Last weekend I made scones for the first time ever. I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me so long to make them, but It may be because I spent 20 misguided years thinking I didn’t like them. How wrong I was.
Our lovely Aussie friends (who we met on our travels) are staying with us in London and we wanted to take them for a quintessential picnic in the park. Little time to prepare meant most of the picnic ensemble came from the shops, but I wanted to include a proper homemade cream tea. I had the perfect opportunity to bake scones!
However, the first discovery on my scone making venture was that not all scone recipes are created equal. There are so many variations it’s a bit of a minefield. Should I use baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar or a combination? Plain or self-raising flour? Milk, buttermilk, or cream? To egg or not to egg?
I decided to go for buttermilk because I love how moist it makes baked goods. I used baking powder because I thought this would give a reliable rise – but if I’ve had cream of tartar I’d have been tempted to give it a whirl as that’s how my mum was taught to make scones.
When it comes to butter, you can vary the amount you use in the same recipe and still get great results. If you enjoy a lighter, fluffier scone, use less butter. If you want yours a bit richer and denser, use a bit more.
I also wanted, as ever, to give my scones a subtle twist so I infused the buttermilk with the seeds from a big vanilla pod (one of my remaining few bought back from Bali) and sprinkled the tops of the scones with some golden demerara sugar. This gave a gorgeous flavour and a lovely sweet crunch on top, with lovely black vanilla speckles throughout.
400g plain flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
50-100g unsalted butter, chilled (use more or less depending on how rich you like your scones)
300g buttermilk (or one pot topped up with milk)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 vanilla pod or teaspoon of vanilla paste
1 egg, for the egg wash
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 220C. Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, mix with a spoon and then set aside.
Scrape the seeds out of your vanilla pod (or use your paste) and stir into the buttermilk and leave to infuse. Cut the chilled butter into cubes, then rub into the flour mixture until only the odd flake remains visible (alternatively whiz together in a food processor).
Stir the vanilla infused buttermilk with the caster sugar and milk if needed. Take a medium sized bowl and pour some buttermilk mix in to the bottom, then tip in about a fifth of the flour. Repeat with layers of liquid and flour mix until everything is in the bowl and then rapidly combine it all together using a knife.
You will then have a messy, sticky looking dough. Tip this out on to a floured worktop, bring it together with your hands and give it the swiftest of kneads to smooth it slightly and gently press it down to about 3cm thick. Do not be tempted to roll it out thinner to get more scones, as they’ll be flat and won’t rise as well.
Using a 6cm pastry cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can get from the dough (about 12). If you don’t have a cutter (as I didn’t at the time) use a small drinking glass instead. With your cutter or glass, press straight down and up and do not twist it as you pull it out, as this can also inhibit the rising.
Line a roasting pan or tray with greaseproof paper or a silicone liner if you have one. Place the rounds of dough on the tray, nicely spread apart to prevent them sticking.
Brush the top of each scone with beaten egg and then sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden and risen. Serve warm with clotted cream and jam.
- Scones are best eaten on the day they’re made
- Scones can be frozen after baking, simply pop in the oven for a few minutes to warm back up after defrosting,