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Truly Tender Scones

Makinig these scones couldn't be easier—the less you work them, the more tender they'll be

Fine Cooking Issue 61
Photo: Scott Phillips
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While I’ll readily confess to being addicted to scones, I can maintain some dignity. I don’t love just any old scone. What I adore is the true classic, made tender and rich with cream and butter and eggs.  

A good scone is a beautiful balance of opposites: rich but light, tender but sturdy, satisfyingly sweet but not overly so. The Classic Cream Scone is delicious with the traditional jam and cream accompaniments, but the variations I’ve included can hold their own with nothing more than a cup of tea or coffee.  

A forgiving dough that’s quick to make. Sadly, there are criminally substandard pastries out there being passed off as scones. A shame, really, when you consider how very simple it is to make terrific ones. A batch can be ready for the oven in less than ten minutes, even less if you measure the ingredients ahead—just in time for that first cup of morning coffee.  

It’s a breeze to master the technique for scone dough: the less you work it, the more tender the scones will be. That said, the following recipes are forgiving, so even novice bakers can get used to the feel of the dough without sacrificing tenderness. The trick is to mix as little yet as thoroughly as you can; your hands are wonderful for this, as they can discern pockets of dry or wet better than any tool. Imagine there’s a timer on—be quick and light. If I’m adding chopped nuts, fruits, chocolate, or herbs, I like to mix them into the dry ingredients to ensure even distribution.  

While ripe for variety, scones, I find, come out best with no more than two flavors added to the dough; more than that compromises their light texture and pure flavor. And though all the recipes that follow are quite at home at teatime, don’t be surprised if, like me, you find yourself covered in crumbs long before the kettle boils.

Like a biscuit, but different

Originally English, scones can seem a lot like all-American biscuits. There are many similarities, but biscuits usually contain vegetable shortening or lard and are more often made with milk or buttermilk than cream. Some scone recipes also call for milk, but classic cream scones contain just that: rich sweet cream. Perhaps the biggest difference is eggs, which are a requisite for scones but absent from biscuit dough. Finally, while some bakers would faint at the suggestion of adding sugar to their biscuit dough, scones would not be what they are without it.


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  • Stardust4300 | 02/13/2018

    Please.....!!!! If you are going to make a scone then don't make it triangle. That's a habit we Americans somehow developed and it's horrible. Just make your scones round just like your biscuits. That's the proper scone. My friends in the UK would faint if I did that. Great recipe so let's keep it traditional 🦋 Thank you, enjoying this delicious scone recipe. Sometimes I add currants or raisins.

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