There is a special touch needed to know what makes the perfect biscuit or scone. I am still working on it. I’d like to use some of my experience to help y’all become expert biscuit and scone bakers!
So, what is a scone?
For those of you raised in the South, it is a sweet biscuit with or without “stuff” in it. I have not made a lot of scones in my life, but I have made a few biscuits. Biscuits were the first thing that my Grandmother ever tried to teach me to make. Even though I was 5 years old the first time I witnessed it, I have a vivid memory of watching my grandmother making biscuits. It was a task that she performed virtually every day so she usually skipped those fancy “measuring cups”. She scooped flour out of a huge bin with her hands dumping it on the surface. Baking powder was expertly spooned out, as was Crisco. She then worked the shortening into the flour by touch by pinching the Crisco between her thumb and fingers, She added the fresh milk, straight from my Aunt’s dairy farm, directly from the container. Occasionally she would make her own buttermilk, but since I was never present, this process escapes me. Needless to say, my Grandmother’s biscuits were heaven. Even if they made it until the next day (a rarity), they were still moist soft and divine.
Unfortunately, my Grandmother died while I was in college, so I never mastered her techniques. Oh, but I wish that I had. I do, however, remember her saying, “the key to a good biscuit is in the feel of the dough”. I thought that was peculiar, and not at all instructive at the time. But 40 years, and many failed attempts later, I now understand. Making good biscuits is more in the knowing of how the dough feels as it is in the recipe. I recently read an article from a young woman who completed her culinary training as a pastry chef and got her first job in the Southern Living kitchens making biscuits. To her surprise, her culinary training had not adequately prepared her for the task. She quickly started researching different techniques and interviewing experienced biscuit makers for tips. She tried them all. Finally she realized, “it just takes practice”.
Why butter and cream cheese?
Crisco as I said before makes a light fluffy biscuit. But I don’t have Crisco on hand. Butter in my opinion makes for a very “short” dense biscuit. Several years ago, I discovered that substituting Cream Cheese for half my butter resulted in a lighter softer biscuit. Similar to Crisco in texture, but with the buttery flavor. I like the flavor of this combination better than Crisco, but I get a similar texture. Since we are making scones we want a rich flavor with a soft crumbly texture.
What is up with the Baking Soda?
Chemistry my friend. Have you ever made the baking soda and vinegar volcanoes with your children? The two together provide for a chemical reaction the helps your biscuits to rise. You don’t have to include it, but I consider it an insurance policy that does not affect the taste. You will need to use buttermilk or my combo of sour cream and milk to get the chemical reaction. If you don’t have either one. Use ¾ cup of whole milk and add a tablespoon of vinegar to it. Be sure to mix it well. It will start to curdle a little, but that is perfectly fine.
Do I need to Freeze my butter?
No. It should be straight out of the refrigerator. I have seen the same recipes you have. Freeze the butter then grate it with a cheese grater. If that works for you, go for it. I personally find it to be a waste of time.
Why is my dough runny?
If you manage to add too much milk, your dough may be too runny/sticky.
How can you tell if it’s too runny?
If you are using a cutter or glass, you will want to dust the edge with flour before you start cutting. When you cut the first scone, you should be able to lift it off the surface and have it hold it’s shape. If it doesn’t hold it’s shape or is very loose, stop what you are doing and knead it a couple more times. Simply knead in some more flour until you get it to hold its shape.
Those are the questions I could think of, but please let us know what other questions you have in the comments and I will answer them to the best of my ability!