A correspondent writes to ask if I can give her any hints on scone baking, as her scones tend to be tough, and are never as light and spongy as she would like. With the same proportions of ingredients, some people seem to have the knack of turning out the lightest of scones; while those of others are heavy, or tough or imperfectly baked through. How is it? A great deal depends upon the handling, the quality of the flour, and the heat of the griddle, or girdle, as the Scots pronounce it.
The quantities given by my correspondent are not quite the same as I use. Here are hers: 4 lb flour, 1 oz. carbonate of soda, 2 oz cream of tartar, 2 oz lard, rubbed in, 2 small teasponfuls of salt. Mine: 4 lb flour, 1 oz. each carbonate of soda and cream of tartar, salt, tablespoonful of golden syrup or handful of fine sugar (quantities according to degree of sweetness desired).
Opinions differ, but I do not find that the addition of lard or any form of shortening makes girdle scones lighter. Nor is it necessary to have double the weight of cream of tartar. The usual custom is to put a teaspoonful of each — larger for the cream of tartar, as it is lighter than the soda, bulk for bulk.
Sour milk is not necessary when cream of tartar is added, and there are advocates of sweet milk who maintain that their scones are thereby lighter. But I am sure they are not lighter than mine baked with sour!. Indeed if the milk is curdled and pleasantly acid, cream of tartar is superfluous, and I do not use it.
Confident of making suggestions what the fault might be, but if I had worked with my correspondent’s mixture and found my scones tough, I should have concluded that I had used far too much cream of tartar — for one thing. But that may be because I can judge the consistency of the dough best without it.
And that leads to another important point. The dough should be just stiff enough to roll out lightly and no more. Some say that it should be mixed lightly and thoroughly; others that it should be well beaten with a wooden spoon. Who shall decide? The experienced and successful scone baker knows when her dough is exactly right by dipping in her spoon and lifting it, but that cannot be taught either in print or by any words of description.
Another point: the anxious baker writes that — “I try to fire the scones as slowly as I can but they seem to be tough.”
According to my experiences, scones should be baked quickly. If the heat is slow, they never rise properly. However good the mixture, the scones will be tough and heavy. A sure test is to sweep the girdle clean, dust it lightly with flour, and when the flour changes colour to a golden brown, it is of the right temperature for the scones —- and not till then.