After lots of testing (and tasting), I have found the ideal ratio and method for high risen, perfect Cream tea scones.
I’m always keen to learn new cooking skills and find the best tips that work. For quite some time, I’ve been trying to find a recipe for foolproof, exquisite looking, high risen “coffee shop style” scones.
To help me better understand the techniques and how ingredients can affect the outcome, we set a challenge between Jamie Oliver and Paul Hollywood scone recipes and dedicated a whole blog post to it.
Jamie Oliver’s recipe had beaten Paul Hollywood’s in quite a few key categories.
I’ve also tested several other scone recipes with varying result. Some had an incredibly wet and sticky dough. I baked with different types of flour; tested bicarbonate of soda as well as baking powder. I went from gently kneading to barely touching the dough. I even put butter into the freezer to get it as chilled as possible.
Taking to account what I’ve learnt throughout my experiments and comparing ingredient ratios of the best-rated scone recipes online, I come up with my recipe for perfect Cream Tea Scones.
I was aiming for uniform well-risen scones with a beautiful golden colour, crumbly texture and delicate buttery taste with a little hint of sweetness.
My recipe is easily adjustable too. I made fantastic cheese and bacon scones for VE day (they were the hit of the day) as well as fruit scones (not as popular in our household though).
- Can scones be made with plain flour?
- Scones with or without egg?
- Baking powder vs Bicarbonate of Soda
- Citric Acid
- Light Muscovado Sugar
- Should butter be cold for scones?
- Does it help to work the dough as little as possible?
- Should you rest scones before baking?
- How thick to roll/pat the dough?
- How to make scones go brown on top? Can I use milk instead of egg wash?
- Can you make scones without a cutter?
- How to eat English Scones?
Ingredients to use and why
Can scones be made with plain flour?
The answer is yes; you can use plain flour for making scones as long as you add a sufficient amount of raising agent to it.
I believe more people recently asked the same question when they couldn’t get hold of self-raising flour during the lockdown, as it happened to us. We weren’t able to buy self-raising flour, so we used plain flour instead.
Just out of interest - in Czech, where I’m originally from, shops don’t sell self-raising flour. Bakers have to mix plain flour and raising agent every time they want to make a cake.
In this recipe, I mix 500 grams of plain flour with five teaspoons of baking powder and ½ of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.
It is also possible to use strong white flour, but it won’t make feather-light scones, the scones will be slightly chewier (something I learnt from Paul Hollywood’s recipe).
From my experience, the best choice is self-raising or plain flour as these give you perfect light scones that melt in the mouth.
Scones with or without egg?
This question seems to divide scone fans into two camps. From what I’ve found, traditional old style scone recipes don't contain eggs. But some home cooks, as well as professional chefs (including Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, Jamie Oliver or even the royal family pastry chef) add eggs into the scone dough.
Why is that? The scones containing eggs are rich as well as light. They resemble a cake more than their egg-less sisters and provide a somewhat fuller taste that you are either a fan of, or not.
Baking powder vs Bicarbonate of Soda
Both are leavening agents used in baking. Baking powder is a pre-mix of a few components (diphosphates/acidic compound, sodium carbonates and maize starch). It reacts in two phases. The first reaction happens once the baking powder is mixed with liquid and the second reaction goes off when it's exposed to heat.
On the other hand, bicarbonate of soda is a single agent and needs to be used in combination with an acidic ingredient and liquid. Once the bicarbonate of soda, acid and liquid are combined, the reaction immediately produces carbon dioxide that helps the dough to rise.
Note: there isn't a secondary reaction. If the bicarbonate of soda is the only leavener in your recipe, you need to bake immediately to achieve the best result.
Bicarbonate of soda on its own has a strong soapy, almost metallic flavour that needs to be “deactivated” by a sufficient amount of acidic source - like buttermilk, lemon juice, apple sauce, cream of tartar, citric acid or even brown sugar.
In this scone recipe, I’ve decided to use both leaving agents. The baking powder gives the scones the main rise while a small hint of bicarbonate of soda gives the dough an additional boost. Because the soda isn’t the main leavener I don’t bake the scones straightaway. I let the dough rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before cutting out the scones and baking. This step gives my scones a nice tall rise and even shape.
It is probably a fancy ingredient that people usually don’t have in the pantry (unless you are an enthusiast jam maker). It’s my favourite acidic activator for soda though. You don’t need much to be able to activate a small amount of soda into a bubbly explosion.
