I love scones. Scones are great for rainy or snowy days, when I curl up with tea (and usually a stack of grading). They’re also great for adventure days, when I want to snag something quick on my way out the door.
I was inspired several springs ago by a shelf full of very on-sale blueberry cartons at the grocery store to make blueberry scones. I snagged a couple of cartons and started scouring the internet for recipes. There were a million and three variations, of course! How was I to pick?
Finally I picked one, mostly at random, and tried it out. I found the scones I made were fluffly and buttery; they were utterly delicious and utterly different from my go-to scone recipe. I make Klassika scones frequently; it’s a recipe I learned in Sweden (and in Swedish!).
The Klassika scone recipe translates (and the units convert) to this:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp baking powder
- 5 tbsp cold butter
- 1 1/4 cups cold milk
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Chop the butter into small pieces and cut it in (I use my hands). Add the milk and mix until just combined. Divide into four chunks and place on a baking sheet lined with foil (or parchment paper). Bake at 475F (yes, that’s correct, I promise!) for 10-12 minutes, or until they sound hollow when you tap on them.
These scones come out flaky, crumbly, and can be eaten with jam or with soup. I love them because I almost always have all of these ingredients laying around and they’re super easy to make.
But everything from the texture to the flavor were different than the blueberry scones, and I wanted to know why. I tried to compare the recipes, but too many variables were different. Yes, I’m a scientist even in the kitchen. So what did I do? An experiment! Actually, many experiments.
I started pulling out different scone recipes and trying to find similarities. I looked at British current scones, my mom’s oatmeal scones, Starbucks imitation scones…the list went on. I also baked six different blueberry scone recipes (my roommates were delighted!) in order to gather more data.
I compared the amount of flour to the amount of liquid ingredients to the amount of leavening ingredients (baking soda or powder). I compared the temperatures and bake times. And most importantly, I compared the results!
At the end of all of this, I had several interesting trends in my data, a pretty rich understanding of how to bake tasty scones, and my all-time favorite blueberry scone recipe.
First, the trends in the ingredients.
- I tried to scale all the recipes so they had two cups of flour. Once I did that, the amount salt was fairly constant, as was the total amount of liquid.
- Some scones have sugar in their recipes. This variation really didn’t affect any other ingredients.
- The amount of leavening ingredients varied by how much fat there was from the butter and liquids. More fat (especially if there was an egg in the recipe) meant less leavening ingredients.
- There was HUGE variation in the liquid ingredients. Some recipes used all milk. Some used half and half or cream. Some used an egg. Some used yogurt or sour cream or buttermilk. But all the recipes came out to between one and 1 1/4 cups of liquid.
- The range of butter was between 5 tbsp and 8 tbsp.
- Most scones bake hot, between 400F and 475F, for fairly short times (10-25 minutes). The more fat, the cooler the baking
But most important, of course, are the correlations between this and the resultant scone!
- Fat content is hugely important for texture. The less fat, the more dense and crumbly the scone. The more fat, the more melt-in-your-mouth kind of a texture. Fat content is controlled by the amount of butter, obviously, but also the fat content of your liquids. Heavy cream, sour cream, and yogurt all increase the fat content, while milk and buttermilk have less fat.
- Eggs are the other major player in texture. Adding an egg to your recipe makes scones fluffier and less crumbly. (1 large egg is a little less than 1/4 cup liquid.)
- Varying the liquid ingredients changes the flavor of the scones. Yogurt and sour cream give the scone a tangy flavor that I love with blueberries. Milk and cream are the most neutral liquids.
If you’re curious, there are really fascinating science/chemistry reasons for all of these things. They have to do with the gluten protein and how it gets activated by water and conversely protected by fats, why the butter has to be cold, and also with the albumin protein in egg whites.
So after all of that, I finally have my favorite blueberry scone recipe. It’s not at all static. Sometimes it depends on what I have in the kitchen. Sometimes I feel like a slightly different texture or flavor. The ingredients in bold are the ingredients I vary the most. Ingredients that are not bold are the ones I leave alone.
- 2 cups of flour
- 3/4 tsp salt (never more than 1/2 tsp, or more than 1 tsp)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 cup sugar (sometimes I go a bit less than this, but typically not more)
- 8 oz (1 stick) cold butter, chopped
- 1 to 1 1/4 cups blueberries
- 1 egg
- Equal parts sour cream and heavy whipping cream, totaling 3/4 cup, plus another 1-2 tbsp cream (I don’t like to go more sour cream than this because then there isn’t enough liquid to hold the dough together. I’ve done all heavy cream, and I’ve used yogurt in place of the sour cream, but this combination is my favorite.)
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp dried orange peel
Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl and cut in the butter. Mix the blueberries through (check for stems and dried flowers first). In a second bowl, mix the egg, liquid ingredients, and flavorings. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. I use my hands so I don’t completely mash the blueberries. The dough sticks as much to me as it does to itself! Divide it into eight parts and place on a lined baking sheet. Bake at 400F for twenty to twenty-five minutes, until the tops are light gold.
Mixing in the liquids is the most do-by-feel part of the whole thing. I know what the finished dough is supposed to look like, so I can figure out if I need to add more or not. The only way to learn that is by practice. Trust me, your roommates/family/colleagues will be more than happy to help you in your pursuit of the perfect scone!
I will also add the disclaimer that I really don’t care what my scones look like. You can shape them to make them more round, or make one giant round and cut it into triangles, if pretty food makes you happy. I’m just not motivated enough for these to make them beautiful.
My blueberry scones are total indulgent decadence. They are moist and fluffy and you can totally tell two of the three main ingredients are heavy cream and butter! There is a time when I want these, and there is a time when I want something different. The thing I enjoyed learning from this escapade was how to vary the scones so I can make nearly exactly what I want. I spent a long time learning the details and intricacies of this particular art, and I appreciate the depth than brings.
My homework for you: What’s your favorite kind of scone (or other baked good)? Why is it your favorite? Have you ever thought about the chemistry behind your baking or cooking?