Scones for all

Scones, in various guises, are one of the cornerstones of baking, and there’s nothing quite like a fresh scone with butter and jam with a morning coffee, to get the conversation flowing.

Scones, in various guises, are one of the cornerstones of baking, and there’s nothing quite like a fresh scone with butter and jam with a morning coffee, to get the conversation flowing.

They are versatile, too…yesterday’s scones can be toasted and hot buttered, or (I know it’s not PC in these days when fat is the foe) fried to go with the bacon and egg, or fried and spread with golden syrup.

There’s sometimes an argument about pronunciation. The Scots say “scawn” – in contrast to their pronunciation – “skoon” the place of the old Scots kings, Scone. The English - and Scots trying to be posh, say “scoan”. Just to be completely different, Americans call a scone a “biscuit”. On the whole, in this country the Scottish way wins out!

The other Scotland-England-Antipodes argument is over what constitutes a pancake…Scots call “pikelets” pancakes or drop scones, and pancakes “dinner pancakes”. Don’t let’s even start on crumpets!

I’m including pikelets in this article, because they are part of the “tea breads” tradition to which scones belong. Originally mostly these were baked on the griddle, a flat, circular piece of iron with a handle that hung over the fire. In Scotland it was known as a “girdle”, hence girdle scone. Nowadays, there are modern versions for different heat= sources and even electric griddles and scones are usually baked in the oven.

For the best of scones and pikelets, make sure your ingredients are fresh and top quality, and always make them just before you want to eat them…fresh is definitely best. Quick, hot cooking is another key to success.

However, even if scones seem simple things, be warned that you may not always be successful as there are many factors that can mean the difference between light-as-air, melt-in-the mouth scones or stodgy, dry “bricks” - and not all of them may be within your control. To illustrate this, in The Scots Kitchen, (which was first published in 1929 and has lots of tea cake, scone and bannock recipes), F. Marian McNeill tells of Aberdeenshire farmer’s wife, Mrs Macnab, who lived near Balmoral Castle and had such a reputation for her baking that distinguished guests of the royal family would invite themselves to have tea with her.

“It is not possible to impart Mrs Macnab’s lightness of touch, nor the wine-like air of these regions, which doubtless contributed to her visitors’ enjoyment…”

It is a fact that the atmosphere can affect the consistency of scones, as can your own attention to making them, and you’ll just have to make your mind up that some days your scones will be better than others for no apparent reason! Part of the secret of good scone-making is practice and you’ll soon be able to judge exactly when the mixture is the right consistency, the oven the right heat and the timing spot on.

While most recipes these days call for just milk, you can also use buttermilk or sour milk or you can water down left over cream.

The basic traditional scone recipe is

2 cups flour
4 tsps baking powder
pinch salt
approx 25-35gms butter
about ¾-1 cup milk

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl (if you live in Auckland and think your flour might be suffering from the damp climate, you can always warm it in a low oven to dry it out). Rub or cut in the butter until the mixture is like crumbs. Add sufficient liquid to make a soft, but not wet, dough. Knead a little to get the mixture even, then roll out and cut in shapes as you wish. Place on tray towards the top of a pre-heated 225deg oven for 10-12 minutes.

There are lots of variations to scones…they can be cheese scones, sultana scones, treacle scones, wholemeal scones, savoury scones. .

You can even make potato scones – lovely served hot and rolled up with butter. They are simple boiled, mashed potatoes with a pinch of salt, as much flour as the quantity will take up (about 2225ms potato/55gms flour) and sufficient milk to make a very stiff dough. Roll out very thinly on a floured board, cut into rounds or triangles and prick with a fork. Bake on a hot griddle for about five minutes, turning when half cooked. The leftovers are also good fried lightly.

For some different scones try these:  Irish Soda Bread, Scone Pinwheels, Wholemeal Date Scones, Macadamia and Apricot Scones.


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