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May 27, 2010 10:39 PM

Help with scones spreading out too much

I've made Cheeseboard's recipe for corn-cherry scones twice now and have had them spreading out too much in the oven (flattening into a cookie almost!). Here is the recipe:

Both times, I've made half the recipe and found that the dough became very wet and sticky when the full amount of liquid was used.

So I have several questions:

- What am I doing wrong?
- How wet should the scone dough be?
- What happens if you overwork/underwork the butter into the flour? (Maybe I'm not working the fat in properly?)

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  1. Here is a recent post that answers many questions about scones...

    1. Spreading is from the dough warming up. Keep it cold until the moment it hits the oven. Cold. A similar recipe:

      Keep it cold until you bake it.

      1. Sounds like a lot of butter - two sticks of butter equals one cup. Also I don't see any eggs listed on the recipe - usually mixed in with the milk/cream and acts as a binder. If possible, put your mixed dry ingredients in the freezer, as well as the butter and the bowl you mix it in. If possible, also put the board that you'll be working off of in the freezer as well.

        1 Reply
        1. re: bulavinaka

          I've never put eggs in a scone. My scones are basically lightly sweetened biscuits made with cream rather than milk. The dough's a bit wetter than a biscuit dough but it doesn't have to be -- every scone I had in Australia looked just like an American biscuit and tasted just a touch sweeter and richer, but with a virtually identical texture.

          I do agree though that everything MUST be cold, both as you're mixing and before you bake. It's a good advertisement for making scones (and biscuits and pie crust) quickly! I can get a batch made in 5 minutes or less, easily, which gives the ingredients less time to warm up. The texture of the finished product will be much improved as well.

        2. Regarding working the butter and flour together, like I said, I work fast, and I use my fingers to rub the butter into the flour mixture. I like the results better because I end up with a very flaky finished product, but you can use either a fork/knife/pastry cutter type setup or simply do it in the food processor. Generally the rule of thumb is that the fat should be evenly dispersed and in small pea-size bits. I find with cold butter it's quite hard to overwork it if you're working quickly.

          The dough should be a bit wetter than a biscuit dough, moist but not sticky or difficult to work with. The problem might be how finely-ground your cornmeal is, but if I were you I'd just add buttermilk until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl (again, working quickly to ensure that you don't make the scones tough), then turn it out onto a floured board, pat it together, cut, and bake.

          Good luck!

          7 Replies
          1. re: LauraGrace

            The recipe calls for medium-grind cornmeal, and that's indeed what Cheeseboard uses in their scones. They seem to have no problem with it.

            I find the description of small peas problematic. All instructions that involve working fat into flour use descriptions like "coarse meal," "small peas," or "small walnuts"--very vague descriptors. Small peas? Are we talking split peas, frozen peas? (It's hard to visualize even if the descriptor was specific.) I don't know how small small peas are! Coarse meal? What sort of "meal" are we talking about? Working in the fat is the most crucial step and all these instructions don't explain it clearly. No wonder so many fail at pastry.

            In Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible, she talks about how underworking the fat in the flour causes the dough to absorb more liquid than the specified amount and overworking the flour causes it to absorb less than the specified amount. I noticed my scone dough became very sticky when I added the prescribed amount of liquid. Perhaps I overworked the butter and moisture-proofed the flour too much? (My idea of "small peas" was TOO small? See the trouble of "small peas?" ) Could it be that too wet of a dough makes it melt into a flat cookie?

            1. re: michaelnrdx

              In the other thread I mentioned the idea of placing the balls of wet dough in a rimmed pan, i.e a cake pan rather than a baking sheet). The biscuits will support each other, prevent excess spreading.

              The alternative is to use less liquid, producing a dough that can rolled or patted out, and cut.

              Take a look at these 'Touch of Grace' bisuits from Shirley Corriher

              1. re: paulj

                The cake pan idea sounds very clever, and I may try that. I am bent on sticking to Cheeseboard's recipe though, because they are my favorite scones. I go to their bakery at least once a week, and I know their recipe is a working one.

