There's nothing better than a good English tea-time with tea sandwiches, scones and a good strong brew of tea! Growing up in South Africa and going to a British boarding school, scones were a regular breakfast item. Needless to say, I loved them when they were warm and fluffy. I would slice them in half, smother them with extra butter and add heaping mounds of fruit preserves on them. Delicious!
In South Africa, I took some "domestic science" classes as a student at St. Andrews School. I distinctly remember some of the recipes that I learned. Scones and cheese twists were a few of them. We made these scones by hand with no kitchen equipment. There were a few tricks that I learned then that I still apply to my scone making today.
I used to make traditional, decadent, English scones fairly regularly with butter and heavy cream. On a recent Hawaii trip, I decided to make scones with the limited ingredients and utensils that I had on hand. This included sourdough (that I brought with me from California) and kefir. To my surprise, these sourdough kefir scones were an instant hit with my family. They liked it better than the traditional scones that tended to be super rich and somewhat heavy in the stomach.
These days, I opt for the "healthier" version made with sourdough and kefir. These sourdough kefir scones have the same soft texture as regular scones but are more moist and not as sweet. The kefir adds to the creaminess of the dough without the extra calories and fat!
Tips for making sourdough kefir scones.
Incorporating the butter.
The key to most butter dough recipes is to not overwork the dough. This results in a tough texture. If you have a food processor, "pulse" the butter just until the dough is incorporated. If making it by hand (see video), rub the pieces of butter between your finger tips and thumbs in one direction until the flour and liquid is just incorporated. DO NOT OVERWORK the dough.
Incorporating the liquid.
Some batters require you to add a little bit of a mixture and fold. Scones are different. I usually create a well in the center of the flour and pour the liquid in all at once. I then start incorporating the flour into the mixture by hand until it barely comes together and then turn it out onto my working surface to bring the dough together to form a disc. You DO NOT want to knead it as this toughens the dough.
Cutting the scones.
You can either use a biscuit cutter to cut the scones into rounds or use a knife and cut your disc into wedges or squares. Dip your scone / biscuit cutter in flour before cutting to allow the scones to easily slip out of the cutter. If you do not have a scone / biscuit cutter, use a soup can or tuna fish (water chestnut) can. Remove the tops and bottoms to make your own home-made cutters. I also use these as molds for plating!
Achieving tall scones.
Over the years, I've learned a few tricks to help achieving tall scones.
- Use active starter
- Use baking powder that has not expired
- The scone dough should be 1.5" (3.8cm) high
- Make clean, sharp cuts that don't push the edges down by using a floured knife or floured cutter.
- When the baking powder starts to activate with the rest of the ingredients, work quickly to get the scones cut and into the oven.
It is important to keep the butter cold. Do not use softened or melted butter as this tends to make the dough tough. Also, cut your hard butter into 1/2" (1.25cm) cubes instead of 1" cubes which are oftentimes suggested to make it easier to incorporate quickly, the smaller the pieces of butter, the faster it is to incorporate!
Granulated sugar is used for the scones. Before baking, sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar like turbinado sugar.
I make these scones with kefir rather than buttermilk or cream. This makes these scones less rich and more healthy, which I prefer. You do not taste the sourness of the kefir, but it gives the scones a nice balance with the rich butter and sugar. The kefir is also be used as an egg wash substitute at the end so don't rinse the container until after you've applied the wash onto the scones.
Baking powder gives the scones the extra rise in the oven. It is important that your baking powder is still "active". I once used expired baking powder to make scones for a "High Tea" baby shower that I was hosting. Needless to say, the scones were more like shortbread than scones. Thankfully, you cannot go wrong with butter and cream in your ingredient list so we called them shortbreads!
Sourdough kefir scones accompaniments.
One doesn't really need extra butter, but for some reason, people want to add more butter. I always have a variety of preserves. Try using scones with a curd that is slightly tangy. Since Hawaii, I have been obsessed with lilikoi butter which is a passion fruit butter. The traditional way to eat scones for high tea is with clotted cream. I usually opt for regular whipping cream. Either way, you cannot go wrong. Enjoy these less guilty scones and let me know what you think in the comment section!
SOURDOUGH KEFIR SCONES
- 315 g all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 50 g granulated sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 84 g unsalted butter cut into ½" cubes
- 120 g kefir
- 120 g sourdough starter
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp coarse sugar turbinado sugar works well
- Preheat oven to 375° F (191°C).
- Sift or mix together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
- Toss butter chunks into flour mixture.
- Using fingertips and thumbs of both hands, rub the mixture in one direction until butter is incorporated. Flour mixture should be the size of peas. DO NOT OVERWORK.
- In another bowl, whisk together kefir, sourdough starter and egg.
- Add entire liquid mixture to dry ingredients.
- Mix with hands until barely incorporated. DO NOT OVERMIX.
- Turn onto working surface and knead to form a 1.5" (3.8cm) high disk.
- Using a biscuit cutter, cut into 9 2.5" rounds or squares.
- Apply a wash with the leftover kefir and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
- Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes.
- Remove from oven. Serve warm with butter, fruit preserves and clotted cream. Enjoy!