Friday, January 27, 2012

January Daring Bakers' Challenge - Scones (Biscuits)

As much as I love being challenged each month to make something new and exotic, this month's challenge was just as daring, but for a total different reason. Rather than being something new and fancy, this month's challenge had us going back to basics.

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers' host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

Now, there was a bit of discussion about terminology, as the words "scones" and "biscuits" have slightly different meanings depending on your geography. See, Audax is in Australia, and so when he challenged us to make scones, he clarified for us North Americans that we were actually to make what we refer to as biscuits, rather than what we think of as scones. But then he clarified for any British/European Daring Bakers that he wasn't referring to cookies, rather to the baking powder raised flaky bread-type goods, usually served with a meal. So funny how the same words have slightly different meanings based on geography...

So Audax provided us with a basic recipe for biscuits, as well as a ton of information regarding ingredients and methodology, and recommended that we practice on as many batches as we could in order to learn how we could each get the best results as possibly in our own kitchens.

So I got started darn near right away.

The basics of the recipe are easy.

Whisk (well, sift, but I whisk) together flour, baking powder and salt.

Add in cold butter, cut into small pieces.

Cut or rub the butter into the dry ingredients.

Add in a liquid, milk or buttermilk, usually, to create a dough.

Cut the dough into shape.

(I just cut with a knife, as I don't have a biscuit cutter, and it also meant less handling of the dough on my part...)

Then bake!

They should rise in the oven and be light and flaky.

See? A little flaky... not perfect, but not bad for a first batch, right?

For this batch, I actually added a little bit of sugar with the dry ingredients, as I'd planned them to be our dessert, rather than to go with dinner.

Biscuits are wonderful for blueberry (or any fruit...) shortcakes!

Woo hoo! Challenge off to a great start!

But that's all it was - a start.

Because I had many more ideas.

When I'd first read the challenge, my first thought was that this would be the perfect opportunity to try a breakfast that I'd heard about many times, but had never myself tasted - biscuits with sausage gravy. While looking for a recipe for the sausage gravy, I came across a variation on the biscuit recipe, as well, so figured I might as well try that out. You know, for comparison purposes.

The ingredients were the same, thought the quantities were a bit different, and the resulting dough was, by design, much wetter.

And rather than cutting the biscuits, they are basically rolled, then placed into a springform pan.

They baked up beautifully, but were very different from the challenge recipe.

And they were delicious with the biscuit gravy.

My next attempt was a spur of the moment decision. We were having soup for dinner one night, and about an hour before dinner, I realized that I didn't have bread or rolls to go with the soup. It wasn't enough time to make dinner rolls (even my quick recipe for those requires an hour and a half), so I decided to give the challenge biscuits another try.

I followed the recipe word for word, and was very careful about how I handled the dough.

And I think the results spoke for themselves.

I was amazed when I opened the oven and saw theses toppling biscuit towers. And talk about flaky. Now that is a biscuit! (and it went great with our soup, too!) (In case you are curious, the biscuits rose so high on the cut side of the dough - the side that didn't rise as high was the un-cut side from the way I'd shaped the dough before cutting them into shape.)

But did I stop there? Not at all! The next week, with my next soup, I actually planned on biscuits! But not the plain biscuits, this time I wanted to to spice them up, and try garlic cheddar biscuits.

All that this required was two additions.

Garlic powder whisked into the dry ingredients.

And grated cheddar cheese mixed in after the milk.

And this time, I used a drinking glass as a biscuit cutter, as I wanted to see how the biscuits would rise if they had a cut edge on all sides.

That worked really well.

A much more even rise, and deliciously flaky biscuits.

I may just have to invest in a biscuit cutter.

And, just for good measure, I decided to try one last batch. Chocolate. I can't believe I didn't think of it myself, but the credit for that goes to one of my fellow Daring Bakers (thank you, Korena!!). It was as simple as replacing a quarter of the flour with cocoa powder. And adding a bit of sugar.

Somehow, my batter wound up a bit too wet and sticky.

(see those chunks of butter? yum.)

So the biscuits didn't rise as much, but it certainly made for a fun dessert!

Audax, thanks so much for this challenge - I have really enjoyed practicing, and am feeling so much more confident in my biscuit skills as a result!

To check out all of the delicious, flaky goodness baked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.

