient, pre-made option.
Guess what? They take no time at all! I kid you not. Dry ingredients in a bowl, cut in some butter, pour in some buttermilk and viola! Dough. Then all you have to do is stamp out some circles and pop them in the oven for 8 minutes. Done. It seriously doesn’t get much easier than that. But let me just tell you, the difference in taste is amazing. These homemade buttermilk biscuits have got nothing on those cardboard tube jobbies.
Once baked, you’ll have light and airy, buttery “scones.” (AKA: buttermilk biscuits) That being said, Audax gave us some great insight into what makes the perfect biscuit after having several failures himself. I believe he said he made 16 different batches! First of all, these biscuits only require a very few ingredients so it’s of the utmost importance that you use high quality ingredients to produce high quality results. A low-gluten (9% or less protein) flour will produce taller and lighter biscuits as opposed to all-purpose flour (10% or more protein.)
Unsalted butter will provide the best flavor while lard will ensure a flakier texture so you may consider using a combination of both. It is best to grate the butter using the coarse side of a box-grater and then freeze it until you need it. Freezing the butter prevents the fat from melting into the flour. The idea is to coat the fat particles with the flour. You are looking for a fat/flour combination that looks like very coarse bread crumbs with a few pieces of butter about the size of peas, the finer you make your fat pieces the more tender the crumb of your final scones. If you want very flaky scones then make the fat pieces large like Lima beans and only lightly coat them in the flour.
Lastly, always make sure your baking powder and baking soda are fresh otherwise your biscuits won’t rise properly. With these tips in hand, you’ll be ready to make your very own homemade biscuits. They’re easy to make, quick to bake and most importantly, delicious to eat!
One Year Ago: Double Bacon Cheeseburgers (In the beginning, it wasn’t all about sweets)
Basic Scones (a.k.a. Basic Biscuits) by Audax Artifex
Servings: about eight 2-inch (5 cm) scones or five 3-inch (7½ cm) scones
1 cup (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons (10 gm) fresh baking powder
¼ teaspoon(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.
– Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
– 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. Using a well-floured 2-inch biscuit cutter, stamp out without twisting six 2-inch rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch 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 in a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart in 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 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.
Buttermilk Variation on the Basic Recipe:
– Follow the basic recipe above but replace the milk with buttermilk, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, increase the fat to 4 tablespoons. In Step 3 aim for pea-sized pieces of fat coated in flour. The rounds should be just touching in the baking dish and glaze the biscuits with buttermilk before baking.