Victorian House Scones’ Blog

Flavor Layering

September 20, 2017

A couple of years ago I read a review on--and subsequently purchased--a book called "Baking by Flavor" (Lisa Yockelson). In it, she argues that flavor intensity isn't achieved by simply adding 'more'--it is achieved by layering or building level upon level of similar flavors that can work together, resulting in something that is far more than simply the sum of its individual parts.

Let's look at something as basic as a creating a lemon scone. You could simply add some lemon extract to your dough and call it done. But rarely does this give you the lightness and brightness we've come to associate with lemon flavors. To achieve that brightness, you can zest a lemon, and add the zest to the dough (and if you want to kick it up a notch more, you can soak the zest in some lemon juice for a few minutes before adding it to the dough). Buttermilk (a standard ingredient in our scones) also helps intensify the lemon flavor because it has an acidic bite.. Brush the warm-from-the-oven scones with a lemon glaze--or sprinkle with lemon-flavored granulated sugar--and now your taste buds can't help but notice that with every bite, they have a pop of bright, fresh lemon flavor.

Chocolate is another flavor that benefits from being layered. Different types and forms of chocolate (cocoa powder; semi- or bitter-sweet chocolate), and a jolt of vanilla, results in an intense and richly developed chocolate flavor. Think a rich, moist chocolate cake filled with a chocolate mousse and glazed with a rich (and not too sweet) chocolate ganache, and you've got the picture.

Her book is a wealth of information--charts of flavors and what partners well with what. Tools, tips, recipes--and explained well enough that you don't have to be a trained pastry chef to enjoy the book.

It's fall--and it's time to bake!

The Art of Quick-Bread Baking

September 12, 2017

Muffins, scones and biscuits all fall into the category of 'quick breads'--but don't be confused, they are NOT breads, and they use completely different skills and techniques.

If I had to distill my advice on quick breads down to one or two comments only, it would be this:
1.  For scones and biscuits--cut in frozen butter, and then add the buttermilk quickly, handling (mixing) the dough as little as possible.
2.  For muffins--blend or cream the butter, sugar and eggs thoroughly--but again, when adding the flour and dry ingredients--do this as gently and minimally as possible.

WHY?  Here is what ultimately separates bread baking from quick bread baking. When you make bread, the more you knead the dough the better it becomes.  But with scones and muffins (and biscuits), the more you 'work' the dough or batter, the tougher and more rubber-y they become.  The reasons are the same--and the culprit is gluten.  Bread thrives on well-developed gluten to give it is structure and characteristic 'chew', and gluten is developed as you knead the dough.  For muffins and scones, you want the formation of gluten to be minimal so you 'work' the dough or batter minimally. 

How does this translate into practice? It means that when you make quick breads, you work the liquid and dry ingredients together by hand, with a spatula. Run your spatula around the bowl and along the bottom, scooping from the bottom and bringing it up to the top to be sure that the dry ingredients get combined into the liquid.  Continue doing this until the dough/batter JUST begins to come together--and quit!

Fill the muffin tins--or turn the scone/biscuit dough out onto a floured board and cut your scones. Done!

No Soggy Bottoms (and other scone-making tips from the Brits!)

September 05, 2017

I occasionally pick up books on scones--sometimes for reference, sometimes looking for flavor ideas, and sometimes, well, just because. After all, I can't claim to have grown up with a Scottish granny who taught me all her secrets--so everything I know about scones has been learned by reading and the trial and error method of baking.

I recently purchased the National Trust Book of Scones (that would be the National Trust of the UK), and want to share some of the author's tips on scone making. (some should sound very familiar!)

1. Work quickly and lightly throughout--do NOT overwork the dough.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to prevent it sticking. When patting out your dough, do not press too hard as this may prevent the scones from rising to their full height.
3. If using a cutter (ie. a round biscuit cutter), press STRAIGHT DOWN--do not twist. This should help the scones rise evenly, rather than bind at one side and bake lop-sided.
4. Line your baking sheet (parchment paper or Silpat)
5. Scones need to go into a preheated oven; the baking time is short and they need to start baking immediately.
6. When you take your scones out of the oven, transfer them to a cooling rack to prevent 'soggy bottoms'.

and lastly. . .
7. Always eat scones fresh--on the day of baking. But we all knew that, didn't we???

When you're hot. . .or not!

October 01, 2014

Oven temperature. . .we're talking oven temperature here!

I don't bake scones as frequently as I once did--but I think it is a fair to say that I have baked hundreds and hundreds of scones in the last decade or so. So when a friend asked me to bake some scones for her daughter's wedding shower, I figured it was a pretty easy deal. Make the dough up in advance,
and be sure to get up early enough that morning to run them through the oven before we left for the shower.

