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August 2005

Scones vs. Biscuits

Q: What is the difference between Scones and Biscuits?

-- Jolene

Opinions vary on this question.  Most sources avoid the question completely, referring to both as kinds of Quick Bread.

In the book Baking With Julia, based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan says that "[Scones] are made in a manner similar to biscuits and, in fact, share biscuits' buttery-layered texture, but their name, their shape, and the fact that they're served with tea rather than gravy, lift them to the level of fancier fare."

A closer look, however, suggests that the difference is not quite so superficial.  Scones tend to be richer, frequently including both eggs and cream in the recipe, though not always.  Some biscuit recipes will enrich the dough with eggs, but use milk or buttermilk instead of cream.  Scones also use a bit more liquid than regular biscuits, which should make them a bit more cake-like in their consistency. While biscuit recipes may or may not call for sugar, scones typically use sugar, but not as much as sweetened biscuits.

Scones originated in Scotland and were made with oats.  The dough would be pressed into a round and then cut into wedges, and cooked on a griddle.  While scones may contain dried raisins or currants, they are traditionally not made with other ingredients that have become de rigueur in many pastry and coffee shops.

Opinion also varies on the pronunciation, either as "sk-on" (rhymes with 'gone') or "sk-own" (rhymes with 'bone').  Either is acceptable.  Scots almost always use the first pronunciation, while in Great Britain, generally, "sk-on" is preferred 2 to 1 over "sk-own".  Some references suggest that the latter pronunciation is more "upper class", although no clear citation is given for this claim.

One final note - according to Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, scones may benefit from being frozen prior to cooking.  They can be frozen individually and baked, as needed, straight from the freezer.


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Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
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Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Baker's Percentage

Q: In A Trio of Bread Books, you mention "Baker's Percentage".  What is it and how does it work?

-- Pat R.

Baker's Percentage is a notation method for bread recipes.  Using Baker's Percentage, the amount of each ingredient is given as a weight, stated as a percentage of the total weight of flour used.  For example, a simple white bread recipe* might read something like:

Ingredient Percent
All-purpose flour 100.00
Powdered Milk 0.66
Butter 5.23
Sugar 2.61
Salt 1.96
Yeast 0.72
Water (approx.) 62.75

In this example, the weight of sugar used would be 2.61% of the weight of  flour.

There are a few advantages to using Baker's Percentage.  First, it is uniform.  All of the ingredients are weighed, which reduces variations from factors such as settling of ingredients (see Sifting Flour).  Second, the recipe is easily scalable, especially when you are working at bakery size lots.  Using 50 pounds of flour?  Then you need 50 X 5.23% = 2.615 pounds of butter.  Easy!

Also, the recipe allows you to predict something about the nature of the bread.  Standard breads, such as the one above use about 57% to 65% water to flour ratio.  A more open bread, like Italian Ciabatta, has a higher water content -- 65% to 80%.

Finally, the formula allows you to go backwards from a target batch.  If you want to make 200 - 2 pound loaves of bread, start by totaling all of the percentages above.  It comes out to 173.93.  The batch would weight 400 pounds, so it would take 400 / 176.72 X 100 = 229.98 pounds of flour, 1.52 pounds of powdered milk, and so on.  In practice, the numbers would be rounded up or down to something more convenient, maybe 230 pounds of flour and 1½ pounds of powdered milk.

In home bread making, however, there are a few shortcomings.  Most people aren't used to measuring ingredients by weight, and may not have a kitchen scale to do it with.  Even if they do, their scale is probably not sensitive enough to weigh some of the ingredients, like the yeast.  For a singe loaf, the above recipe would use something like 18 ounces of flour, which is the equivalent of about 4 cups.  The amount of yeast, then, would be 18 X 0.72% = 0.13 ounces of yeast.  My own kitchen scale, which is pretty much standard, is only accurate to within 0.1 ounces, so I couldn't  measure 0.13 ounces with any reliability at all.

Some books on bread making try to avoid these problems by giving measures in volumes, weights and Baker's Percentages, or some combination.  I personally prefer to use the percentages, and then convert back the smaller measured ingredients, like the yeast, into teaspoons and tablespoons, or parts of.  If you want to do that, here are a few useful conversions:

Ingredient Weight Volume
All-purpose flour 4.5 oz 1 cup
Powdered Milk 1.0 oz 3 tbsp
Butter 1.0 oz 2 tbsp
Sugar 1.0 oz 2 tbsp
Salt (table) 1.0 oz 4 tsp
Yeast (Active) 0.1 oz 1 tsp
Yeast (Instant) 0.11 oz 1 tsp
Water 8.0 oz 1 cup

The amount of yeast in the above recipe, then would be 1 1/4 teaspoons.

(* The example is actually is the Basic White Bread recipe from my bread maker, stated as Baker's Percentages)

This article was originally posted in August of 2005.  A number of values have been changed since that version. My thanks to Mark Williams who sent me an email pointing out that the math in the original version was wrong.
If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Black vs. Green Tea

Q: What is the difference between black and green tea?

-- Josie

Tea, whether green or black, is made from leaves of the plant Camellia Sinensis.  Beverages made by infusing the leaves or parts of other plants, such as rose hips, chamomile or mint, are technically tisanes.

In making black teas, the leaves of the tea plant are left to wilt, for a period of minutes to hours.  Withering is usually done on racks or screens.  Next, the leaves are pressed to break down the cell structure, allowing the release of natural enzymes.  These enzymes darken the tea leaves, much as enzymes turn the flesh of a freshly sliced apple brown, and at the same time cause changes in flavor, color and body.  When the enzyme action has reached the desired point, the leaves are heated to inactivate the enzymes, by allowing heated air to pass through or around the leaves.

In green tea, the enzymes are not allowed to react with the leaves.  They are inactivated early by pan-firing the tea, or air drying it.  In Japan, the leaves are steamed after picking, which destroys the enzyme, while retaining the fresh, grassy flavor of the fresh leaves.

In both cases, the final step is to dry the tea completely to prevent spoilage.

Oolong tea is a mid-way process, where the enzyme actions are limited.  The process is slightly different from that described above.

My favorite, of all teas, is Lapsang Souchong, which is a black tea that is dried over a smoky pine fire adding a distinctive aroma.  My wife, however, refers to it as "smelly moccasin tea"  because of it smoky smell!


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward