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After a less-than-stellar experiment with a viral tip for softening butter, I started wondering about other pieces of advice—shared frequently, sometimes just copied and pasted from website to website—that do not work (or, to give the benefit of the doubt, that don't work quite as written).
And so, a tip for baking scones that I'd come across many times on various baking sites. Here it is, as one of "5 Tips for Baking Perfect Scones" on Oven Haven:
Tip #5: Arrange your cut-out scones close to one another
Much like cinnamon rolls, arranging your scones side by side, just touching one another, helps in making the scones rise evenly, and higher. Since the heat causes the scones to rise, if they are placed side by side, the scones will be forced to rise upwards, not outwards. Thus, scones arranged closer would rise higher than those baked apart.
And again, on the site Gourmet Getaways' "Secrets for Making PERFECT Scones":
Scones like to cosy up to one another in the baking tray. This helps them to rise evenly in the cooking process. When placing the scones in the baking tray they need to be touching.
The same tip is repeated on the blog Happy Home Baking, with similar language:
Arrange scones side by side on the baking tray, so that they are just touching each other. This will help keep the sides straight and even as the scones cook. They will also rise higher than scones that are baked spaced apart.
Without visual proof that the tip actually works—and with advice elsewhere indicating the contrary (in Alice Medrich's book Flavor Flours, she instructs many biscuits and scones to be spaced 2 inches apart on the baking sheet; in our own Baking book, mrslarkin's Featherweight Blueberry Scones are to be staggered 1 inch apart)—I was skeptical: The tip seems like it might make sense (the baking scones give off heat, and when they're all close together, steam from the neighboring scones helps everyone to rise higher)... but it also seems like it might not make sense: The scones don't have as much breathing room, making it harder for the heat of the oven to circulate in between the channels and cause the sides of the scones to heat up.
I decided to do a very simple test by doubling the recipe for Midge's Naughty Rhubarb Scones. On one baking sheet, I snuggled up the scones (though not so extreme as belly-to-belly)—still, this was so close, it made me (and maybe the scones) a little uncomfortable. On the other sheet, I let them have some personal space.
- 3 stalks rhubarb
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup vanilla sugar
- 2/3--3/4 cups heavy cream
And when the two trays came out of the oven, there was no discernible difference in height or fluff. Both trays were light and lofty; the scones that baked with more room were a bit browner (even though I rotated the trays); and some of those on the crowded sheet pan spread into one another (but not in a problematic way).
The conclusion? Maybe the tip works in some cases, but not always—and it didn't make a difference here. I'd love to know exactly when this tip would make a difference (or, if it never has a significant effect, how this rumor got started).
Tell me: What other tips have you seen over and over but that make you skeptical? Are there any on this site that you'd like to see tested?
Write it in the comments and we'll put on our science goggles and get to work!