I ran a batch of 'plain' Original through first, at set my oven to the usual 405 degrees (it has run hot for many years, so this is the setting that gives me 425 degree baking!). Out of the freezer they came, onto a parchment lined double cookie sheet--and into the oven. Set timer for 18 minutes and move on. . .or so I thought.

At 18 minutes, I was horrified to see that they had spread laterally, and had not risen as much as I had anticipated. The bottoms of the scones were suspiciously white, and there were big puddles of butter around each scone. NOT the norm by any means!

I started second guessing everything--how I made the dough (the same way I make all my batches of dough), and then really started thinking. I got out the oven thermometer and put it in the oven--and sure enough, my oven was now running at a mere 360 degrees; not nearly hot enough to properly bake scones. A simple adjustment of the settings and the next two batches baked up completely as anticipated, with a nice rise, good color to the baked product, and they baked within the normal baking time--not minutes and minutes longer like the first vs cold oven 1.jpg

If you look carefully--the scone on the right is the one baked at the unexpectedly lower temperature. It is flatter, more spread out, and while it was very tasty, it just didn't have the same lightness of texture or appearance as the scone on the left.

Scones really are a hot, quick bake (same as biscuits, NOT the same as cookies or cakes), and that quick heat is needed to turn that butter into nice steamy air pockets without leaving pools of butter on the cookie sheet.

As for my temperamental oven? I'm told that a faulty igniter (gas oven) is the culprit, and it is scheduled for repair next week.

When is hot TOO hot??

January 15, 2013

In checking voice mail messages the other evening, I had a message from someone, who by the sound of her voice was clearly upset. She had left a message asking about the baking temperatures listed on our scone mix bags, and wondered if there could be a misprint.

I called and asked her what had happened. She'd made the dough and baked all the scones--and the bottoms of all her scones were scorched or burned. I told her that the baking temperatures were correct as listed, but did she have time for me to ask her a few questions. I was reasonably sure I knew what had happened, but you know what they say about assumptions.

My questions were:
1. Did the parchment paper turn tan? (YES)
2. Did you make up the dough, cut the scones and put them on the cookie sheet to bake, and then begin pre-heating the oven? (YES)
3. How cold was the butter when you started making the dough? (refrigerator temperature)

The primary issue here is the answer to question 1. The fact that the parchment paper turned tan is a good indicator that the oven was running hot. I don't know why many ovens, mine included, age this way, but they do. As they age, they will often run true to temperature in the mid-temperature ranges, but as you get higher than 400 degees, will run significantly hot. The simple and inexpensive solution for this is to purchase an oven thermometer and do some simple checking of your oven settings. For me, the answer for the last several years has been to set the temperature back 20 degrees to 405, and then my scones bake as they should.

There were other factors, however, which contributed to the problems with her scones. Making the dough, cutting the scones, and then having them sit on the parchment paper while the oven preheated gave the butter time to warm to room temperature and begin to seep into the parchment paper. There was a nice buttery spot under each scone just waiting for the heat to hit it and scorch. (and by the way, she did NOTHING wrong by starting with refrigerator temperature butter--true, the colder the better--but it was the time spent waiting to bake that was the culprit). If you find out that you forgot to start the oven preheating, just pop the scones into the freezer while the oven heats, and then replace the parchment paper with a fresh sheet before baking.

Here are a few "ounce of prevention" baking tips:

1. If you are baking something for the first time, bake as few as possible for the first batch, and set the timer for the minimum time called for by the recipe. This lets you make sure both the temperature and time settings are accurate.

2. If you are baking one cookie sheet of scones, cookies, or biscuits--set the rack to the central position in the oven.

3. If despite your best efforts they still scorch slightly, double up your cookie sheet. Just the little bit of extra insulation on the bottom does wonders!

As for my unhappy caller--it is always disappointing to take out your finished creation and discover it is less than you anticipated. Creative thinker that this woman is, she sliced off the bottoms of the scones, served them anyway, and explained that they were lower in calories without the bottom crust!! And since the first words out of my mouth had been "we need to replace that bag for you", I'm now looking forward to hearing about her next batch of scones!

How to easily work in (nearly) frozen butter--and NOT slice your fingers to shreds in the process!

February 04, 2012

Our User's Guide to Scone Making and Scone Mixes is at the printer--with a proof copy due to arrive this week. Once that is approved, you'll be among the first to know! Our goal is to have this on our table at the Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers Conference, and up on our website as well. Here's a sneak peek:

I confess--for years and years I made these scones prior to starting Victorian House Scones--and no, I did not work with frozen butter. Cold butter straight from the fridge--yes--but more often cool butter that came out of the fridge and sat on the counter for 10-15 minutes. After all, it is SO much easier to cut it in when it is slightly cooler than room temperature vs. COLD. And my scones? They were, of course, very good--sometimes even excellent--but outstanding? Well, not all that often. Then I started working with frozen or nearly frozen butter. The difference is remarkable--and remarkable enough that I'm becoming the poster child for frozen butter.

