Handle with care is beginning bakers’ challenge

It’s perhaps the hardest lesson for a novice baker — and I count myself in that group. It isn’t what you do, but what you don’t do, that makes all the difference in delicately textured baked goods.

Minimal manipulating is key whenever flakiness is the goal. Dairy fat mingled with flour and leavening can produce airiness and lightness that belies such humble ingredients.

That’s only so long as the baker can resist the impulse to overwork these mixtures, which develops their gluten, resulting in stretchy doughs and batters that bake up tough. Developing gluten is important in baking yeast breads, not their quick counterparts.

This blog’s previous two posts could hardly be called recipes, given they’re so simple. Just a few ingredients and the most basic instructions, both with similar admonishments. “Knead lightly about three times, just until the dough comes together” … and “knead until smooth, for a few seconds.”

That’s it. Forgo the futzing. Handle the dough gently. Shape it deftly. Perfectly textured is preferable to perfectly shaped.

If you’ve baked  two-ingredient cream biscuits and four-ingredient English muffins with success, you’re probably ready to graduate to the classic scone. It fits nicely into the food section’s breakfast theme for a second week running.

Tribune News Service photo

Classic Scones

1 3/4 cup flour (plus more for shaping and cutting)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut up

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup heavy cream

Tip the flour into a mixing bowl; whisk in the sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Shoot in the butter, then rub together with your fingers to make a reasonably fine-crumbed mixture, lifting to aerate mixture as you go. Try not to overrub, as mixture will be lighter if it’s a little bit flaky.

Measure the buttermilk, then mix in the cream to slacken it. Make a bit of a well in center of flour mixture with a soft spatula, then pour in most of this buttermilk mixture, holding a little bit back in case it’s not needed. Using spatula, gently work mixture together until it forms a soft, almost sticky, dough. Work in any loose dry bits of mixture with remaining buttermilk. Don’t overwork at this point, or you will toughen the dough.

Lift ball of soft dough out of bowl and put it on to a very lightly floured surface. Knead mixture just 3 to 4 times to get rid of cracks.

Pat dough gently with your hands to a thickness of 1 inch. Dip a 2-inch-round, fluted cutter into a bowl of flour; cut out scones by pushing cutter down quickly and firmly into dough with palm of your hand — don’t twist it. You will hear dough give a big sigh as cutter goes in. Gather trimmings lightly; pat and cut out a couple more scones (these last won’t be as pretty).

Set scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 F until risen and golden, for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, uncovered if you prefer crisp tops, or covered loosely with a cloth for soft ones.

Enjoy warm with strawberry jam and a generous mound of clotted cream. Cornish people put jam first, then cream, Devonians the other way round. Americans are permitted to substitute whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Makes about 10 (2-inch) scones.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from BBC Food.

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