When you’re craving a perfect English afternoon tea, there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to a light, fluffy scone slathered with strawberry jam and cream.
Unfortunately, scones can sometimes come out dry and crumbly, not suitable for that high tea moment at all. What are the best tips to make sure your scones are fluffy?
To make scones fluffy, use carefully measured, sifted cake flour and active baking powder, baking soda, and crème of tartar. Keep the butter and shortening ice-cold, and rub them in by hand. Gently bind the dough with buttermilk or egg and milk. Don’t overwork the dough. Scones are best eaten fresh.
It’s not difficult to bake fluffy scones –there are a couple of baking secrets to making those delectable, airy scones that make such suitable receptacles for preserves. What were grandma’s secrets to fresh, warm, fluffy scones?
What Makes Scones Fluffy?
Whether you’re making the plainer, round English scones that form part of the traditional cream tea, the sweeter, triangular scones that have become typical in America, or their cousin, the baking powder biscuit, the secrets to fluffiness are the same.
What you’re looking for in all of these baked goods is a light, airy texture with a moist delicacy that makes them melt in your mouth. You’re not looking for a bread-like texture, which is excellent in a chewy or crusty baguette.
There are a couple of ingredients responsible for this texture. The first is fat, in the form of butter. Fat has two purposes in most baked goods.
First, fat coats the flour to stop it from developing gluten, which is responsible for creating the structure of bread.
Gluten is a web-like protein molecule that develops when flour is handled or kneaded and becomes stretchy and springy. You want to develop this texture in bread, but you want to avoid gluten development for scones.
Secondly, fat helps trap air in the scones, helping them to rise and remain moist. The rubbing or cutting method used when making scones leaves little blobs of butter in the dough.
This butter melts while baking, leaving small air pockets filled with steam and expanding, leaving the scone light and moist.
Another ingredient that creates fluffiness is baking powder, which makes your scones rise so spectacularly. Because of the lack of gluten in scone dough, you don’t need yeast.
Instead, the elements in baking powder cause a chemical reaction, which releases carbon dioxide gas into the wet dough and makes it rise quickly.
Another fluffiness creator is making scones, working step by step, and adding ingredients in order. Throwing all the ingredients into a food processor and mixing them will create very hard, tough scones.
Let’s look at each element and step required in making fluffy scones.
Fluffy Scones Secret 1: The Flour
Most scone recipes begin with dry ingredients, one of which is flour.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Use Cake Flour
The ideal flour for scones is cake flour because it has the lowest protein content of all flours, around five to eight percent. This relative lack of gluten protein is what makes cake flour the best choice for a fluffy texture.
Cake flour is usually chlorinated or bleached. The chemical bleaching process weakens the existing gluten and increases the flour’s capacity to absorb sugar and liquid to create a moist scone.
You can make scones with all-purpose flour quite successfully. However, if you want to make wholewheat scones, be aware that the texture will never be as fluffy and light.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Sift Your Flour
In the past, one of the main reasons for sifting your dry ingredients was to remove lumps. Today, most flour is so highly processed that it has no lumps in it.
However, sifting is still an essential step in making scones for two reasons.
The first reason is that sifting your flour adds air, which is essential for fluffiness. The second reason is that sifting dry ingredients together (you’ll sift in the baking powder and salt simultaneously) mixes them thoroughly.
To sift flour, place your sieve over your mixing bowl and add the correctly measured quantity of flour. Gently shake the sieve until all the dry ingredients have fallen through the holes. Discard any lumps or crumbs that remain in the sieve.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Don’t Add Too Much Flour
While flour helps make the scones such delicious treats, too much flour will create a dry, unpleasant texture.
Measure Your Flour
Too much flour will result in stodgy scones, so take care to measure your flour carefully. Check what your recipe says:
- If the recipe calls for 1 cup of sifted flour, first sift the flour into a separate bowl, measure it and add it to the mixing bowl.
- If the recipe calls for 1 cup of flour, sifted, you can measure the flour and then sift it straight into the measuring bowl.
Scone Dough Is Sticky
You may be tempted to add more flour to the scone dough because it seems too sticky, but don’t go that route.
Scone dough is supposed to be slightly sticky when you turn it out to cut, so work on a lightly floured surface and lightly flour your hands to pat out the dough. Don’t be tempted to add more flour to the dough itself.
Fluffy Scones Secret 2: The Rising Agent
Another of the dry ingredients you’ll begin with is the rising agent, usually baking powder. However, some scone recipes use baking soda or other rising agents.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Use Baking Powder
Baking powder is the ideal rising agent for scones. In the same way as baking powder makes your biscuits fluffy, it has the same effect on your scones.
For fluffy scones, ensure that your baking powder is fresh and effective. Your scones won’t have that airy texture if your baking powder is stale, usually after six months of opening.
Check that your baking powder is still active by putting about ½ teaspoon in a cup and adding ¼ cup of boiling water. If the baking powder is still active, the mixture will start bubbling. If there are no bubbles, your baking powder has expired and will only result in sad, flat scones. Throw it out.
You can’t use baking soda instead of baking powder, as you won’t have that chemical reaction – the baking soda needs an acid, like crème of tartar, lemon juice, or buttermilk to create the leavening effect.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Add Crème of Tartar
An alternative to baking powder is to combine baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), crème of tartar, and salt. These are common elements of baking powder, so you’re just adding them separately.
Nigella Lawson, British cookery writer, and all-around domestic goddess, swears by using crème of tartar to make her scones “look as if they’ve got cellulite,” they’re so light, fluffy, and tall.
Go the baking soda route if your recipe calls for acids like buttermilk or honey. Using baking soda will avoid the sourness that comes from the interaction between baking powder and another acid.
