Bake

This Tip is Supposed to Make Your Scones Rise Higher

May 25, 2016

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.

Photo by James Ransom

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.

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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.

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!

32 Comments

judy September 23, 2017
When I make scones, I cut the recipe in half and make two round balls. Place them side by side on a cookie sheet. Slice through each ball 4 times across so I have 8 pieces. I just wiggle them apart slightly with each slice. Then I just leave them in the ball form. don't move them. Bake as directed. Allow to cool slightly then remove. They rise very well and are not so dry and crumbly. Got this from an aunt who was a great baker. I was 8 years old the last time I saw her before she died. I'm 62 and have used this technique with every batch of scones and Irish soda bread I have made since. Always wonderful!
 
Archie1954 October 11, 2016
What about aerating the flour by picking it up in your fingers from the preparation surface and allowing it to drift back through your fingers. Doing this several times might result in a lighter, fluffier scone.
 
Alice May 31, 2016
This works with traditional British scones, i.e., cut in the round. They do indeed rise better and higher. The other tip I was given when you cut them with a round pastry cutter, is not to twist it into the dough. This skews them so they may rise unevenly. Press the cutter into the dough firmly and take it out without twisting. Perfectly, evenly risen scones. Final tip - strong white bread flour. I got this tip from cookery writer Rose Prince and it works a treat.
 
Sam H. May 29, 2016
Key word is "touching" - not just close. Just like tucking biscuits onto the pan, side-by-each, vs. spaced to allow sideways spread. The rhubarb scones look delicious, but if I used some of my gargantuan stalks of rhubarb, I fear they would quickly become a very sour pudding!
 
Laura415 June 11, 2016
Exactly! If you make wedge shapes I simply bake them in a cast iron skillet. Roll out scones dough in a circle to fit in your skillet. Cut into wedges. Fit into the skillet touching like biscuits. They won't brown on the sides much tho. Guess there are pluses and minuses to each method.
 
Connie B. May 29, 2016
I plan on making scones today and will use the idea Suse offered in all these comments - Seems to me to be the best solution to the entire dilemma!
 
Suse May 29, 2016
I hope it works for you, Connie!
 
Wendy D. May 26, 2016
As a baking expert myself, I saw no points made. 1. You didn't show an example of scones baked close together in any of the photos. Both trays are identically baked, separated with air between each scone. 2. If you split a batch of scones and put a couple more pieces of fruit in some scones then others, the ones with more fruit will slump more than the ones with less fruit. For this to be accurately tested they shouldn't have a fruit filling.
 
Elizabeth October 19, 2016
How are you a baking "expert"?
 
Wendy D. October 20, 2016
Professional pastry chef of 25* years. <br />Second generation pastry chef.<br />Retired owner of a retail bakery and a wholesale bakery. <br />Blogger teaching professional baking at www.FearlessBakers.com http://www.fearlessbakers.com/ <br />Former Host @ https://forums.egullet.org/forum/72-pastry-amp-baking/ <br />etc...<br /><br />
 
Mike H. May 26, 2016
hi
 
EmilyC May 25, 2016
I often bake my scones in a round that I've scored into wedges before they go into the oven, per Joanne Chang's currant scone recipe. They rise nice and high -- though I've never baked them side-by-side with ones spaced an inch apart to compare! http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-flour-bakerys-classic-c-132297
 
Mike H. May 26, 2016
hie
 
John T. May 25, 2016
As a scientist, I'd like to see some quantitative data and replication :-)
 
Suse May 25, 2016
I often leave the scone dough in one big circle, and put it in a heavy skillet. I then sprinkle with sugar and cut wedges almost all the way through to the bottom. After baking, I separate the wedges and put them on a heavy baking sheet, then back into the oven for about 10 more minutes. They rise a bit more and have nice crispy edges. I started doing this after making a skillet recipe for pumpkin scones . They didn't cook all the way through and were pretty doughy, even though a toothpick came out clean. I thought the baking sheet trick might work and it did. I bake all of my scone recipes this way now.
 
Laura415 June 11, 2016
Good idea for getting the sides browned. Thx.
 
cv May 25, 2016
It makes some difference for certain things, but the pieces need to be pretty close together. If you do an Internet search for "hawaiian bun" or "homemade hot dog bun" you'll see examples.<br /><br />Biscuits are another example where this works to some degree.<br /><br />In a sense, having a close neighbor is like putting the dough in a cupcake cup or muffin tin. If you can expand outward, the only place to go is up. This is the same basic principle with a souffle. If you pour the souffle batter (a custard really) into a flat dish, it's not going to rise, it'll just spread to the edges as far as I can go.<br /><br />Heck, it's the same basic principle about basic bread in a loaf pan versus laying it out on a sheet pan. Pizza is flat partly because it is rolled thin, but also because it doesn't (usually) go in a pan. It's ultimately just bread dough. If you want a thicker, fluffier pizza, you don't roll it so thin and you put it in a pan like Chicago deep dish pizza.<br /><br />I use the same principle when I brine pork loin roasts in ziplock bags. Rather than leave the ziplock bag on a refrigerator shelf, I put the bagged, brining roast in a container a little larger than the roast. Since the bag can't expand flat, the liquid is forced up over the roast. This ensures the meat is completely submerged underneath the brine.<br /><br />Anyhow, good luck with this.
 
