How To Make Buttermilk Scones
This is installment #13 in my endeavor to cook through the Tartine Pastry Book. Thanks for joining in and I hope you learn something.
Whenever I walk into a bakery or a coffee shop with pastries, the first thing I tend to look at are their scones and crosisants. When it comes to breakfast, I tend toward savory flavors over sweet, so those two pastries fit the bill. Scones are sweetened, but minimally so adding butter and a pinch of salt to a warm fruit scone is my perfect combo of sweet and savory.
But scones aren’t a treat that should only be enjoyed when you’re out to breakfast. They’re incredibly easy (and cheap) to make from the comfort of your own home. Not only do you get to control the amount of sugar, but you can customize the flavors to your liking.
What Is A Scone?
Scones, cut with butter to add flakiness, can be adapted to make a sweet or savory pastry. For a sweeter scone, the dough itself is minimally sweetened and enhanced by fresh or dried fruit. Savory versions have the same basic make up, but skimp out on the sugar and incorporate ingredients like cheese, ham, or chives.
The texture of a scone is akin to a biscuit, with a semi crisp exterior and a flaky and buttery interior. They can be served with lightly whipped cream, clotted cream, extra butter, or jam.
They are traditionally cut into in a triangle shape, but can also be cut into squares, cut out with a biscuit cutter, or spooned out in dollops onto the baking sheet if the dough is a little wetter.
Buttermilk Scone Ingredients
Scones have a pretty basic make up of flour, fat, milk, and a leavening agent.
When it comes to baking, the quality of your flour is important, so I recommend using the highest quality flour you can afford. My favorite is King Arthur Flour because it’s a great product and is readily available in most super markets. (This post is not affiliated with the brand at all, it’s just my personal fave). And if you can’t remember the last time you baked and your bin of flour is from you don’t know how many ages ago, go ahead and stock up on a fresh bag.
Like pie dough, scones rely on cold butter to release steam during baking to create fluffy layers within the pastry. Keeping your butter cold is key to creating those layers, so read on for a tip on how to keep your butter as cold as long as possible throughout the dough-making process.
This recipe calls for buttermilk, which traditionally is the byproduct of the butter making process. When cream is whipped into oblivion, the fat solids condense together (butter) and separate from the liquids (buttermilk).
However, most of the time in baking, buttermilk refers to the store-bought version which isn’t really traditional buttermilk at all but low fat milk with added bacteria and cultures that give it a sourness and acidity. This acidity is important for the leavening process you’ll read about below.
But don’t worry if you don’t have or can’t find buttermilk, I outline an easy buttermilk substitute in my tips later in this post.
Like other quick breads, scones get their rise from the help of baking soda and/or baking powder. But what’s the difference between the two?
Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a powder that, when combined with an acid and a liquid, produces bubbles of carbon dioxide. When used in a dough, the carbon dioxide bubbles are what cause the dough to rise. The reaction begins as soon as the baking soda makes contact with the acid and liquid, so you want to bake immediately or your baked goods will fall flat! This recipe gets its acidity and liquid in one go from the buttermilk and an extra little oomph from the lemon zest.
Baking Powder is baking soda, but with the acid built in, usually in the form of cream of tartar. This means that all it needs is a liquid in order to activate and make carbon dioxide. Again, you want to bake immediately to preserve the rise of this chemical reaction.
You’ll find that many recipes, including this one, calls for both baking powder and baking soda, just know that baking soda needs an added acidic ingredient in order to activate.
My Top Tips For Making Buttermilk Scones
 Keep your butter cold
As I mentioned earlier on in the post, scones rely on cold butter to release steam in the oven to create their buttery flaky layers, just like pie dough. Using room temperature butter, or butter that is partially melted because of being handled won’t work well at all.
To keep your butter cold, before I do anything else that is called for in a recipe, I cut up the butter into 1/4 inch cubes and then place it back in the fridge or freezer until I’m ready to incorporate it into the recipe. This ensures that any meltage due to handling the butter is curbed.
 use a buttermilk substitute
Don't have buttermilk? No problem! All you need is milk and vinegar or lemon juice. Add about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to let the ingredients mingle. What you’re doing here is basically souring milk, so it will get chunky. Though the appearance is off-putting, that is what you want!
Get creative with your fruit / fillings
This recipe originally calls for Zante currants, but I find more joy in using ingredients that I have on hand rather than going out to get something I don’t, so I used craisins instead. Classy, amiright? But you can use other dried or fresh fruit.
The recipe outlines a helpful tip if you want to use fresh berries: freeze 5 oz of fresh berries (hulled chopped strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries) and add them to the dough after you add the buttermilk. This helps keep them intact so they don’t seep their juice into the dough.
Better yet, utilize some berries you have stored in your freezer for smoothie making. Just let them warm at room temp just enough for any extra ice to melt and pat them dry before adding them to your recipe.
 Adust the Sweetness TO Your liking
This recipe originally called for 1/2c of sugar, but I found the scones a little bit too sweet for my taste so I decreased the sugar down to 1/3c. If you’re into sweeter scones, feel free to up that amount to the full 1/2 cup.
Scones are a great recipe for the beginner baker because they are forgiving and versatile. They also are a great intro to biscuits and pie dough, because they rely on similar methods of using butter to create flaky, buttery layers. And whenever I’m hosting, or catering, a brunch I love having these as a sweet, or savory option for something to munch on.