How to cut in frozen butter–and NOT slice your fingers to shreds in the process!

Frozen butter vs. Cold Butter. It matters.

I confess. For years I made these scones prior to starting Victorian House Scones, and did not use frozen butter. Did I use cold butter straight from the fridge? Yes, but more often it was cool butter that sat on the counter for 10-15 minutes. After all, it is SO much easier to cut it in when it is just slightly cooler than room temperature vs. COLD. And my scones? They were, of course, very good. Sometimes even excellent. But were they outstanding? Not very often. Then I started working with frozen or nearly frozen butter. The difference is remarkable, and it is remarkable enough that I’m becoming the poster child for frozen butter.

So the question is: How do you get frozen butter into the mix without slicing your fingers to shreds? Or without ending up with an aching arm because it was so difficult to work in the icy cold butter? 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. Then attach the flat paddle 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. The overall texture will resemble coarse corn meal.

It is very difficult to safely slice a stick of frozen butter. Instead, take the butter out of the refrigerator, cut it into pieces, and then freeze the butter in single recipe portions. When you are ready to bake, the butter will be waiting for you.

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 at least 20 minutes. You can grate several recipe-size batches of butter in advance, wrap them, and freeze them for future use. When you are ready to bake, take out a package of grated butter and add it to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.

how to make scones-grated frozen butterOnce the grated butter is in the mixing bowl cut it in with a pastry cutter. It takes less than 10 passes to fully work the butter into the flour mixture. This technique is truly amazing!

No matter how you choose to incorporate the butter, the next step is adding the liquid. Gently blend the buttermilk into the butter/mix blend. Be very careful not to over-work the 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.

Frozen Butter and Scone Dough–some Chilling Facts

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

Lets face it–frozen butter is. . .cold. Hard. Difficult to slice, and difficult to work with. It is SO much easier to work with butter that is warmed to room temperature, or even melted. So WHY make the extra effort and time and use frozen butter?

Lauren Chattman, author of The Baking Answers Book, says the point in using chilled butter is so that it doesn’t melt during dough assembly. Let the butter melt in the oven, not on your kitchen counter. AND frozen butter takes up more physical space than melted butter. When it melts during baking, it creates an air pocket. The melting butter also releases steam, and that helps expand the air pocket, which ultimately helps the dough rise. What happens if the butter melts before being placed in the oven? You lose those pockets of air and steam, the dough doesn’t rise well, and you have denser scone or biscuit.

Start with a chilled bowl, which keeps everything cold. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl, and cut in cold or frozen butter. There are two easy ways to do this. One is with a mixer or food processor. The second is to pre-grate and freeze the butter, and then use a pastry cutter.

If you use the food processor or mixer, pulse or run it until most of the butter is broken down to rice-size pieces. Then gently stir in the COLD buttermilk, quickly pat out the dough and cut your scones. I add the buttermilk by hand, rather than with the mixer. No matter how careful I am, the mixer overworks the dough. It only takes an extra minute or two to add the liquid by hand, but it makes a big difference in the lightness of the scones.

how to make scones with frozen butter--grating butter firstThe second way to cut in frozen butter is to grate the needed amount of COLD butter, wrap it up gently, and freeze it. When you want to make scones, add the frozen grated butter to your bowl, and use a pastry cutter to cut it into the dry ingredients. This happens quickly and efficiently, and is only method I use to cut in frozen butter. Finish dough assembly by adding your buttermilk, gently patting out the dough and cutting your scones.

And then–FREEZE the DOUGH. When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven. Once preheated, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and remove the dough from the freezer. Put the frozen scones or biscuit on a cookie sheet, and put it in the oven. In a very few minutes, you can be enjoying gloriously light scones or biscuits!