Fluffy Scones Secret 3: The Fat
The fat in scones usually comes from butter, but you can also use shortening or margarine. In most scone recipes, you’ll add chopped butter to the dry ingredients and rub or chop it in.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Use a Combination of Butter and Shortening
Most scone recipes use only butter, but a fluffy scone secret I’ll share is combining butter and shortening.
You will always need butter in scones, but that’s what gives baked goods their rich flavor and light texture. Butter is so effective for fluffy scones because it is twenty percent water and eighty percent fat.
As the scones bake, the butter melts, the flour absorbs the fat – and the water evaporates as steam. The steam makes the scones light and airy.
Adding a small proportion of shortening (about one-third of the required fats) means that you don’t sacrifice the buttery flavor, but you get the advantages of vegetable fat.
Shortening can tenderize flour, creating even more fluttery lightness in your scones. Because of its higher melting point, it won’t melt quickly while working it into the flour – this is the risk you run with butter, as you’ll see now.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Keep the Fats Cool
Whichever fat you’re using in your scones, it is imperative to keep the ingredient as cool as possible. Keep your fat in the fridge until the very last minute.
The reason for keeping the fats cool is that as soon as they start melting, the flour begins absorbing the moisture. If the flour absorbs the fats before the dough goes into the oven, there will be no fat to melt and leave the necessary air pockets to expand and moisten your scones. You’ll be left with a cookie rather than a scone.
A second reason to keep the butter icy cold is to prevent you from melting it when you rub it in by hand. Using a food processor for this step makes it easy to melt the butter, so instead, use your hands or a pair of knives to cut in the butter, working them in opposite directions.
Remember that melted butter at this stage means that the flour will absorb it immediately, meaning first that your dough will get sticky, and you’ll be tempted to add more flour.
Fluffy Scones Secret 4: The Wet Ingredients
Once you’ve rubbed the fats into the flour, you will add a liquid to bind the dough – this could be water, milk, eggs, buttermilk, or a combination of these.
Work lightly and quickly to combine the butter-flour mixture with the liquid to create dough. Never use a food processor or mixer to create scone dough – it will make it tough as it will immediately develop gluten.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Use Buttermilk
As Southern cooks know, buttermilk is the ultimate tenderizer – you can use it to marinade chicken, and it’s one of the ingredients in the softest breakfast pancakes and biscuits.
Using buttermilk as the liquid in your scones makes them tender and light as well.
Remember that if you want to use buttermilk, replace your baking powder with baking soda and salt.
To Make Scones Fluffy, add Egg
Although most English scone recipes use only milk, American scone recipes tend to add an egg. Adding an egg means a richer, more decadent scone dough with a very tender crumb.
Egg adds two elements to your scones: first, eggs contain fat, making for a moist, luscious scone. Second, eggs add air for lightness.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Don’t Add Too Much Liquid
Whichever combination of liquids you’re using, mix them in a cup and then add about half to the flour-butter mixture. Briefly combine the ingredients to make a soft dough, pressing it together gently with your hands or a spatula.
You’ll see if the dough needs more liquid – it will crumble and won’t come together at all. Too dry a dough will result in dry scones.
But take care not to add too much liquid as the dough will become extremely sticky, and you’ll want to add more flour and end up with stodgy scones.
Fluffy Scones Secret 5: The Dough
Once you’ve gently brought the dry and wet ingredients together – not using an electric mixer – you have your scone dough. Treat the dough gently as you continue to create fluffiness in your scones.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Don’t Overwork the Dough
Use the lightest touch possible to combine wet and dry ingredients to create a light, sticky dough. Then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it down to a height of about one inch.
Do not be tempted to knead the dough – it should be too sticky and soft, anyway. One cause of scones turning out bready and tough is overworking the dough. Unlike bread or rolls, scone dough does not require kneading at all.
Overworking the dough produces gluten, which is responsible for the structure and texture of baking goods. In bread, you knead a lot to develop the gluten and create stretch and chewiness, which you’re not looking for in scones.
Another problem with overworking scone dough is that it will force the air out of the dough – and air is essential for good rising. Using your hands to shape the dough rather than a rolling pin will ensure that the scones stay airy.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Cut Them Out with Care
The next step is to cut out the scones, either with a cookie cutter or a knife. Cutting out the scones allows the edges of the dough to expand and rise, unlike if you were to roll the scones into balls (not recommended at all).
Many American scones are triangular, made by shaping the dough gently into a circle and then slicing it like a pizza.
English scones are usually cut out with a round cookie cutter dipped in flour. You can use a glass as well, to get the same shape. Take care not to twist the cutter as you cut out the scone, as this twists the dough and stops it from rising properly.
Using a round cutter does leave excess bits of dough. If you cut out scones and then draw the dough together to flatten and shape again, take care not to overwork the dough.
To Make Scones Fluffy, Chill the Dough
It’s common to rest and chill pastry dough. The same applies to scone dough if you have the time.
Once you’ve cut out your scones, lay them on their baking tray and pop them in the fridge or even the freezer for half an hour.
Resting the dough relaxes the gluten that has developed. Chilling the dough allows the butter to harden ready for the oven. Meanwhile, the flour gently starts absorbing moisture, which enriches the flavor of the scones and makes them even more tender.
Fluffy Scones Secret 6: Eat Them Fresh
Scones are best eaten hot and fresh, or at least on the day you’ve made them, as they will lose their light fluffiness quickly.
For the fluffiest scones, measure and use cake flour, baking powder, ice-cold butter, and liquids. Use buttermilk and shortening for added tenderness, but don’t add too much flour to the sticky dough.
Handle the ingredients gently so as not to overwork the dough when binding or cutting out the scones. Finally, eat the fluffy scones that come out of your oven immediately while they’re soft and delicious.
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.