a scone topped with raspberry jam and clotted cream

A very traditional British baked treat, scones should be light and fluffy and served with jam and cream. From Land’s End to John O’Groats there are regional variations that ignite local passions and spirited debate.

In the southwest of England, clotted cream (a dense, cooked cream with a crust on top) is essential and there are long-running disputes as to whether the jam or cream go on first – and also argument around whether it’s pronounced scone (like gone), or skone (like stone). I don’t have a preference, they are delicious either way!

They are quick to make and bake very quickly in a hot oven. When I was growing up we also used to have them as a Sunday breakfast treat – an alternative to waffles pancakes. Essentially I see scones as a neutral vehicle for conveying one’s chosen topping to the mouth.

I don’t add sugar, which means the mix can go either way – a sweet topping or a savoury one (try crème fraiche and smoked salmon, or chicken liver pate and red onion chutney). The Queen prefers a fruit scone, and if you have Royal inclinations you can add raisins or sultanas are added at the mixing stage.

Or you could add grated cheese, chopped herbs and a pinch of cayenne to make a savoury version that simply needs a knob of butter to serve.

Don’t confuse a scone with the American biscuit, which has a higher fat content and therefore a crispier shell and flakier crumb. They are sometimes made with lard or bacon fat and served in diners to mop up (very pale) gravy – it is simply not possible to refuse a bacon-fat biscuit, they are delicious!

Scones are an integral component of the Great British tradition of afternoon tea. They are on the menu at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s garden parties every summer, and the pastry chefs at Buckingham Palace make thousands of them every year to accompany the cucumber sandwiches and profiteroles.

As it’s a quick dough, it relies quite heavily on raising agents and in this recipe there are two: baking powder and eggs, as well as an acidic component, buttermilk (a byproduct of the butter-making process), which reacts with the baking powder and gives off CO2 that expands due to the heat of the oven.
You can literally see these little guys coming to life on the baking tray and raising themselves up with a trademark crack in the middle (which is how you break them open for filling).

The chef’s tip here is to let them sit for 10-15 minutes before baking, to allow the raising agents to start working. Then blast them in a hot oven for 8-10 minutes.

Ingredients

Makes 10

250g Plain Flour
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
55g Butter (or lard, or a mix of both)
1 medium free-range egg
80ml Buttermilk
50g Sultanas, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes (optional)

To serve:

Jam and clotted cream (or choose a savoury topping)

Method

Mix the flour, baking powder and butter together in a bowl, using your fingers to rub the butter in to the flour until a crumb is formed (this takes a few seconds in a food processor).
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and buttermilk together
Add the liquid to the crumb mixture and mix quickly to combine – you don’t want to overwork the dough and make it tough.
(Optional) Add the sultanas, and mix until evenly distributed
Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten the dough and cover
Leave to rest for 15 minutes (a good time to preheat the oven to 210C)
Roll out the dough to a thickness of 2.5 cm and cut to desired shape
Use a pastry brush to wash the top of the scones with the last of the buttermilk and egg mixture.
Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until risen and golden brown
Cool before serving.

Cheese scones

Add 80g extra-mature grated Cheddar cheese, 1 chopped spring onion and a pinch of cayenne pepper to the dry mix before combining.

Why not also have a look at my banana and chocolate chip scone recipe.

© Linda Galloway 2020

baked scones cooling on a rack