Saturday, February 4, 2012

January's Daring Bakers' Challenge: Scones a.k.a. Southern Biscuits

     Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host.. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

   I am a member of the Daring Bakers and each month we have a challenge to bake from scratch. Every month a different member hosts a challenge, giving us a challenge recipe that we must display. This month we went back to the basics by making biscuits/scones. Aud is from Australia where they call our Good Ol' Boy Southern Biscuits a Scone. Sounds fancier, doesn't it? Anyway, let's give it a try.
   There are many variations you can use to personalize your biscuits to suit your family's taste. I wanted to show you the bare bottom, easiest and fastest way to get the bread on the table. There are way too many nights when time is short and I need to get the best meal on the table that I can in the least amount of time. Here's a fast, cheap, and delicious way to give the family a treat with their meal and make them think it took a long time. And by all means, let them think this took you at least an hour and they should repay you by cleaning your house and leaving you some hot water for the shower. (I know, I dream big...) I double this recipe. I think these biscuits are best with homemade butter and lots of honey after a good meal. My kids like to eat them with butter with their meal.

Now here's the recipe I had to work with:

Basic Scones (a.k.a. Basic Biscuits)
Servings: about eight 2-inch (5 cm) scones or five 3-inch (7½ cm) scones

Can be doubled
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (1/3 oz) fresh baking powder
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (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


1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.

2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)

3. 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.
4. 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!
5. 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.)
6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) 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.
7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on 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.
8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven 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.
9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.

There is a trick to these biscuits and it is all in how you handle your dough. (Sounds like a life lesson or weird fortune cookie, huh?) If you want to have more flavorful biscuits and tender, just use butter and make sure you work your butter into the flour until it looks a lot like beach sand. If you want a more flaky and higher rising biscuit, use lard and leave your lard looking like floured up beans. I liked a combination which I thought gave the best of both worlds: use an equal combo of butter and lard and keep big pieces of fat in the dry mix, kinda like dry peas before you plant them. If you want an even bigger rise, after you mix the dough, cover and put in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest. After you pat out your dough, put it back in the fridge for another 10 minutes. It helped, but for me, it wasn't enough of a difference to warrant the extra attention and time fussing with the biscuits.  Crazy how in a house with four kids, I couldn't find a ruler, so I put a foil box beside the biscuit for you to see how big they got.

I hope you'll try these and let me know how it went.

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