Rich, airy, and slightly sweet, scones are fantastic to munch on for breakfast or brunch along with a warm cup of your favorite coffee or tea.
Unfortunately, it’s not exactly easy to get the perfect scone consistency using plain flour. Luckily, the solution to soft and crumbly scones every time lies in cake flour.
Today, we’re shedding light on what scones are, the different versions of scones, as well as recipes for British-style and American-style scones with cake flour.
Before we get to the recipes, let’s start by explaining what scones actually are.
The oldest version of scones originated from Scotland. It was made by rolling oats into large loaves then cutting these loaves into triangles and cooking them at high temperatures over a fire.
It’s not clear when exactly scones came about, but it’s widely recognized that it was sometime around the 1500s. This was way before the United States became what we know it today.
Nowadays, when people talk about scones, they usually mean one of two versions: round British scones or triangular American scones. Here’s a breakdown of each one:
After their appearance in Scotland, scones grew more popular over the years, and soon enough, they arrived south in England. That’s where the British scones started to take the form we’re blessed with nowadays.
The English folks embraced the new pastry and added tweaks to the traditional recipe. For example, They used flour instead of oats as a base.
Additionally, English bakers switched to ovens to make the scones in place of the older open flame cooking method. The use of ovens is, of course, what we do in modern times.
Over the decades, people in England also expanded the flavor profile of scones and came up with recipes containing dried fruits such as currants and raisins.
Additionally, they began serving scones with jelly and clotted cream (a type of thick cream that falls between whipped cream and butter), which remains a common practice to date!
- Fun fact: there’s a weirdly fierce debate regarding which topping you should put on your scone first. A similar debate surrounds peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!
As more time passed, scones spread across Europe and Commonwealth countries, and the version known currently as British scones became the staple.
When scones made their way from Britain to the United States -thanks to foreign settlers who came to America-, the original scone recipe underwent changes based on available ingredients and varied tastes across different regions of the country.
Generally, scones in the USA took two major forms as follows:
These refer to the scones in northern regions of the country. They stayed rather true to the original British scone as bakers continued to use eggs or milk as liquid ingredients in their recipes.
This meant that the scones turned out on the light and crumbly side, but not flaky, which is close to the consistency of the classic scone.
The twist that northern Americans added to British scones is incorporating flavorings such as cheese and orange or lemon zest, not just dried fruits.
Over the years, folks up there added more and more sugar to their scone recipes to boost the sweetness and crunchiness of the baked goods compared to the original version.
Scones in the southern parts of America, on the other hand, went through more drastic alterations. Folks down there used a lot more lard and butter along with buttermilk and wheat flour.
As such, they became known as Southern biscuits. These are often smothered in gravy and served as part of savory meals.
So why did the northern parts of America stick to the classic scone version more than the southern areas?
Well, northern Americans were into snacks and baked treats that they can pair with coffee or tea. Good old scones are perfect for such use with their crumbly sweetness.
Southern Americans, however, had a huge taste for hearty foods and savory dishes. So they adapted the scone recipe to suit their preferences.
You know a scone is good when it’s soft, buttery, and light that it melts in your mouth, yet not flaky or too fluffy.
Achieving such consistency isn’t easy, especially when using all-purpose or plain wheat flour.
These types of flour contain about 10 to 12 percent protein content, which results in the formation of a relatively higher amount of gluten when mixed into the batter.
Gluten in scones makes them turn out more dense and dry. To counteract this effect, you need to add certain ratios of liquid ingredients that can be tricky to master.
Luckily, your chances of baking amazing scones go up when you swap all-purpose or wheat flour with cake flour.
Why? Because cake flour contains less protein at around 7 to 9 percent.
This means the batter will have less gluten, so the baked scones will turn out less dense and dry. They’ll be more airy and moist without falling apart into layers when you bite on them.
A finely-milled flour, cake flour is made by grinding soft wheat. As its name suggests, cake flour is mainly featured in cake recipes, but you can also use it to make scones.
The following ingredients and directions are for whipping up British-style scones using cake flour:
- 2 1/4 cups (250 grams) of cake flour
- 1/4 cup (40 grams) of fine (castor) sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) of butter, cold and unsalted
- 3 teaspoons (15 grams) of baking powder
- 1/2 cup (120 to 130 grams) of milk, full fat
- 1 pinch of salt
- Preheat your oven to 410 degrees F (210 degrees C).
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, sift the cake flour and baking powder.
- Use your finger to work the cold butter into the flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.
- Mix in the fine sugar and salt.
- Stir in the milk. You may not need all the milk depending on how soft the dough is. You want it supple and tender but not sticky and wet. If it feels dry, add a little milk.
- Transfer the dough to a floured surface.
- Lightly dust the dough and your rolling pin with flour.
- Gently roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 inch. Don’t roll the dough out more than once to prevent it from becoming tough.
- Dust your cutter (preferably metal) then stamp out circles from the slab of dough. Avoid twisting the cutter either to ensure an even rise.
- Optional: brush the scones with milk or beaten eggs to give them a nice shine.
- Bake on the highest rack for about 10 to 15 minutes until well-risen and slightly golden on top but pale on the sides.
- Serve topped with jam and butter or clotted cream.
The following ingredients and directions are for cooking up American-style scones using cake flour:
- 2 cups (260 grams) of cake flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons (12 grams) of baking powder
- 2 1/2 tablespoons (32 grams) of granulated sugar
- A pinch of salt
- 5 tablespoons (75 grams) of butter, cold and unsalted butter (cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 to 3/4 cup (170 grams) of heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of raw sugar
- Preheat your oven to 424 degrees F (220 degrees C).
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix the cake flour, granulated sugar, salt, and baking powder.
- Use your finger to work the cubes of cold butter into the flour until it forms pea-sized clumps and looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the heavy cream with 1 egg.
- Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.
- Gradually pour in the heavy cream and egg mixture while stirring with a spatula.
- Keep stirring until the dough becomes a sticky mass that you can handle with your hands. If it feels dry, add a little cream.
- Transfer the dough to a floured surface.
- Lightly dust the dough and knead it gently until you make it into a ball.
- Gently pat the dough to a thickness of about 3/4 to 1 inch.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into even wedges or triangles.
- Brush the scones with a beaten egg and sprinkle the raw sugar.
- Bake on the medium rack for about 10 to 15 minutes until well-risen, firm to touch, and slightly golden on top but pale on the sides.
- Serve topped with jam and butter.
There you have it, everything you need to know about how to bake scones with cake flour. Whether you go for British or American scones, cake flour is sure to make them turn out perfectly soft, light, and crumbly!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.