              2. re: michaelnrdx

                Oh dear... I think you're making it too complicated. Small peas = small peas. ;) Not a split pea or the recipe would have said "split pea". Do you have frozen peas in your freezer? Or frozen "petite peas"? I would go for butter in the size of the "petite" peas. Maybe 1/2 cm in diameter. I don't think biscuits/scones are finicky, but they do require a bit of textural knowledge of how the dough is to look pre-baking -- perhaps you could see the scones at the bakery before they go in the oven?

                Do you make biscuits at all? Scone dough should be slightly wetter than that, but should stand up easily when turned out -- i.e. not batter-like. The dough should not spread into a flat disc when turned out of the bowl, but should have to be patted into the proper shape. It shouldn't stick to the fingers excessively either.

                Too much liquid could indeed be the culprit. Perhaps begin with half or 2/3 of the amount and increase by 1 T increments until the texture is a moist but not sticky dough. Do use cold ingredients though, since that would immediately narrow down the problem.

                Good luck in your search for the perfect scone! :)

                1. re: LauraGrace

                  I guess I just haven't had enough practice yet. I've made pie/tart crusts many times and have become wary about how finicky the results can be if you don't work the fat in JUST RIGHT. I know I always work the fat incorrectly, because the flour never absorbs the amount of water specified in the recipe. It's been a source of constant frustration, and I look forward to trying Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe where she has you divide the butter and work in one portion completely (no guessing how big peas are) and leaving the other portion in chunks.

                  1. re: michaelnrdx

                    Ahhh, yes, if your realm of experience is pie/tart crust, I understand the apprehension about the fat/flour issue. Crusts are MUCH finickier than biscuits/scones. As I said above, for biscuits I rub cold butter into the flour with my fingers with no regard for technique, not messing with pea-size or meal-like or anything else, only worrying about speed; it only takes 60 seconds and the goal is to get them in the oven in minimal time.

                    Again, I do want to emphasize that while biscuits/scones are technically part of the pastry family, they're by FAR the least fussy of the bunch and in fact greatly benefit from a slightly lazy and/or rushed "technique." ;)

                    1. re: LauraGrace

                      Also biscuits and scones can be made with a wide range of fats and methods. Some that come to mind are:
                      - lard or shortening worked in with fingers to form coins of fat and flour. This is supposed to produce flaky biscuits
                      - melted butter and/or oil
                      - commercial biscuit mix
                      - heavy cream (provides both fat and liquid)
                      - grated frozen butter (lightly folded into the flour)

                      I've used them all. I grew up on oil biscuits. I just made some oatmeal scones (from Joy of Cooking). That called for melted butter. I used (because I had it on hand), some butter, some heavy cream, and some added olive oil (plus an extra egg). Last week while camping I just added water to biscuit mix, and 'baked' it in a covered skillet on the camp stove, turning once.

            2. Girls, girls, girls.........What are you doing to our scones? I'm an Aussie lady and for us a scone is a scone, not a biscuit. The less the mixture is mixed and handled the better. Here is my Aussie heart foundation recipe.
              To every cup of flour add:
              1 tablespoon of oil and one of icing suger maybe you call it confectionary suger. 1 teaspoon of baking powder and that's it. Process this in your food prosessor, then tip into a bowl. By the way, your oven should be on by now and up as high as it goes.

              Add ice cold water, enough to bring it together and a bit wet. Tip out of bowl onto floured bakeing tray. Very lightly pat into a shap, I do square. At least 1 to 1.5 inches high.
              Just put a knife down into the dough to shape what you want.
              Pop into the nice hot oven. Now I don't know your oven so you need to keep your nose tuned to what's going on in the oven. I go by smell and touch. When they smell cooked I tap a scone and if it sounds hollow, they are cooked. When you want to eat them you can easily just run a knife down and pull apart.

              We break in half, put a spoonful of jam and a blob of cream. We do not sandwhich them back together.

              Oh! My, I do hope this is helpful to someone.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Yvonne_88

                Describe a biscuit, as understood by a Aussie.

                If the Anzac biscuit is any clue, the Aussie usage similar to the British - which Americans call a cookie. Your recipe, with less sugar, and more butter, is the American biscuit.