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A Gentle Touch Turns Out the Perfect Scone

This recipe dates back a good 80 years and is one of our favorite breakfast foods. A simple dough. No machines. Several strokes with a wooden spoon, a few turns at kneading, a little rolling and cutting.

These scones can be peeled apart into the delicate layers that characterize well-made biscuits. Flaky layers of dough result when margarine or butter is cut into the dry ingredients. Fat forms waterproof layers between the flour particles and the beginning of a flaky texture.

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A pastry blender works better than your fingers for cutting the butter or margarine into flour, because it keeps the fat cold. This makes the flakiest scones since the fat remains firm until it reaches the oven.

When you roll the dough, those little pieces of fat flatten, separating the dough into layers. Then a hot oven melts the fat, and turns liquids to steam, pushing apart the layers of dough before they set in the heat.

Recipes calling for sour milk or buttermilk are using both their flavor and acidity, so don't substitute sweet milk. The acidity of sour milk reacts with baking soda to create bubbles of carbon dioxide, which work with steam to make the scones rise.

You can use buttermilk, (low in calories, contrary to what many people think). Or, you can sour regular milk, by adding one tablespoon of vinegar to 1 cup milk, and letting it sit for 10 minutes.

To ensure that scones are tender, add only enough liquid to form a stiff dough, and use very little flour when rolling the dough. Extra flour, too much liquid, overstirring, and kneading all develop additional gluten from the protein in the flour, which toughens the scones. Gentle handling creates tender scones.

Try substituting various flours and grains for 1/4 of the flour. Oatmeal, barley flour, whole wheat flour, quinoa, and wheat germ, all lend their own interesting character, texture, and extra nutrients. Grated orange or lemon rind add citrus flavors without altering proportions.

You can cut down slightly on the salt and baking soda if you find the scones a bit salty.

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Instead of currants or raisins, try dried sour cherries, sliced dried apricots, finely chopped crystallized ginger, sliced almonds, or halved cranberries (freeze them first so they won't spread when rolled).

Don't be afraid to experiment.

Inquisitive Cook's Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup raisins or currants

3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.

Cut the butter or margarine into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until it's the size of small peas.

Add raisins or other fruit and stir to coat with flour.

Add the milk, stirring just until the flour is moistened.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 times. Roll gently or pat the dough 1-inch thick and cut with a lightly floured cookie cutter. Or, shape into a round and score into wedges.

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet until lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes for individual scones, 25 to 30 minutes for larger scone.

Serve with lemon curd, jam, or Devonshire cream.

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