Basic Biscuits
(from the challenge)

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces or grated
approximately 1/2 cup cold milk (have a bit more ready, just in case)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. It is a good idea to put your baking pan in the oven at this point, too, to allow it to preheat as well.
Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Rub the cold butter pieces into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs, with no pieces bigger than small peas.
Add most of the liquid and mix well until it forms a sticky dough. (Using a dinner/butter knife works really well for the mixing here. Don't ask why, it just does.)
At this point, you can rest the dough in the fridge. I had the best luck resting the dough for about half an hour before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently, without pressing too hard, just a few times until the dough is smooth. Rather than regular kneading, I had luck with more of a "folding" movement on the dough.
Pat the dough into a rectangle roughly 4 inches by 6 inches and approximately 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut the biscuits, either using a knife (cutting into squares) or a biscuit cutter (or drinking glass), carefully gathering together and pressing out the dough scraps to cut as many biscuits as the dough can make.
Place the cut biscuits on the (preheated) baking pan (carefully! it's hot!) and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the biscuits have risen and are lightly colored on the tops. The biscuits are ready when the sides are set.
Transfer the biscuits to a cooling rack.
These are best served warm.

There are countless variations to this recipe, from using buttermilk or cream in place of the milk to using shortening or lard to replace some or all of the butter. You can add sugar and/or spices to alter the flavor or mix in herbs, fruits or cheese to make different kinds of biscuits.

Try as many variations as you can and have fun with it!!


  1. Wonderful scones , looks like you enjoyed this challenge as much as I did, great photos as always :)

  2. What a pleasure to read your post, Shelley! I have to confess I'm envious of the height of your biscuits, they look fantastic!! What a great job on the challenge!

  3. Well done on making such a variety! The chocolate one looks especially inviting (don't know why I didn't think of it either):)

  4. I should love to try the blueberry shortcake and the chocolate scones - both look amazing.

  5. Wow, so many variations! Chocolate scones is not something I have heard of but why not! I must try them! Also I have never made fruit shortcakes out of my scones. I love the input from so many different people in Daring Bakers that makes us think outside the square! Thanks!

  6. You seriously did an awesome job on this month's challenge!! So many great biscuits, and they all look fantastic! You do need to invest in a biscuit cutter now! :)

  7. Wow - you got an impressive rise on your scones! The blueberry shortcake photo looks delicious too.

  8. OMG, biscuits and sausage gravy... I MUST make that! I'm glad you made the chocolate scones (thanks for the link!) - my first batch was a bit on the wet side too. I love all your variations, especially the blueberry shortcake. YUM!

  9. Mmm... biscuits & gravy (a fave of mine!)... blueberry shortcake... chocolate... all sound & look fantastic!

  10. brilliant job on this challenge Shelly..I love all the variations you did. This was indeed a fun challenge abd a recipe I will be making again and again

  11. So many awesome varieties! They all sound delicious - and the scones themselves look perfect.

  12. What great variations on the basic biscuit! Great job!

  13. Wow Shelly, so many different versions, I am so impressed. And so happy that you managed to crack a great rise. I love the picture of the scone with bluberries and cream - mouthwatering.

  14. Wonderful crust and what an array of scones! Lovely.
    Lite Bite

  15. You really went to town on this one. I really like the blueberry shortcake version!

  16. Quite the variety! Nice job on the challenge!

  17. Love your scones, so many flavours in this post! I like the garlic powder + cheese idea, I must put it on my waiting list!

  18. Only now I am looking at the chocolate scones and wondering why I never thought of it :). Yours look really great!


  19. Oh, my gosh, you went to town with this challenge! Such fabulous ideas...and they keep getting taller and taller!!! You are now a biscuit master!!!!

  20. OMG, shelley, not only did you go all out, but every single one ofr your biscuit preps is phenomenal! I'm feeling savory right now, so I'd love the biscuits with sausage gravy and the cheese biscuits. Great rise on them too! Amazing job on the challenge as always!

  21. You did a lot of baking! These all look wonderful. Have never thought of a chocolate biscuit.

  22. Your scones look great! I must make the chocolate ones...and the savory etc.etc.

  23. Love all of them but specially the ones with gravy. Yummy!

  24. Wow - so many variations! The photo of the biscuit with sausage gravy made me instantly drool.... With so many batches and varieties of biscuits you're on your way to being a master!

  25. You did a very good job in the challenge, and a very fabulous varieties, thank you so much shelly...

  26. Biscuits and gravy are sooo good! You really took things toward the Southern US by going that route. I enjoyed seeing your progression through each biscuit type. Great work!

  27. So many scones/biscuits! I'd heard of biscuits and gravy before, but I wasn't really that sure about it - it looks delicious though, real comfort food. Yum!

    I love your many stages of biscuits, especially those towering beauties!

  28. Love the cheese scones!!! Great job!

  29. I did a biscuit post also...if you want to try again here is my recipe!


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