So the question is--how do you get it into the mix without slicing your fingers to shreds--or ending up with a sore stiff arm for days because it was so hard to work into the mix?

I have two recommendations--both work equally well, so the choice is yours.
1. Use your mixer. If you own a stand mixer (such as a KitchenAid), you can use the mixer to work pats of butter into the flour mixture. Add the pats of butter to the bowl containing the mix, attach the flat beater and turn the mixer on low. It will quickly and easily work the butter into the flour mixture, leaving you with small nubbins of butter--and a crumbly mixture resembling corn meal.

Knowing how hard it is to slice frozen butter--slice it up when it is cool but not frozen--and then pop it into the freezer until you are ready to make the scones. If baking scones is one of the primary uses you have for butter, you can slice up several sticks of butter into scone size "batches", bag them, and freeze them so that they are ready for use when you are ready to bake.

2. OR--use your cheese grater. Grate up the proper amount of butter for a batch of scones (1-1/2 sticks for a retail bag, 3 sticks for a commercial bag), onto a sheet of wax paper. Wrap it up gently and place the grated butter in the freezer for a few minutes. (or you can grate up several batches of butter in advance, bag them, and store them in the freezer for future use). When you are ready to bake, take out the grated butter and add it to the mix already in the mixing bowl.

Blog--how to cut in butter.jpg Once the grated butter is in the mixing bowl, you can then either use the mixer (as described above)--OR a pastry cutter--I promise you that even if you choose the pastry cutter, it will take less than 10 passes to fully work the butter into the flour mixture. This technique is truly amazing!!!

Gently add the buttermilk to the butter/mix blend--and presto--you have scone dough!!

One word of caution--using very cold butter and cold buttermilk seems to result in a need for additional buttermilk to get all of the flour/butter blend moistened and worked into a ball. This is normal--so slowly add (by tablespoons) enough buttermilk to achieve a workable ball of dough.

Some Chilling Facts about Butter and Scone Dough

January 12, 2011

Many recipes (including the directions for making our scones and our biscuits) call for using chilled butter.

Lets face it--chilled butter is. . .cold. Hard. Difficult to slice--and difficult to work with. It is SO much easier to work with butter that is softened to room temperature, or even melted. So WHY should you go to the extra effort and time to cut in chilled butter rather than melt the butter and simply stir it into the mix?

To paraphrase Lauren Chattman (The Baking Answers Book)--the point in using chilled butter is so that it doesn't melt during dough assembly. What you want is for the butter to melt in the oven--freeing up space and creating minute steam pockets of expanding gases which aid in the rise of the dough. If the butter melts before you get to the dough to the oven, you lose those pockets of gas expanding, leaving you with a denser baked product.

So cut the butter in cold (we use the flat paddle of our mixer to accomplish this quickly!) and if it is hot in the kitchen--pre-chill your mixing bowl!. What you are wanting to create are corn-meal sized granules of butter mixed with the dry ingredients. Then stir in your COLD buttermilk quickly (again, don't pre-melt that butter!)--pat your dough out quickly and cut your scones.

And then--FREEZE the DOUGH. When you are ready to bake, take your scone or biscuit dough straight from the freezer to the preheated oven--and see how gloriously light your scones and biscuits will bake up!

You love to bake scones from scratch, so WHY would you use a scone mix?

August 15, 2010

This was one of the main questions I had when I first began Victorian House Scones. Scones are, after all, fairly easy to bake (all the books say so). And with so many recipes out there, really--how difficult can this be?

Well--I learned, (and I am certain many of you did as well), that finding the perfect scone recipe really wasn't that simple. I can't tell you how many recipes I tried over the years, and how many batches of scones I threw away (and how many fat squirrels and birds I had in my yard during that time). Even my teenagers refused to eat some of those early attempts--and we all know teens will eat anything!

Finally, finally I found something I liked, and began to develop different flavors --thus the early foundations of Victorian House Scones were laid. But baking good scones is still a far cry from manufacturing scone mix, and marketing that mix to individuals as well as to other businesses.

There is a sense of pride in being able to put something on your table each day and state "I made this"--and mean that. You made it by choosing each individual ingredient within that item, putting them together in the proper order (and with a certain amount of love and pride added), and then baking them to the peak of perfection. We "get that" here at Victorian House Scones--we get the pride, the pleasure in the creative process, and the satisfaction of watching your creation be appreciated and then gobbled up, with nary a crumb left on the plate. We also know that you can bake the same recipe day in and day out, week after week--each batch is good, but some are exceptional.

