Handle with Care: A Guide to Perfect Biscuits and Scones

Friends, now that I am standing on the other side of it, I realize that, in the last however many months, I was at a crossroads. I like to think that, despite popular opinion, being in such a predicament does not necessarily mean you are motionless. See, had I actually been situated in front of a fork in the road in the recent-ish past, then we might surmise that it would have been for a very, very long time. Like, the amount of time that could make a girl hungry. Because let’s face it, I don’t make decisions very quickly, and I have a LOT of cravings to cater to.

As chapters close and new ones begin, I have realized that, of all the types of people I could be, I am the kind to reminisce. There is something so romantic about looking back on the things that life has offered and savoring one more nibble of the memory. How lucky am I, to feel that way about the things that I have happened upon? Is it my sneaking suspicion that, perhaps, after 25 years of decision-making, I’ve finally become good at it? Honestly, I am starting to wonder if it’s something more: maybe, from the other side of the war zone, I can kind of see that, even though at times it didn’t feel like it, I had all the tools I needed to process what was in front of me and emerge victorious…with a hankering for some baked goods, of course.

The latest addition to my recipe archive: the Dark Chocolate Grapefruit Cream Scone. Here is a picture of one of my favorite scone creations yet, just before getting drizzled with Grapefruit Glaze.
The latest addition to my recipe archive: the Dark Chocolate Grapefruit Cream Scone. Here is a picture of one of my favorite scone creations yet, just before getting drizzled with Grapefruit Glaze.

And so, to commemorate these good feelings, I would like to honor a good decision I made a couple of years ago, involving some browned butter, a website, and an anticlimactic poem I previously kind of despised. That’s right, I’m talking about that time I started a food blog (click here for my first post: Spiced Brown Butter and Nectarine Scones).

Here’s the thing, though–over the last few years, I’ve gotten a lot better at making scones and biscuits. Which means that, nowadays, I have a whole list of things that need to happen in order for those delectable butter-filled, crumbly, not-too-sweet delights to meet my expectations. And so, without further ado, here is a list I have compiled over the years to make the ultimate biscuits and scones:

1) Full-fat is best. Don’t worry, I’m not very surprised that this is number one, either. Friends, those delectable flakes of perfectly crumbly dough do not occur simply from manhandling it properly (though the rest of this list illustrates that that is also very important). The truth is, you need a lot of butter, and you need ice-cold, full-fat buttermilk or heavy cream. Nothing else will do the trick.
2) Chill everything. I have come to take this point very seriously. Use cold ingredients. Even the flour can be chilled before you get to mixing. Most importantly, freeze the butter and grate it into perfect, golden curls. Why? Because that way, it stays very cold and is already ideally sized before you’ve even had a chance to get mixing.
3) Do not touch the ingredients. I know this goes against the grain of a lot of the biscuit and scone recipes I’ve shared. In truth, I wrote those before I tried out this trick. They will still turn out delicious if you follow the words I wrote before, I promise. BUT, they will turn out even better if you don’t use your hands to mix the ingredients. This is where freezing and grating the butter comes into play; the butter blends into the dry ingredients perfectly, preventing the warmth of your fingertips from marring the potential of your scones. Once I tried this, I never went back.
4) Make creative additions. Let’s face it, like most things worth repeating, biscuits and scones add something wonderful to our existence. Which means we should give back, and add wonderful things to them. Try adding zest or spices, ditch granulated sugar and try muscovado, infuse your milk with lavender or other herbs. Brown the butter ahead of time (Brown Butter, Goat Cheese, and Chive Biscuits), or mix sweet and savory (White Cheddar and Roasted Apple Scones), or add cream cheese for tang (White Chocolate, Fresh Cranberry, and Cream Cheese Scones). My point is, there is always a way to fancy up our favorite recipe.
5) Roll and fold the dough. Lightly flour a cool surface (like a wooden cutting board) and roll out the dough, fold it back, and roll it out again. Repeat about three times, as this allows perfect flakes to form upon baking. Do not overdo it, as this can make the end product tough. As I mentioned before, the warmth from your hands can affect the temperature of the dough, so it’s best to use a rolling pin.
6) Properly grease your baking sheet. Like a girl with a penchant for banging her head against walls, I straight-up refused to get this part down for years. You are seriously talking to the worst Target shopper ever; I would go there with “parchment paper” and “cooking spray” on my list, go haywire over the buy-one-get-one deals on Peanut M&Ms, and decide that both of the things I actually needed were out of my budget. And then one day, I needed to buy them both, and I never, never, ever will go back. Grease the baking sheet, then top with the perfect-size slice of parchment paper, and zero percent of your scones/biscuits will break apart and miss the opportunity to encounter your salivating mouth.
7) Monitor portions. No, I am not saying we should be counting calories; I am simply reinforcing an obvious truth. If all the biscuits and scones are the same size, then they will all bake evenly. Use a biscuit cutter, if you wish. Really, this part helps to ensure that each and every biscuit you eat is cooked perfectly, one after the other after the other.
8) Add flair. So you did as I asked, chilling the flour, freezing and grating the butter, gently rolling the dough into the perfectly measured round. What more can I possibly ask of you? Friends, I only request that you finish the race you started. Before baking, sprinkle your scones with turbinado sugar for a sweet crust, or use quality sea salt for a unique twist (Dark Chocolate, Honey, and Sea Salt Biscuits), or brush the teensiest bit of cream on for browning. Fresh out of the oven, top your perfectly baked biscuits with melted honey and butter (Honey Buttermilk Biscuits), or serve with homemade preserves, or-gasp!-make Rachel Khoo’s lemon curd. You might even drizzle with Grapefruit Glaze (Dark Chocolate and Grapefruit Cream Scones).

The most important part of all is that you make them with love, really. I don’t mean for that to be corny. A recent issue of National Geographic backed me up on this. The article detailed the process of preparing a giant feast that occurs annually in Milpa Alta, Mexico. Those interviewed gave words to a truth I have always known when cooking: never make it with anger in your heart. What you create is a by-product of that thing at the center of your chest, and cooking with care will always make whatever it is a little bit better.

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