I’ve been talking a lot this year about my plan to implement family tea time (or coffee hour; I really can’t decide what to call it). I wanted to get back in the habit of baking, and I also wanted a way for us to reset in mid- to late afternoon. Afternoon is kind of the worst. So I’ve been baking a lot, and it’s been making me happy. One of my favorite easy recipes is this one, for simple cream scones; it’s adapted from King Arthur Flour’s website.
Scones, if you’re not familiar, are kind of similar to lightly sweet (American) biscuits. They should be soft and tender, and are best eaten freshly warm out of the oven. I like mine with just the barest hint of sweetness, so that it’s not overkill when I top them with jam. (We stock up on Bonne Maman Quatre Fruits at Costco, when they have it.) I think scones with additions like blueberries or dried fruit or even, deliciously, chocolate chips, are a bit of a different matter; they should still be flaky but I don’t tend to split and top those, so sometimes I use a bit more sugar in the first place.
Cream scones (and all scones, really) are also dead simple to make. Truly. You only need one bowl, and you can turn the dough out directly onto the baking sheet – lined with parchment or a silicone mat (this is an affiliate link), of course – so there’s barely any washing up to do. I feel like I’m talking Britishly in this post. It’s not intentional. My three-year-old was telling me we needed to buy a picnic rug so I think we may all have had too much Peppa Pig as of late.
The Trick to Tender Scones
The only tricky part – and it’s not that tricky, once you get the feel for it – is not overworking the dough. But what does that mean?
Once you add liquid to flour, it begins to form gluten. Not just an allergen/irritant, gluten is a protein found in wheat. When you work wheat flour together with liquid, it forms strands that link with one another to form part of the structure of your future baked good. The more you work the mixture, the springier the strands become and the firmer their bond – it’s actually why we knead bread dough, in part.
But nobody wants a springy, bouncy scone (or pie crust, or biscuit, etc.) so the idea is to just stir minimally and be gentle when patting the scones out. That way the gluten barely even gets a chance to wake up, and your scones will be amazingly tender.
In this recipe, there’s no butter; all the fat comes from the liquid, which happens to be heavy cream. My not-scientifically-verified opinion is that this makes them a little easier to keep on the tender side of the line. Since heavy cream is basically liquid fat, it’s simultaneously coating the grains of flour while moistening them. Still, be gentle. Once you add the cream, stir just until everything is combined and there’s no dry flour at the bottom of the bowl, then stop.
I know. It’s hard to stop, because it won’t be totally uniform. But that’s OK. Just go with it a few times, and soon it will be second nature. These really are simple cream scones. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can add things like lemon zest or blueberries or chocolate chips, or substitute almond extract for vanilla and throw in dried cherries… the possibilities are endless!
Tender Cream Scones
This is a great basic cream scone recipe. There are scones made with butter, but this is not them. You just need one bowl and your baking sheet, and a few minutes to mix the dough. I've adapted the recipe from King Arthur Flour.
- 360 grams all-purpose flour (3 cups)
- 50 grams sugar (1/4 cup)
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 300-350 grams heavy cream (1-1/3 to 1-2/3 cups)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 425F and prepare a sheet pan - I use parchment but you can also grease the pan or use a silicone mat like a Silpat.
Combine the dry ingredients - flour, sugar, baking powder, salt - in a large bowl. You'll be finishing the dough in this same bowl, so allow yourself enough room to stir without making a mess. You can use a whisk, a fork, or just a spoon or spatula.
(I don't know about you, but I inevitably pick a bowl that's too small until I've made a recipe a few times.)
Add the smaller amount (300 grams or 1-1/3 cups) of heavy cream to the bowl, and add the vanilla on top of that (so it sort of swirls through the cream - if it hits the flour directly I find it really hard to mix in).
Stir with a spoon or spatula until everything is just combined. Lift up the dough that forms and see if there's a bunch of dry flour still in the bottom of the bowl. If there is, add a bit more cream - pour it right under while you've got the dough lifted up - and stir a bit more.
If the weather is dry, as in winter around here, you'll probably need closer to the full amount of cream. In the hot, humid summer, the lesser amount is usually fine.
Once there's no dry flour on the bottom, turn the dough out onto your prepared sheet. I pat it out and fold it onto itself a few times just to make a cohesive mass - no more than two smushy folds, though! We're not kneading.
Divide into two parts and pat each part out into a 1/2" thick circle. It's OK if it's not perfect - just pat lightly and use your cupped hands to round the edges.
Using a bench knife or a bread knife, cut each round into six wedges. Something sharp and thin is ideal - less pressure means it won't pinch the dough together and they'll rise more. It's not the end of the world, though!
Move them a little apart from each other on the baking sheet - about 3/4" between the wedges is about right.
Place the scones in the 425F oven for 15 minutes. The tops will brown slightly and the scones will have risen. I use an oven thermometer and sometimes I have to go to 17 minutes; I'm not quite sure why!
Remove the scones from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet. They're ideally eaten while still slightly warm, split open and topped with butter and jam.