Do you remember the boom of ‘4 Ingredient Cooking’ a couple of years ago? I never really understood all the hype, to be honest. Sure, there’s only four ingredients in your meal – but would it be better with five, or six? To me, an easy recipe has four steps, not four ingredients. I also figure that if you’re not putting much into your food, you’re probably not going to get a lot out of it. There are, of course, exceptions – you can definitely make a nice meal or snack with a few ingredients and some basics. But what makes these stand out is a good flavour combination and good quality ingredients, and in this respect, I don’t think a recipe book will always help you.
Perhaps the only true four ingredient recipe to which I turn regularly is one for scones. If you’re looking at a recipe for scones with more than 4 ingredients (excluding extras such as fruit), it’s probably unnecessarily complicated. Recipes for scones vary greatly but usually, their small ingredient list is common. I’ve seen recipes with milk, cream, lemonade, different flours, sugar, no sugar…the list goes on. The one that I use is probably the most basic (hence its title) but I don’t think it necessarily skimps on taste or texture. In the end, you generally don’t eat a plain scone on its own (pass the jam and cream, anyone?). Therefore you can get away with putting less in the scones themselves. Recipes that have cream, for instance, will probably be cakier, more flavoursome and buttery, but you’ll probably only notice this if you eat the scone by itself. Otherwise, in my opinion, a basic recipe is perfectly adequate.
I’ve heard lots of tips for making scones over the years, and a couple have stuck. The first one is to grate your butter instead of cubing it. This will make the rubbing process a lot quicker than if you’re dealing with cold, little cubes of butter that refuse to be rubbed into anything. While grating butter sounds a bit odd, I do find it helps. To make sure you get a fairly accurate measurement (though it doesn’t have to be exact), grate your butter directly into the bowl with the flour, and use kitchen scales to measure how much butter you’ve added. A box grater rather than a microplane works best.
The second is, as always, not to overwork the dough. You don’t really need to knead scone dough, or roll it out – a gentle pat is all that’s needed once the dough has come together. I remember being told in Year 8 Home Economics to give my scone dough 60 ‘turns’, or knead it 60 times. Of course I didn’t listen to this and ended up with the best scones in the class (and helped everyone else, too!).
Another thing to remember with scone dough is to more or less go with how it feels, rather than following the recipe to a T. The amount of milk absorbed by the flour will vary greatly, and so if you sense your dough will end up too dry as it’s coming together, act early and add some extra milk, though only a very small amount at a time. The dough will be a bit wet, but not excessively – you should be able to pat it out with floured hands.
Basic scones, adapted from taste.com.au
- 450g/3 cups self-raising flour, sifted
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 80g butter, grated
- Approx 1 cup full cream milk
- Jam and cream, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Line a small baking tray or slice tin with baking paper.
- Combine the flour and sugar, then add the grated butter. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until there are no lumps of butter remaining. Try to get the mix looking as much like flour as possible.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, and add one cup of milk. Using a butter knife, cut into the mixture, from one side of the bowl to the other, rotating the bowl after each ‘cut’. Continue until as much of the flour is incorporated as possible. Don’t stress too much if there is some flour left in the bottom of the bowl.
- Gently bring the dough together and place on a work surface dusted with flour or covered with a sheet of baking paper. Gently pat out until it’s around 2-3cm thick.
- Use a cookie cutter to cut out rounds from the dough, ensuring you don’t twist the cutter as you pull it out. Once you’ve cut as many rounds as you can, gently combine the dough again to cut out more rounds. At this point you can also add a tiny bit more milk to the flour left at the bottom of the bowl, make a dough and add this to the dough scraps to pat out. Note that these scones won’t be quite as nice as the first batch as the dough has been worked more.
- Place the rounds on a baking tray and brush lightly with some extra milk using a pastry brush.
- Pop them in the oven for around 25 minutes, depending on your oven. The scones are ready when they’re golden brown on the bottoms and tops.
- Serve warm with jam and whipped or double cream. Scones are best eaten on the day they are made.