Wet, sticky dough freaks me out.
I get it on my hands, and I can’t get it off. Do I wash, wipe, scrape or scream? Never mind that you only need to add flour. I melt down every time. And it is this fear of buttery slodge, I believe, that has kept me from baking scones and biscuits.
My attitude changed recently when I tasted my neighbor Audrey Gatliff’s adorable little pistachio-encrusted and strawberry-and-cream scones.
I thought: “If I could make scones this good, maybe I could conquer my fear of wet dough.”
A super-talented, self-taught baker, Gatliff creates delicious cookies, candies, bars and other goodies and sells them under the name of Tiny Buffalo Baking Co. Over the holidays, she assembles gift boxes tucked with sea-salted caramels, cookies, granola and scones. Her dainty triangular scones are irresistible with a cup of tea or coffee, their diminutive stature a tribute to her belief that sweets can be delightfully indulgent, but sensibly proportioned.
“Scones are easy to throw together and don’t have to be large, crumbly and flavorless,” Gatliff says, referring to the dry squares that give scones a bad name. With degrees in consumer foods and dietetics from the University of Georgia, this 28-year-old artisan baker has thought long and hard about her philosophy of “small but mighty.” A perfectionist with a quiet streak, she spends many hours tweaking her recipes and obsessing over flavor profiles. (Currently, she is on a quest for honey cinnamon and pear cardamom.) Gatliff’s trick is cold dough made with cold butter: Every tray of scones is chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking. (If you don’t want to make a full batch, wrap the scones in plastic and leave them in the freezer until ready to bake.) Gatliff also suggests that you aren’t overly kneady, which can result in a “tougher end product.” Finally, she likes to add a glaze to moisten the scones and seal in freshness.
For this article, Gatliff created two delectable scones made with seasonal ingredients — pecans, apples and figs. Her Fig and Mascarpone Scones are sweetened with maple syrup and shaped into rustic free-form pastries. Her Apple-Pecan-Cinnamon Scones are delicate little triangles perfumed with apple-pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger), drizzled with icing and showered with toasted pecans. Both are lovely to look at and taste just wonderful.
As I was developing this story, I remembered that Atlanta actress Jill Jane Clements once sent me a recipe for cranberry-and-orange scones. While most scones require butter (for flakiness) and egg (as a binder), these “light” scones are moistened with cream and brushed with butter, and that’s it. (Clements cuts even more calories by replacing the butter with margarine.) “They freeze perfectly, and I have yet to have anyone not think they were the best scones they ever had,” Clements told me in an email.
My only problem was — you guessed it — sticky dough. Clements’ recipe called for 11/4 cups of cream, which made for moist and tender scones. But the dough was too soupy for my squeamish hands, so I cut the cream to a half cup, and the scones came out great.
While many scone-ists like adding fruit, nuts, chocolate and other flavors to scones, one who does not is food writer Mark Bittman. His classic scones are proper English biscuits meant to be served with jam and clotted cream. The trick behind these light and ethereal scones is cake flour. Every time I do them, they bake like a dream. And because you mix them in a food processor and use just enough cream to form the dough into a ball, you won’t find yourself floundering around the kitchen with buttery dough stuck between your fingers.