Back to Basics

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens! I realize I am not only late with this post but have been neglecting the entire blog lately. January has been very full of adjustments to Nolan’s therapy schedule, preparing for some new nutritional interventions, training to prepare for my first 5K race (which happened this morning), not to mention an unplanned flight to Oregon this past week when the flooding in Salem spilled over into our basement. Sigh…

I’m a big advocate of scratch-made biscuits, from cheesy drop biscuits to sticky buttermilk biscuits to classic baking soda biscuits/scones. Audax is an incredible technical baker with quite the eye for detail, so I was excited to use his refined master recipe to make all sorts of fabulous biscuits for the challenge this month, but in the end I was lucky just to squeeze in the two varieties shown above before the time flew by. They were both designed to accompany bowls of silky butternut squash soup with a maple-glazed bacon garnish.

The first option was not-quite-basic biscuits, made the shortcut way in my food processor with cold (but not frozen) butter, all-purpose flour, and a handful of blanched and very well wrung-out Swiss chard; I intentionally added the latter after the butter but before the milk, so it ended up quite finely chopped. These were rolled out and shaped with a 2″ cutter into 6 biscuits that baked up extremely light and fluffy.

The second batch of biscuits, made after shaping the chard biscuits and washing out the food processor, are slightly sweeter maple-pecan biscuits with part whole wheat flour. I replaced a couple tablespoons of the milk with maple syrup and added toasted pecans to the dry ingredients, reserving a bit to knead in at the last moment. As you can see, I rolled these out a little flatter and got 8 2″ biscuits from the same base recipe.

Both versions were delicious with the soup. The chard ones didn’t taste vegetal at all, but had such lovely red and green coloring that I will have to remember them next Christmas. The maple-pecan ones were a touch denser thanks to the whole wheat flour addition (and possibly also due to a shorter rest time between processor and oven), but were tasty enough for dessert when slathered with maple butter or jam.

I will definitely be making more biscuits in the coming month—we are gearing up for an extended gluten-free/casein free trial for my son, so I will not only be getting the last few cravings for wheat biscuits out of my system, but experimenting with GFCF versions. Thank goodness clarified butter is casein-free and biscuits are a baked item that don’t rely on gluten development for texture!

Basic Scones (a.k.a. Basic Biscuits)
Servings: about eight 2-inch (5 cm) scones or five 3-inch (7½ cm) scones
Recipe can (and probably should!) be doubled

1 C plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tsp fresh baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 T frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
approximately 1/2 C cold milk
optional 1 T milk, for glazing the tops of the scones

Preheat oven to very hot 475°F. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot, refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)

Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.

Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)

Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick. Using a well-floured 2-inch scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.

Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.

Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.

Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, and serve while still warm.

Variations on the Basic Recipe:
Buttermilk – follow the Basic recipe above but replace the milk with buttermilk, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, increase the fat to 4 tablespoons, in Step 3 aim of pea-sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 fold and turn the dough, rounds are just touching in the baking dish, glaze with buttermilk.

Australian Scone Ring (Damper Ring) – follow the Basic recipe above but decrease the fat to 1 tablespoon, in Step 3 aim of fine beach sand sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 knead the dough, in Step 7 form seven rounds into a ring shape with the eighth round as the centre, glaze with milk.

Cream – follow the Basic recipe above but replace the milk with cream, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, in Step 3 aim of beach sand sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 knead the dough, rounds are just touching in the baking dish, glaze with cream.

Cheese and Chive – follow the Basic recipe above but add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, after Step 2 add 1/2 teaspoon sifted mustard powder, 1/4 teaspoon sifted cayenne pepper (optional), 1/2 cup (60 gm/2 oz) grated cheese and 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives into the sifted ingredients, in Step 3 aim of beach sand sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 knead the dough, rounds are widely spaced in the baking dish, sprinkle the rounds with cracked pepper.

Fresh Herb – follow the Basic recipe above but after Step 3 add 3 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (such as parsley, dill, chives etc).

Sweet Fruit – follow the Basic recipe above but after Step 3 add 1/4 cup (45 gm) dried fruit (e.g. sultanas, raisins, currents, cranberries, cherries etc) and 1 tablespoon (15 gm) sugar.

Whole Wheat – follow the Basic recipe above but replace half of the plain flour with whole wheat flour.

Whole Wheat and Date – follow the Basic recipe above but replace half of the plain flour with whole wheat flour and after Step 3 add 1/4 cup (45 gm) chopped dates and 1 tablespoon (15 gm) sugar.

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