Thalia May 25, 2016
love this series! i've always been curious to know whether cake flour vs. normal flour adds a big difference to the outcome of cakes Xx
 
Pamela S. May 25, 2016
I find that cake flour can really make a difference, particularly in Biscuits!
 
Pumpkiness May 25, 2016
Agreed. I use Julia Child's recipe for biscuits and it calls for cake flour.
 
Susan W. May 25, 2016
What about bakers who use a scone pan . . . either metal or silicone or ceramic . . . in which the scones are baked in walled, triangular wells? Would those scones rise higher than free form scones or does it matter more how fresh the baking powder and/or baking soda is? <br /><br />I do not see this as a matter of one cause. There are many reasons why any batch of baked goods rises faster than other batches based on the same recipe or rises without falling.
 
Sipa May 25, 2016
I always cut my scones before and then place them just barely touching on a sheet pan. They rise very nicely and easily pull apart along the cut edges. The only issue is the very middle scones don't bake as fast as the scones on the edges.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 25, 2016
A-ha! An interesting problem! I'm curious as to whether the different ways to bake scones in terms of pan placement have to do with different traditions (whether British scones were traditionally made in one way, for example).
 
Sugartoast May 25, 2016
I learned a great tip from Ovenly's "Rosemary Currant Scone" recipe (posted here on F52) where you fold the dough over itself a few times - almost like laminating pastry - to get really tall scones. Love this recipe and love the technique!
 
Kristin May 25, 2016
Hi Sarah! I would be curious to see you test this one again, actually. I've always interpreted this tip to mean that scones should be placed literally touching each other before baking, and so the sides line up and so you have to cut or pull them apart. Or with round scones, placed in a grid pattern. I think the idea is that each scone will lend structural integrity to its neighbors as it rises, pushing all of them higher. Like pull-apart dinner rolls, you know? (Actually, I wonder if dinner rolls are the origin of this idea.) The way you did them, they're not really lined up and just touching each other barely at some corners. That's not going to lend the kind of support that I think these tips are meant to get at.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 25, 2016
Hi Kristin, <br />Thanks for reading! Yes, you're totally right: I should test it again with the scones truly touching! If they spread into each other a bit, do you recommend separating them with a knife? I guess it just seems counterintuitive to me to cut individual scones, then bake them so they all flow together again. And then these scones would, presumably, be fluffier than individuals? Then why not make a bannock? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bannock_(food)
 
Ron M. May 25, 2016
I don't know about scones, but when I make shortbread cookies, the cookies tend to melt a little. If I separate the cookies, they lose their shape (still taste great, but don't look as good). I cut my cookies into rectangles, and place them literally touching each other almost like one giant cookie. After cooking, they almost become one single cookie, but they are easy to cut apart as long as you do it while they are still warm.<br /><br />Of course, with scones, the trade-off is that the scones won't have nice crispy sides. Personally, I'm not sure its worth it, even if they do fluff up a little nicer.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 25, 2016
Interesting about the shortbread! Have you ever tried scoring the dough, then separating the cookie block with a knife after baking (rather than cutting fully, placing, then cutting again)?
 
Ron M. May 25, 2016
I've never tried that, but it is an interesting idea. My worry would be that the cookies might crack. While the cookies seem to merge into a single cookie, the cut that I originally made still seems to be there making the cookies easy to cut apart. Or maybe it would work if I used a sharp knife. (usually I just use a butter knife).
 
Kristin May 25, 2016
Hi again! Actually, I agree about the counterintuitiveness and I like crunchy sides, so I haven't tried the exact trick described in your quotes. However--there was a similar method recommended in the original version of Chocolate & Zucchini's Yogurt Scones (she has updated the recipe and changed the method now). She had you put all the dough in a cake/pie pan and then "score" scones before baking, but you didn't take them out of the pan, just baked them in there nestled together. You had to cut them apart again with a knife after baking. I spotted similar but not-quite-the-same methods on KAF: http://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2015/06/12/easy-way-shape-scones/ . I used to make those yogurt scones all the time and I do remember them rising very high. <br /><br />Neither of those cake pan methods are exactly what the tips you quoted are describing, because they're only cut after baking, but I think the premise is somewhat similar.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 25, 2016
Oh, so cool!! Yes, what KAF describes is more of a bannock and it makes really moist scones without the crusty edges! Guess it just depends on what you're looking for in a scone. I do want to try making more of a scone "loaf" though—sounds equally good.
 
witloof May 25, 2016
I learned a wonderful trick from a friend whose grandfather owned a bakery. She made shortbread and cut it into tiny little squares before baking. The shortbread's surfaces caramelized and was extra delicious that way.