There’s something that has been getting right under my skin lately.
I’m going to tell you because I think you will understand. You guys get me.
There’s this thing where some people at work call margarine butter. I couldn’t think of anything more inaccurate.
It gives me shivers. It makes my bones ache. There’s a part of me that wants to wear a sign on my forehead that reads “Margarine will never be butter!”
In my work I make lots and lots of cakes and brownies and other desserts, so I always have butter (ALWAYS). We also bake lots of bread and sometimes people come into the kitchen and ask for some butter to spread. So, naturally I reach into the fridge and pull out butter. Then when I hear “oh, no… I want margarine”, that is the part where I get confused. It is plain wrong.
It’s like cat vs. dog.
It’s night vs. day.
It’s baguette vs. toast.
It’s dark chocolate vs. white chocolate.
I guess in Australia the term “butter” can be used as a category descriptor to refer to anything fatty that you can spread on bread?
Is it weird that this bothers me so much? I should really just get over it. Let's talk about these lovely pictures of scones made with BUTTER…
Butter makes better baking for so many reasons. Shortening even has its place in pastry. But, margarine can stay on the table (as long as it’s not mine).
Butter is best for its incredibly rich, rounded flavour that just enhances everything from chocolate cakes to butterscotch sauce.
Being solid at room temperature, it helps to build structure and creates a thicker batter. This also makes it ideal for creaming, whereby sugar is vigorously beat into room temperature butter to build air into it. It can be melted, softened or used rock hard from the freezer to make flaky pastry.
Naturally it is high in saturated fat, and this is the nature of the cow. I understand the demands of special diets that require the unsaturated fat of margarine spread. But just call it like it is – don’t call it butter, because you’d be kidding yourself.
Butter is especially important for making the best scones. Scones are simple creatures, made up of few basic ingredients and they’re not so sweet. So, the almighty flavour of butter becomes imperative. Its hard nature when chilled allows it to hold its shape when rubbed into the flour so that it remains as little solid pieces that separate layers of dough and create flakiness.
Scones can come in different textures. Sometimes I make them quite firm and flaky. Other times, like this time, I make them very soft and tender (and loaded with bittersweet chocolate and cranberries). That means the dough is very soft and wet compared to dry and shaggy.
It may be a bit different to what you are used to, but if you are the type that likes a teddy soft scone, you should get into this!
The trick is to not mix or knead the dough too much because the high amount of liquid that this dough contains means that it is more likely to become tough if over-worked. That’s because the elastic gluten proteins in flour that are responsible for the chewy open texture of bread get activated in the presence of water and mixing.
What to do? Handle the dough lightly – do not knead, just fold the dough over itself to bring it together.
How to work with a sticky dough? Dredge your work surface and your hands with flour, tip the dough out onto the surface so that it is now coated with flour, and then pat it out so that it is about 1-inch thick. Then cut out rounds with a cookie cutter that you’ve also dredged in flour.
Dredge is the key word for today.
I also made mini scones perfect for high tea! Brushing them with beaten egg creates this irresistible golden crust.
Pull out your fancy tea pot, get some loose leaf Cream Earl Grey (amazing stuff!) and invite your most obnoxious (or should I say posh?) British friends over. They’ll be so impressed, but obviously they won’t admit that these scones are better than theirs.
Deep down, they’ll know it.
PS – probably the greatest thing to come out of England and Australia is double cream. It is thick, luscious spoonable cream that sits somewhere between pouring cream and butter with nearly 50% milk fat. It is heaven. If you can find it, get it!
Dark Chocolate & Cranberry Buttermilk Scones
Makes about 8 large scones or 20 mini ones
2 ¼ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ cup (50 g) sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
½ tsp salt
7 tbsp (100 g) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ cup (85 g) dark chocolate chips
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup cold buttermilk
1 cold large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 beaten egg for brushing
1 beaten egg for brushing
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add sugar and salt whisk to blend evenly. Rub or cut in cold butter using your fingers or a pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pea-sized pieces. Toss through chocolate chips and cranberries.
In another bowl, combine buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract and beat well with a fork. Add to flour mixture all at once, and then fold the mixture together very gently using a wide spatula to make a soft dough. The dough will be wet and sticky – do not over mix.
Scatter some flour onto the work surface and tip the dough out. Dredge the dough and your hands with a little more flour, then fold the dough over 1 or 2 times to help it come together if necessary. Pat the dough into a round about 1 inch thick.
Cut the dough into 2.5-inch rounds for big scones or 1.5-inch rounds for mini scones. Reshape and roll excess dough to create more scones. Place rounds on prepared baking sheet, brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown on top, 16-18 minutes for large scones and 12-14 minutes for mini scones. These are best the day they’re made, served with double cream. However, they do freeze well if wrapped individually and then lightly reheated in the toaster oven.