This master gluten free scones recipe mix makes quick work of the lightest, most airy pastries. Add your favorite mix-ins!
What are scones?
Scones are not biscuits. They’re a light and airy pastry, but they’re not technically flaky.
A word about American English
Before I continue, a few words about my use of language. I’m an American, born and raised. It’s not necessarily better or worse than any other nationality (really), but it is likely different. If you’re from somewhere else in the world and you refer to what I call “scones” as something else entirely, then we’re not really speaking the same language.
You are of course free to use whatever words you like to describe anything you like. But since I’m the recipe developer around here, I’ll be using American English, not British English as my guide.
Similarly, when I’m speaking about what Americans call “cookies,” you may see or expect “biscuits.” Just as it would be inappropriate to begin leaving a comment on every single one of my cookie recipes saying that they’re, in fact, biscuits, it’s not helpful or appropriate to angrily “correct” the words I use to name this recipe.
I’ve let nearly all of the comments go through, and I’ve responded to them directly and politely—even when they’ve been impolite. Let’s move on to the recipe that I’ve shared here. If it’s not for you, I won’t be offended! But I will expect respect, and show it to others. Being respectful doesn’t mean tolerating disrespect, though.
Back to (American) Scones
Flaky layers in pastries in general, gluten free an conventional, are achieved through rolling and folding, rolling and folding, a process called lamination. It’s the basis of gluten free puff pastry, the most laminated of pastries.
The flakiness comes from cold cold pieces of butter, surrounded by and layered among dough, that expand when they meet the high heat of the oven. The dough holds the shape and the space created by that expansion.
Scones, on the other hand, are not rolled and folded. They’re simply rolled and cut, chilled and baked. The pastry that results is almost crumbly, not because it’s dry but because it’s light.
Tips for making light pastry
Cold dough, hot oven
All pastry is made using cold ingredients, for the reasons described above explaining what scones are. Since grating cold butter tends to warm it up, it’s best to grate the butter onto a piece of plastic wrap or parchment or waxed paper, then have it sit int he refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before adding it to the mix.
You don’t have to use actual ice water, although it’s the coldest type of water (colder than ice alone). You can just use water from a filtered pitcher you keep in your refrigerator, or tap water that you measure and chill completely before baking with it.
Be sure to handle the dough with as light a touch as possible to minimize the amount of contact the dough has with the warmth of your hands. Once the scones have been shaped, place them in the refrigerator or freezer to chill until truly firm.
Then, when you place the cold dough in a hot oven, the baking soda will be activated, but that’s not all. The chunks of cold fat in the form of butter will expand quickly, pushing out the surrounding pastry dough and causing it to rise.
Blunt cut edges
I find that the sharper the cuts on the edges of your scones, the more readily they rise. Sharp cuts mean pastry dough that isn’t compressed.
I use a metal bench scraper, which is also just a very handy tool to have. But a sharp chef’s knife works well, too.
I would not recommend using a pastry cutter, which has a small wheel which will compress the pastry dough. If you have a metal pizza cutter with a very large wheel, you can try using that.
Suggested mix-in flavor combinations
The best part about using this master gluten free scone recipe is that it can be made with many different flavor combinations. If you’d like to use a fresh or frozen berry, I recommend using our recipe for gluten free blueberry scones.
This recipe is for dried or self-contained pieces like chocolate chips and dried berries. Here are a few flavor combinations I suggest trying.
Make them chocolate peanut butter-flavored. For the mix-ins, use half chocolate chunks or chips, half peanut butter chips. You can even replace a tablespoon or two of the cornstarch with some powdered peanut butter.
Try chocolate berry flavored. Use half chocolate chunks or chips, half dried berries (cranberries, cherries, or blueberries). The combination I used in the photos and video in this recipe is half dried cranberries, half broken chocolate baking disks.
Finally, the variety that shows off the versatility of this recipe the most, try lemon blueberry flavor. Add finely grated zest of one lemon the dry ingredients, and replace one tablespoon of water with lemon juice. Use dried blueberries as your mix-in, with or without some dark or white chocolate chips.
Ingredients and substitutions
The mix calls for a dairy powder, preferably buttermilk powder, which is what allows the scones to be made with cold water, not cold buttermilk. My favorite cultured buttermilk powder is made by Saco, and the powder stays fresh in the refrigerator for a long time after opening.
You can replace the powder with nonfat dry milk, ground into a finer powder, or whey powder. If you’re dairy-free, try replacing the buttermilk powder with more all purpose gluten free flour, replacing the water with cold, nondairy milk. Or use a powdered coconut milk powder in place of the dairy powder.
To eliminate the butter, try replacing it with butter-flavored Spectrum nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening. I don’t recommend vegan butter for pastry, especially not Earth Balance buttery sticks, since it has more moisture and melts more quickly than butter.
If you’re dairy-free, be careful about what mix-ins you use. Many will have dairy, so choose non-dairy pieces.
If you can’t have corn, you can replace the cornstarch with another light, flavorless starch. I would try arrowroot powder, but potato starch might work well, too.