As a reluctant and often times struggling home-baker, I have an unfounded, persistent, borderline sickening obsession with making biscuits and scones. Nobody in the family eats them but me really (it isn’t saying much when you scan through all members in the family). I have to endure the look of lostness and concealed disappointment in Jason’s eyes every time he comes home to the smell of butter and sugar, and yet I put myself through it often (yes everything is about me). They aren’t the most foolproof things to bake either, evidently from the ghost of dead doughs past that still lingers in the apartment. So I don’t know, I guess they just feel so much more earnest than cookies and cakes, a warmer and friendlier thing to break over a conversation or a cup of tea… well, with my imaginary friends at least.
But the truth is until a few days ago, I had not been able to tell them apart in the kitchen.
What the hell is the difference between biscuits and scones? Unlike the obsession, the confusion for it isn’t unfounded, as I have seen and tasted recipes that are titled interchangeably, with ingredients and ratios not that different from one another. And the tastes can range from moist with soft and porous interiors, to crumbly, dense and almost shortbread-like. Online research certainly doesn’t help especially if it takes European definition into consideration. In my restless and obsessive mind, I just don’t feel comfortable not knowing where the line is drawn.
And if there isn’t any out there, I’m going to draw it myself.
In my more-North-American based perception, biscuits have a Southern ring to it. They should be round, moist with flaky layers (whereas in the UK, biscuits are more like shortbreads/cookies), and one should almost always eat it by first breaking it horizontally in half, where then all possibilities follows. Scones on the other hand – something with less dispute over the definition for – are more crumbly, buttery and slightly denser with not much perceivable layers. Ways to tackle scones are agreed to be more flexible however if there’s a corner, that’s where I would start. The difference in texture is essentially a result of the ratio between butter and liquid. Biscuits tends to have a slightly lower ratio of butter, cut into slightly larger bits, and a higher ratio of liquid (could be cream, milk, buttermilk or etc). Whereas scones tend to have a higher ratio of butter, cut into smaller bits/further worked into the flour mixture, and a lower ratio of liquid.
So as the definition goes, even though I have one recipe mis-titled as a “scone”, I haven’t actually, made a real scone yet. It’s time.
Winter-time, that is. And could be more fitting to eat now than the flavours of roasted chestnuts, sweet figs and vanilla? Ladies and gentlemen, my first-born baby scone, and it is perfect.
Ok fine, maybe second-born. The chestnuts were initially chopped into breadcrumb-consistency, which was then mixed into the dough. Even though I was fairly happy with the result, I knew it wasn’t enough. It needed something else… something more… violent, yeah, something to thoroughly inject the nutty and homey chestnut flavour into the life of these scones. To use the chestnuts… as… as a wet ingredients. I went back into it, and what I have to tell you about now is the best scones that I have yet to taste, from anywhere. It is buttery with delicate crumbs, just firm enough but still comfortably moist. But on top of all else, it tastes like winter… like waking up to a white morning of the first snow-fall, like a wood-burning fireplace… like a light-lit pine tree. Like it’s almost too warm to be eaten in the summer.
Whoever you share this with, real or imaginary, will agree.
Makes: 8 large scones
Ready-to-eat roasted chestnut (labeled as “sugar roasted/wok-ed”) is pretty abundant in China especially during this season. They are even sold peeled-and-packaged, which I snobbishly turned my head away from then later regretted immensely as my finger nails ached (I bet you didn’t know they can ache. Oooh but they can, my friend… they can). So if you can buy them roasted and peeled, just do it. But if you can only buy fresh, I’m going to refer you to the first link that Google referred me to on the very first page. I trust Google but am not responsible for any kitchen failure due to the referral…
I wouldn’t suggest using canned pureed chestnuts as they may come in different consistency, which is quite crucial since I have come to believe that this kinda stuff can widely affect the result.
Dried figs on the other hand can be purchased in a lot of places like Amazon, or any other health food stores that you prefer.
- 3.7 oz (105 grams or 5~6 large) dried figs + 1 tbsp of whole milk
- Chestnuts puree:
- 6.3 oz (180 grams or 1 1/4 heaping cup) of roasted and peeled chestnuts (the weight DOES NOT include shells, and PLEASE trust the weight not the cup because I apparently have big cups)
- Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
- 7 ~ 8 tbsp of whole milk
- 1 3/4 cups (228 grams) of all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar
- 1 tbsp of baking powder
- 1/4 tsp of salt
- 9 1/2 tbsp (135 grams) of very very cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp of whole milk
- 1 large egg, separated
- Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Use a scissor to cut the dried figs into tiny bite-size pieces, then combine with 1 tbsp of whole milk and microwave on high for 1 minute to plump up (pause the microwave and give it a stir at 30 seconds). Chill in the fridge for 15 min or until cooled down.
Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out all the black seeds. Process the seeds with roasted and peeled chestnuts in a food-processor, gradually adding in 7 ~ 8 tbsp of whole milk until it’s pureed as COLD peanut butter-consistency (should be stiff and holds its peak). Set aside.
This is my first time using a stand-mixer for biscuits/scones, but you can of course just use a pastry blender. So, in a stand-mixer with paddle-attachment, stir flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together just to combine. Add the cubed unsalted butter and mix on low, until the butter is mostly incorporated into the flour mixture, like the texture of coarse meal with larger butter pieces looking like flat disks about 1/2″ wide (slightly smaller than a penny). If you are using a pastry blender, the largest butter bit should be the size of small peas with the rest of the mixture looking like coarse meal. Now add the dry figs from the fridge and mix on low until they are separated from each other (they can stick) and evenly spread out. Add all of the chestnuts puree, 1/4 cup of whole milk and 1 large egg yolk (save the egg white for egg wash!). Mix on low for a few seconds to bring the dough together. You may need to add 2 tbsp more of whole milk in order to do so. DO NOT over-mix. Stop just when the dough seems to have come together, then dust the working surface lightly with flour and transfer dough on top, press all the “loose ends” together with your hand to bring it together.
Pat the dough into a flat disk and plastic-wrap it. Chill in the fridge for AT LEAST 2 hours! This is important NOT ONLY to re-chill the butter inside the dough for puffing, but also to give time for the flour to absorb the moisture in order for the scones to be moist, and not dry and “floury-tasting”.
30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven on 400ºF/200ºC. Whisk the egg white with 1 tsp of water until frothy.
Lightly dust the working surface with flour. Unwrap the dough and roll it out into a 1″/2.5 cm thick rectangle. I like my scones with straight edges… call me anal, so I trim the uneven edges off and cut the rest into squares, then piece the edges back again to re-cut. You don’t have to. Whatever shape works really. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake AS MANY AS YOU ARE GOING TO EAT. Scone is at its highest value when it’s fresh. Plastic-wrap the rest and keep in the freezer. Scones on demand. Nothing better.
Brush the top of the scones with egg white-wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake in the oven for 17 ~ 20 minutes until golden browned on top (add 2 ~ 3 minutes for frozen scones).
I know it’s inhumanely cruel to ask you to wait. But just 10 ~ 15 minutes on the cooling rack will allow the scones to set and the flavours to “round up”.