In search of the perfect scone

A few years ago I had a lovely ridiculous conversation with the one and only Gene Wilder (aka Mr Willy Wonka) highlighting the continuing transatlantic confusion between the British scone and the American biscuit. It went something like this;

“Would you like a biscuit?” I say.
“Do you mean a cookie?” says Mr Wilder.
“No, a biscuit, a flat sweet thing like a cookie – a biscuit,” I reply.
“I only eat biscuits with chicken,” says Mr Wilder.
“Did you want chicken? I’m afraid we only ordered tea and jam, scones and biscuits.”
“That’s a scone?” he says pointing at the scone. “Aren’t scones those triangle things with a hard crust?”
“That sounds more like a biscuit,” I say.
We both stared blankly at each other. Maybe we should talk about chocolate.

I love scones. All children are part sugar and spice and also 1/4 scone. Scones are part of the British essence. You can’t move around literature without bumping into a scone. Those Little Women, Austen ladies, Beatrix Potter creatures and Enid Blyton boarding school matrons are all mad for scones. They are what make the fog and the rain, the bus people, the terrible train service and not winning the lottery (although I try really hard) all worthwhile.

“I cut down trees, I eat my lunch
I go to the lavatory.
On Wednesday I go shopping
And have buttered scones for tea.” Lumberjack, Monty Python.

The combination of the buttery, jammy, creaminess just tastes of Sundays, knitting and country houses. I like them more after you’ve been wandering round an old stately home and your legs are tired and all you really want to do is go to the gift shop to play with the giant rubbers. Then, round the corner is the tea shop. A haven for raisins and teabags. And there, in the haze of powdered sugar and frothy milk, a couple of lovely ladies called Flossie and Janine have made the most enormous scones – full of homemade jam and clotted cream. What a sight to behold.

I’ve been making scones for years. I’m rubbish at them. They are either too flat, too crumbly or too…burnt. I was more like a domestic goblin than a goddess. I made these hideous doughy blobs that no one would eat. Finally, after years of anguish, frustration and throwing scones off the balcony I watched Kirstie Allsop’s Handmade Britain. In this particular episode, she learns how to make the most amazing scones from the Master Scone Baker.

The secret ingredients to the perfect scone, are apparently buttermilk and milk powder.

And its about the right handling of your dough. You should barely knead it. Once the ingredients have come together, all you need to do flatten it slightly using your fingers to about 4 cm thick – before using your cookie cutter.

Buttermilk Scone Recipe (adapted from Kirstie Allsop’s recipe)

500g plain flour
50g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
½ tsp salt
60g butter (salted)
30g baking powder
65g milk powder
250ml buttermilk (you can make buttermilk with milk and the lemon juice from half a lemon)
1 egg beaten with a dash of water – to glaze the top of your scones.

1. Mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and milk powder together in a bowl.

2. Add the butter and rub into crumbs.

3. Next, add the buttermilk and vanilla essence and bring the ingredients together with a knife. Don’t work the dough too much, just enough to bring it together.

4. Put the finished dough on a floury surface and press it flat with your knuckles (do not use a rolling pin). It should be about 4cm thick.

5. Then simply cut it with a cookie cutter and put onto a greased baking tray.

6. Glaze with a bit of your beaten egg.

7. Cook your scones at about 210C or Gas Mark 7 for 20 to 25 minutes.

The results: I made the most enormous scones. And they were fluffy and crumbly. Amazing. I am a cooking goblin no longer.

If you’re stash of clotted cream has gone mouldy then you can always use whipped double cream. Daub a cloud of cream and a dollop of jam and press together. Mmmm. The picture below demonstrates this manoeuvre.

Believe it or not there are some scone related books for you to read…

The Sword in the Scone
A crazy retelling of the Arthurian legend in which Owen needs to pull the sword from the scone in order to become a Knight of the Round Table and Matching Chairs. He’ll also get £50 in cash if he can pull it from the scone.

Scones & Sensibility
Polly is obsessed with romantic fiction and baking and trys to matchmake all her customers while delivering baked goods.


11 thoughts on “In search of the perfect scone

  1. I so love the book/food connections – superb!
    An older friend of mine tends to make scones for us when we go to visit her – I snagged her recipe the last time I was over, and a tip about lifting your ingredients as you mix (with your hands) to help aerate the mixture for lighter, fluffier scones.
    I really like your recipe though, as I can see that it’s moist without relying on shedloads of butter! Thanks so much for posting this!

  2. There are so many textures and variety of scones these days, however, only the British would be able to take us back to what the true scones are actually like. Due to that as well as your wonderful picture, I have saved this recipe. Your scones do look like a winner-so I must try them! Thanks for sharing.

  3. The scone above with the cream and jam…

    I remember munching it… like it was only yesterday.

    It was a Friday afternoon, as I recall. The sun was setting, casting a golden glow through the flat. To which I returned, after a hard weeks work. Casting my keys and wallet on the table and unzipping my jacket, I spied it on the counter. Sitting there quietly. Pristine. Teasing me with its deliciousness.

    My mouth drooled. The flat was empty, the scone’s creator gone on some work related jaunt. She wouldn’t be back until the deed was already done.

    How to make the consumption perfect… a delicious cup of americano, brewed from fruity and aromatic Kenyan beans, freshly ground.

    The coffee was not the first thing to make it to my lips… the allure of the scone was too much.

    I munched down on it, the cream and jam squeezing gently out from the sides. It was indeed as delicious as it appeared! But despite its larger than normal size, it was gone in an instant. I mourned its absence with the mug of hot and comforting coffee in my hand.

    There were more scones present and their fate was also sealed…

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