Years ago in New Zealand, I attended a proper tea and had scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The scones were light and tender with a crisp exterior, more like perfect biscuits than the doughy concoctions that passed for scones back home. When I got back, I set out to recreate those scones at my bakery. In the development process, I not only came up with a delicious scone recipe, but something better as well: a wonderful make-ahead baking mix that can be used for all kinds of yummy things. At the bakery, we use the mix for scones, of course, but by playing with what we add to the mix—buttermilk or cream; more or less salt or sugar; fruits, nuts, herbs, or cheese—we also use it to make savory biscuits, shortcakes to use with fresh fruit, and cobbler toppings.
The mix, which consists of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with butter cut in, can easily be made in single, double, even triple batches; at my bakery, we go as high as twelve times the recipe. It keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer practically indefinitely (divide the dough into single-recipe portions before freezing). When you’re ready to make your scones, biscuits, shortcakes, or cobblers, you only need to add the liquid ingredients. Just allow the frozen mix to warm until the butter is pliable, which takes only five minutes.
For tender, flaky results, you want to add a minimum amount of liquid—just enough to moisten the dry ingredients and hold them together—and handle the dough as little as possible after adding the liquid. Too much liquid is why so many scones taste doughy. If you feel like you need to incorporate more liquid, add just a little at a time.
I mix the wet and dry ingredients with a fork until they just hold together, and then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and fold it like a business letter a couple of times. This technique creates layers that bake into that perfect biscuit texture. My technique is similar to making a rough puff pastry, which is itself a shortcut for puff pastry. But unlike rough puff, which gets folded until it’s smooth, I give this dough just a couple of folds, stopping while the dough is still a bit lumpy and bumpy. The dough is then patted—not rolled—into whatever shape you need.
Handle the dough lightly
By now you’ve figured out that even though this mix gives you a big head start, the counter still gets a little messy. And that may make you wonder: “Is this mix really all that convenient?” Imagine that the day you come home with the season’s first peaches, you’re able to simply reach into the freezer to grab your mix, which thaws in the time it takes to slice the peaches. A few minutes later, with no sticks of butter to cut into small pieces, and hardly a dry ingredient or measure in sight, you have a cobbler baking in the oven. The answer is, then, yes, the mix is super convenient. But you won’t believe me until you try it.