We strive to ensure that each batch of our scones is exceptional. We provide our scone mix in "single batch, single bowl" packaging--whether it be our retail packaging, or our wholesale, commercial bags. Each ingredient is weighed out and added to the individual bag--and then each bag is weighed when finished to ensure that we haven't inadvertently omitted anything. We guarantee that each bag of mix is accurate and consistent to within 0.5% of the next bag--and by mixing up the entire bag as a single batch (and then following our directions to freeze the dough), we can help you guarantee absolute consistency in each batch of scones you bake. We absolutely believe that by keeping our manufacturing process truly artisan, with no mechanization, we maintain our claim that by using our mix, you are still baking from scratch.

So why, if you love to bake scones from scratch, would you ever use a scone mix? Because sometimes it is nice to let someone else do all the precise, critical measuring, and let you enjoy the fun, creative part of the process.

Happy scone making!

How can a cookie mix make a difference? One child and one book at a time!

April 14, 2010

Do you remember those rare, perfect first dates? The one where you are certain it would result in an equally perfect marriage--but only time would tell?

Well, we're currently on our perfect first date with a new business venture--and are certain that this will result in a great marriage (or a fabulous long-term affair!) We have just listed our Shortbread Cookie Mix Gift Boxes on Uptown Liz.
Long Banner Uptown Liz.jpg

Not familiar with Uptown Liz? Than you need to go check out their website, and discover a GREAT story--and bunches of great products and businesses. Every product listed on Uptown Liz is available for purchase directly from the retailer--but you are also assured (and they check!) that a portion of the purchase price will be donated to a charity of the retailer's choosing (and that charity is clearly listed as well).

We are choosing to donate 5% of ALL sales of our Cookie Mix Gift Boxes to a program in Boca Raton, Florida called "Read the Book, Keep the Book". My father had very quietly begun this policy during the 10 years he spent volunteering in the CATS (Children Achieving Their Success) program at the Dixie Manor housing project in Boca Raton.

Even the most affluent communities, such as Boca Raton, have their forgotten individuals. The children of DIxie Manor are considered to be "at risk" children, for they are from low income families, who don't have the resources available to ensure that these children are successful in school. Dad (and mom) volunteered each week in the after school tutoring program, to help the children with their homework, as well as their reading and math skills. Dad purchased numerous books for the children--and once they finished reading it with him--they owned it. When dad was no longer able to volunteer, the gift of books to the students ended.

When I was trying to figure out what the "in lieu of flowers" memorial should be for my father, I contacted the CATS program to ask about his participation in their tutoring program. They were the ones who told me about my father's "read the book, keep the book" policy, and suggested creating a fund to re-establish his book policy. And so we did.

Partnering with Uptown Liz gives me an opportunity to continue the work my dad began with these children. He definitely made a difference in their lives--one book at a time!

Rooti-Tooti! You can make 'em more fruity!

April 05, 2010

I've always known that these particular scones are not only versatile--but incredibly forgiving. In all the years I've made them, I've only had a few notable complete failures. (Rhubarb scones really didn't work well! And as we all know--do NOT add your blueberries using a mixer--very smurf-y looking scones result!)

I confess that I was amazed when I first made the pineapple scones using the crushed pineapple to replace most of the buttermilk. They had a fabulous subtle flavor, but the texture of the scone itself remained true. The same held true when we created the apple-cinnamon oatmeal scone--again, subbing applesauce for the bulk of the buttermilk.

So, OK, I'm a bit slow to realize that this concept carries over to a variety of fruits. But eventually the light flashes brightly enough for me to figure this out. So, may
we present--fruit-full scones.

Shown here is my first "experiment"--apricot scones. For this, I took a can of apricot halves in juice--and pureed the fruit only in my food processor--leaving visible small chunks. It measured out to just a little less than one cup (the amount of liquid needed for a retail size bag)--so I added enough buttermilk (or juice) to bring the volume up to 1 cup.

I made the Original Recipe scones as directed--cutting in the butter--but using the apricot puree instead of the called-for buttermilk. I did need to add an extra tablespoon or two of liquid to compensate for the chunks of fruit--but by adding it in single tablespoon amounts, I didn't over-liquify the dough.

Pat out the scones, cut them--bake immediately if desired--or freeze the dough to bake later. Fabulous (and easy) apricot scones. And--according to my cadre of guinea pigs--the taste is fresh and light--the texture is identical to our "standard" scones.

My suggestion--use any soft fruit (or fresh soft fruit) that you choose, and have FUN! We've tried apricot and peach (and tested the peach with the Indian Chai scone mix--I also think it would be very tasty as the backdrop for the Gingerbread scones). Get creative, have fun--and be fruit-full!

Recipe cards for BOTH retail and commercial bags can be found on our Mix Instructions page.