It’s a weak acid that naturally occurs in citrus fruit especially in lemons. It’s mainly used as a food additive for its antibiotic properties. The taste of citric acid is somewhat salty and very tart.
Light Muscovado Sugar
Muscovado sugar is un-refine (or partially-refined) sugar with a high content of molasses. It has higher moisture and it is more acidic than white sugar. It is often used in chocolate cakes, brownies and cookies.
Adding light muscovado sugar to the ingredients is our personal touch, as we like enhancing the scone flavour with a subtle hint of a toffee-like molasses taste. In addition, I believe it helps with de-neutralizing soda's taste to some extent too.
Tips how to make the best Cream Tea Scones
Should butter be cold for scones?
Small flakes of cold butter in the dough will help to make softer, more crumbly scones that will rise better. I also recommend using cold eggs and milk to prevent the butter from softening too much.
It's not necessary to freeze the butter as some people suggest. I think using chilled butter from the fridge works just fine.
Does it help to work the dough as little as possible?
Based on my tests, working the dough less makes lighter scones. As it can be tricky to judge when is the best time to stop kneading (I over kneaded Paul Hollywood’s scones) I came up with my own technique to prevent it.
I use a fork for the mixing part. After that, I used my hands only to incorporate the last dry bits of flour into the dough in not more than 8 - 10 press and turns.
My scone dough is on the dry side and can look very crumbly. I have experimented with a higher ratio of liquid but with wetter dough, my scones had a tendency to spread more sideways rather than rise up.
Should you rest scones before baking?
I chill the dough in the fridge before cutting out the scones (it’s a trick Jamie Oliver recommended in his recipe). It seems more practical than resting the pre-cut scones as most of the time I’d struggle to fit a tray with cut out scones into our disorganised fridge.
My tests showed me that chilling the dough helps the scones to get more of an upward, even rise, compared to using an un-rested dough.
How thick to roll/pat the dough?
Pat the dough at least 3 centimetres thick. I sometimes leave the dough even thicker to get taller scones.
How to make scones go brown on top? Can I use milk instead of egg wash?
Recipes are often asking to brush the scones with egg wash before baking to give the scones a beautiful golden colour with a little bit of shine on the top. The egg provides the best result in my opinion, but if you don’t have an egg to hand, you can use milk instead. Milk helps scones or biscuits with browning too; however, you won’t get the professional-looking shine.
My Tip: If you are adding eggs into your dough, leave a small amount of beaten egg at the bottom of the bowl, add a splash of milk to it and use this mix instead of egg wash.
Step by step How to Make Cream Tea Scones
It’s not hard to make good scones, but it can be tricky to make perfect scones. I learnt that weighing the ingredients precisely and strictly following the main steps do the trick and provides excellent results.
- weigh all ingredients using kitchen scales
- keep refrigerated ingredients cold
- use a sufficient amount of raising agent
- don’t overmix/overhandle the dough
- let the dough rest in the fridge
- don’t pat the dough too thin if you want tall scones
- turn the cut-out scone upside down with the smoother bottom side up
- use egg wash to achieve beautiful brown top
Sift the flour and raisng agents; mix in greated butter; stir in sugar and salt.
With a fork mix in the eggs; add the milk in a few steps; incorporate the last dry flour into the dough using your hands.
Pat the dough into a circular/oval shape. Chill the dough for 30 minutes in the fridge. Cut the scones out. Lay the scones with the crinkly top down and the smoother bottom side up.
Eggwash the scones to get a lovely golden colour on the top of your scones.
Missing an ingredient?
For all of you who are missing some of the ingredients for my foolproof Cream tea scone recipe (especially citric acid, bicarbonate of soda and light muscovado sugar), I have a recipe for an “every-day” scones, almost as good as this one (but not completely 😉 )
While it wasn't the best recipe I've tested, the outcome wasn't far off, and it uses ingredients that you more likely have at home. You can follow this link to try my Every-day Scone Recipe.
The picture below shows visual differences between the two scones side by side. The scones from My foolproof Cream Tea Scone recipe (on the left) rises higher. Somehow these scones always grow in a more uniform manner.
The simple "every-day" recipe (on the right) makes the scones lighter in colour (no muscovado sugar) and they don’t have the same rise.
The ratios of the ingredients are the same for both recipes but the "every-day" version doesn’t contain bicarbonate of soda, citric acid and light muscovado sugar.
Can you make scones without a cutter?
Don’t worry if you don’t have a cutter. You can make American style scones; pat the dough into a circular shape and cut it into wedges.
