For Flaky, Lofty Scones, Throw That Butter in the Freezer
There is no singular way to make a scone. Some prefer the dense, crumbly scones slathered with clotted cream popular in the United Kingdom. Others want a flaky mound that, if you weren’t wearing your glasses, might be mistaken for a buttermilk biscuit (technically, some say the only difference between a scone and biscuit is the former’s dough must include egg). Personally, I want a lofty, tender wedge that’s jam-packed with fruit, like in this blueberry scone recipe. And there’s no better way to achieve that kind of height and texture on a scone than using frozen, grated butter.
The technique really is as simple as it sounds. Using a box grater or a food processor fitted with the grating attachment, grate a stick of butter straight from the freezer; or grate a fridge-cold stick, then freeze until solid. From there, you’re just a few steps away from craggy, mile-high scones.
To nail a pillowy texture in any scone, the ingredients (and especially the fats) need to be cold. Typically, that means pulling elements like eggs, butter, and other dairy (cream, buttermilk, sour cream, or crème fraîche) from the refrigerator only just before baking. Unlike cake or cookie batters, which often call for room temperature ingredients to avoid a lumpy, curdled mess, dough recipes like scones, biscuits, and pie crust typically call for cold butter to be “cut into” the dry ingredients. Oftentimes this style of recipe will call for chopping butter into small pieces, then refrigerating for a bit before cutting it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (or simpler: your fingers). With the frozen, grated method, you’re only increasing the payoff.
“Distributing the fat throughout the dry ingredients creates the lighter, flaky textures in the final baked goods. For this method to work effectively, it's ideal that the fat is shingled in flat pieces.” explains author of The Book on Pie and Savory Baking Erin Jeanne McDowell, who tells me that butter should be “as cold as possible throughout the mixing process for best results.” When asked about the freezing and grating method, she notes it’s a “very effective way to complete the ‘cut in’ method for scones, because it allows you to do the most important things very quickly.”
Joanne Chang, co-owner and pastry chef of Boston’s Flour Bakery, agrees, telling me that Flour’s popular oatmeal maple scones are always made with chilled butter. “You want lots of pockets of butter in your scone dough—when the dough hits the hot oven, the water in the butter turns to steam, and it raises the dough just a little bit. This is what makes the dough flaky.” Although Chang cuts cubed butter into the dry mix with a stand mixer at Flour, she says that, with the grating method, “you ensure that some butter stays in small pieces, for the steam and puff; and some butter starts to soften and mix into the dough, for tenderness.” For the best textural contrasts, Chang loves a wedge-shaped scone, and I have to agree. “I especially crave the craggy bumpy edges that bake into crunchy buttery bites,” she says.
Both Chang and McDowell emphasize the importance of retaining a tender, but “not cakey,” texture in scone, which hinges on the butter not melting until it hits the oven. Frozen, grated butter doesn’t fall prey to the warmth of your hands or kitchen. This can be especially beneficial to home cooks: If your kitchen runs warm, or if your prep area is close to your preheating oven, starting with frozen, grated butter can take some of the melting-down risk (literally and emotionally) out of the process. “Best of all, you've achieved a fairly flat shape by using the grater, which produces the best final textural results in baked goods that use the cut-in method,” adds McDowell.
This scone recipe can, and should, work as a jumping-off point. Feel free to omit the blueberries in favor of another fruit, perhaps even something hyper-seasonal (McDowell’s favorite is fresh chopped rhubarb), or lean on common pantry ingredients like Chang’s golden raisins and oats. Chopped chocolate, nuts, candied ginger or citrus peel, and warm spices like cardamom or cinnamon would certainly be welcome. Even go savory: Adapt this recipe by swapping berries for sliced chives or scallions and ¼ cup grated firm cheese like Parmesan or cheddar (stick with lemon zest as opposed to other citrus, drop the granulated sugar to ¼ cup, and skip the sugar on top in favor of flaky salt and coarsely ground black pepper).
Can you simply use small pieces of chilled butter and smash them flat with your fingers to make a successful scone? Of course. Grating a stick of butter that’s fridge-cold but not frozen will also work pretty well. But considering how expensive butter is these days, I often stock up in the event of a sale and stick the surplus in my freezer. And anyone who stores their butter in the freezer and finds themselves with a sudden craving for baked goods knows it takes a chunk of time to defrost. With this method, you can go from scone-desire to scone-preparation instantly. Win-win.Rebecca Firkser
Originally Appeared on Epicurious
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