In a recent article on making blueberry scones I picked up a really handy trick for making them flakier. One principle I follow is that grains should be sprouted or fermented before eating. When I make scones or biscuits this means I soak the flour in buttermilk overnight. In the past I always cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender and then mixed in the buttermilk and let it stand at room temperature overnight. In the morning when I knead in the baking soda. baking powder, and salt, the butter has softened to the point where it simply blends quickly into the dough rather than staying in distinct clumps as I want it to.
The trick I learned from Cooks Illustrated is to freeze the butter and then use a box grater to grate the butter into the flour. My modification is to roll out the flour/buttermilk mixture onto a floured surface, sprinkle the surface with the baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and then grate the butter over it evenly. Then I roll it up like a cinnamon roll, fold it over and gently knead about 5-6 times before rolling out and cutting.
This seems to work pretty well for scones and they definitely are flakier. Biscuits seem to come out tougher. I think this is because I put sucanat in the scones and the sugar inhibits the formation of gluten. In the biscuits, even though I am using a soft wheat, gluten forms more readily and makes the biscuits slightly tough. Normally the butter helps to inhibit the gluten formation overnight. It helps a little to let the biscuits or scones rest for several minutes before baking.
UPDATE (9/17/2007): An even easier way to get flakier scones or biscuits is to put the dough in the freezer for 20-30 minutes before you’re ready to do the final mixing. This keeps the butter or lard from blending into the dough during the final mix. Now I mix the fat in with a pastry blender the night before as usual and then during my 20 minute Taiqi session I freeze the dough. After Taiqi I roll out the dough, sprinkle on the leavening and salt, roll it up and gently knead 6-9 times, roll out, and cut into biscuits or scones. Let rest 10 minutes and bake.
A 24 hour soak makes for a more melt-in-your mouth biscuit than a 12 hour soak. I generally do a 12 hour soak because I only have a chance to make up the dough in the evening. When making biscuits for the evening meal they get a 24 hour soak and man are they good.