If you are fixed on making round English scones and you don’t own a cutter use an empty tin. A tin from tomatoes or beans is a good size for cutting scones. The advantage of using tin instead of a glass or round plastic container is that the tin has a sharper edge that makes a cleaner cut.
How to eat English Scones?
Don’t cut a scone with a knife, the correct way is to break the scone in half with your fingers. Traditionally, warm scones are served with clotted cream and jam in the UK. You possibly heard about the disagreement about what goes first.
To my surprise, the order of the toppings affects the final taste. Try a little test to find out what your preference is. I like the Devonshire way - clotted cream first followed by a jam. If your preference is jam first topped with a spoon of clotted cream you like the Cornish method.
The two much loved English customs linked to scones are Cream tea and Afternoon tea.
Cream tea is a name for a light snack consisting of tea accompanied with a scone, clotted cream and jam.
Traditional Afternoon tea is a light meal served between lunch and dinner. It consists of a tier of sandwiches, a tier of mini cakes and a tier of scones. Of course, it's served with tea.
How to store scones?
Scones always taste the best when they are freshly baked and still slightly warm. They quickly become stiffer once they cool down. Reheating them in the microwave for a few seconds makes them soft again.
If you don't eat the scones the same day, your best solution is to freeze them in an airtight ziplock bag while they are still fresh.
We defrost scones slowly in the microwave on lower power (only 60%). They are almost as good as freshly baked scones.
A less ideal option is to keep the scones in an airtight container on the countertop and reheat them the next day.
Cream Tea Scones
- 500 g plain flour
- 14 g baking powder
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda just under levelled half a teaspoon
- ½ tsp citric acid (food grade) just under levelled half a teaspoon
- 40 g light brown muscovado sugar
- 40 g white caster sugar
- 150 g butter chilled
- 2 medium eggs [100g] chilled and beaten; The total amount of liquid (including the eggs and milk) shouldn't exceed 260ml. If your eggs are heavier than recommended 100g/100ml use less milk.
- 160 ml of milk chilled
- baking sheet
- baking paper
- mixing bowl
- cutter (5.5 cm cutter/makes aprox 10 small scones; 6.8 cm cutter/makes approx 6 large scones)
- Sift the flour, citric acid, baking powder and soda into a bowl. Mix with a whisk or fork to make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed through the flour.
- Grate the chilled butter into the flour using a coarse grater (work fast). Incorporate the butter in with a fork. Stop once you have an even crumbly mix. (You can use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour, but I discovered that using a fork is easier, gives me even crumbs and prevents the butter from softening too much).
- Tip: Use a fork for most of the mixing. That way the ingredients stay cold and you are less likely overwork the dough.
- Stir the sugar into the crumbly mix.
- Make a well in the middle, add beaten eggs and with a fork keep combining the dry and wet ingredients.
- Tip: Leave a small amount of egg at the bottom of the bowl, you can add a little bit of milk to it later and use the mix instead of an egg wash to brush the top of your scones.
- In a few steps pour the milk in. Keep gently combining with a fork.
- Finally, use your hands to incorporate the last bits of dry flour into the mixture by pressing and turning the dough in the bowl (it doesn’t take more than 8 - 10 movements). Stop when the dough is just about to hold together. It will look very messy and crumbly.
- Tip the dough onto the lightly dusted counter. Pat the dough into an oval/circular shape at least 3 centimetres tall. Wrap it in the clean film and leave resting on a plate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200C (without the fan).
- After 30 minutes, take the dough out of the fridge and place it on a generously dusted countertop. Don’t knead the dough and don’t press it too hard; you can reshape it if you need to by gently patting it with your hands into the desired thickens. The dough already contains gas that developed when bicarbonate of soda was activated during mixing.
- Cut the scones out using a round cutter. The top of the scones might have a few cracks and an uneven surface. That’s why I place the scones onto the tray with the top side down and the bottom - smoother side up.
- For smaller scones use a 5.5 cm cutter. I’m able to cut around 14 little cuties and as I don’t like waste, I pat the leftover dough together again and cut out 3 additional scones. If you want a large scones, use a 6.8 cm cutter. You should be able to cut out around 6 scones and a couple more from the leftovers.
- Brush the top of each scone with egg/milk wash and bake them on 200 C. Smaller scones will take around 13 minutes, bigger scones between 18 - 20 minutes.
- Let the scones cool down before serving. Enjoy them with clotted cream and jam.