Scones are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or as a light snack. They’re a popular option because they’re lighter and flakier than croissants and donuts.
These baked goods are famous for being flaky and crumbly. Perfectly baked, they should have a slightly crunchy exterior and a soft, crisp interior.
Yet, people often ask: why do scones crumble? Read on to learn more about this delicious pastry.
As a basic property, scones are supposed to be crumbly. Yet, exactly how fluffy should they be?
Have you ever followed a scones recipe to the dot but somehow ended up with scones that fell apart as soon as they were handled?
Scones that are too crumbly will break when you remove them from the baking sheet. They may also fall apart when you try to slice them open.
If there isn’t enough milk in the dough, they’ll come out too crumbly. Also, the dough won’t come together, and shaping the scones will be tricky.
The same thing goes if you have enough liquid but don’t mix the ingredients well. When this happens, the dough will be uneven and won’t hold up well.
Scones that aren’t crumbly enough come out chewy with a bread-like texture rather than an actual scone. This happens when you add too much liquid and knead the dough excessively. This causes the gluten in the flour to gel together, making the dough more elastic.
Also, if the butter melts before baking, the scones will be less crumbly. Therefore, it’s essential to work with cold butter to ensure a perfectly crumbly scone.
The basic ingredients of scones are fat, flour, and a liquid. With a few steps, a skilled baker can turn them into just about anything.
Yet, even skilled bakers can have a hard time making scones if they don’t pay attention to these three things:
Gluten networks are formed when the proteins in the flour link together. This process requires kneading, rise time, and lots of liquids.
On the other hand, scone dough has very little liquid compared to bread. Hence, there should be no gluten networks.
Also, the dough isn’t left to proof before baking.
When cold butter is added to the recipe, it helps insulate the flour particles, preventing the proteins from linking together.
So, when making scones, make sure the butter is cold and solid. Then, as the scones bake, the fat pieces melt and leave behind space where the dough is unfused. This is what makes the layers, like in pies.
When you bite into a scone, the spots with the fat pockets disintegrate, which we call crumbling.
When making scones, we use baking powder or baking soda to allow them to puff up and expand. With this ingredient, a chemical reaction occurs that gives rise to gas bubbles, which makes them light and airy.
The dough rises taller and becomes less dense with thousands of tiny air bubbles. If you tear a scone in half, the spots with the small air pockets break easily.
There are endless variations of the scone recipe. Yet, no matter which one you like the best, the following steps will guarantee light, flaky scones every time.
To get flaky scones, you need to prevent the gluten in the flour from coagulating. To achieve this, isolate the flour bits from the liquid by adding fats.
Make sure to incorporate the fat evenly into the flour. It’s best to use butter, margarine, or lard because they remain solid at room temperature.
Gluten bonds form with lots of water and kneading. You don’t want that for scones.
Gradually add the flour to the flour-butter mixture, and fold a few times until the dough comes together. It doesn’t have to look smooth; it just has to be evenly blended.
It’s essential to keep everything cold when making the dough. The objective here is to prevent the butter from melting.
So, make sure the butter is frozen or chilled and that the milk is cold. The eggs should also come straight from the fridge.
If you’re making a big batch, put the second baking sheet in the fridge until it’s time to put them in the oven.
Once you’ve successfully cut the scones, you need to transfer them to the baking sheet with as little handling as possible. We suggest using a dough cutter to scoop them from the working surface onto the baking sheets.
Scones usually expand vertically, so it’s important to leave the sides undisturbed. Touching the sides and smearing them will cause them to rise unevenly.
Sometimes, you follow the recipe to the letter, but it still doesn’t turn out as expected. Here are a few less-than-ideal situations and what you can do to prevent them in the future.
There are three possible reasons for your scones to come out flat.
First, you probably made the layers too thin before cutting them. This would leave little room for the insides to puff up and expand.
Second, it could be that the amount of baking powder was too little. Try adding slightly more the next time.
Finally, if you used baking soda and didn’t have anything acidic in the dough, it won’t rise well because baking soda needs to be activated with something acidic. This is why recipes with baking soda as a leavening agent also have buttermilk as the liquid.
If your scones look and taste like cookies, you probably added too much butter. Next time, reduce the amount of butter in the recipe.
We suggest a 1:5 ratio of fat to flour. For example, add 50g of butter for every 250g of flour.
Even the best bakers wonder, ‘Why do scones crumble?’
To sum up, scones crumble because they lack the gluten networks that make baked goods dense. They also contain a leavening agent that makes them fluff up as they’re baking.
The important thing is to keep at it. Don’t get discouraged if your scones don’t look perfect on the first try.
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.