Decidedly British, the exact origin of scones is unknown, although the first written reference comes from Scotland. The first scones were cooked in a skillet, not baked, and contained oats, not flour. An egg wash would have been an extravagant luxury, but in your kitchen, you can consider an egg wash as an important, if not entirely necessary, accessory in your scone-making repertoire.
Scones are nothing more than glorified biscuits. They usually contain bits of cold butter combined with flour, baking powder, salt and a bit of sugar. The cold fat forms tiny air pockets in the flour that expand during baking to create tender layers. Scones commonly contain eggs and cream as well as dried fruit, nuts, cheese or some special flavoring that elevates them to the status of "brunch food." An egg wash isn't absolutely necessary, but it gives scones a golden brown crust which not only improves their taste, but ratchets up their visual appeal by several notches.
If you're vacillating about whether to do an egg wash, just jump in and get started. An egg wash takes less than five minutes to whip up and apply. Simply whisk an egg in a bowl with a bit of water until both are completely combined. Brush the egg wash lightly over the scones with a pastry brush and bake. The end result is well worth the tiny bit of energy expended on the egg wash.
Tips for Success
An egg wash is only one part of making the best scones. Start by measuring the flour and sifting it with the other dry ingredients. This sifting produces lighter scones. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the butter into the dry ingredients with your hands or a pastry knife. Work quickly and mix only until the butter resembles coarse meal. Cut the scones cleanly with a knife or a glass and avoid tearing or dragging the dough. Place the scones so they almost touch, which encourages them to rise up rather than out. Serve scones warm with butter, clotted cream, preserves or honey.
Save Some for Later
Freshly baked scones should be eaten within just a few hours for the best taste and texture, but you can freeze scones for later if you like. Wrap baked scones in plastic wrap and freeze them for up to two months. Warm them in the microwave or an oven set to 350 F. You can also freeze unbaked scones, but don't brush them with the egg wash until just before you bake them. Place the prepared wedges or rounds on a baking sheet and freeze them for one hour to firm them up. Then place them in a freezer bag or container and freeze them for up to two months. To bake the scones, place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper as you preheat the oven to 350 F. They will defrost slightly. Brush them with an egg wash immediately before baking them. Add two or three minutes to the total baking time.
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