Scones – so simple yet so tricky. You know what a good scone should look like. All golden and well risen, like in those amazing tea rooms around the UK particularly National Trust tea rooms who are so often mentioned in listings of the best scones. So when yours come out of the oven looking more like biscuits it is a disappointment.
So with my turn in the Maisons-Laffitte cookery round robin coming up on Friday and a specific request for scones, I thought I had better practice. I have not made scones for ages. So I found a scone recipe in a Marks & Spencer baking book – surely these will be good I thought. No. Disappointment of the first order!!
Essentially, scones are, at their purest, simply flour, butter, raising agent and milk. What can go so wrong? So I did a bit of research. It seems that there are a plethora of recipes out there, all slightly different and quite a lot of articles describing the search for the best recipe. So I ploughed through a couple of articles and made a note of a few important points before settling on the recipe below.
It seems that being generous with the raising agent was important – I opted for a combo of 1 heaped teaspoon of bicarb and 2 heaped teaspoons of cream of tartar to 500g of plain flour.
[A note to readers in France – I have to do some testing with levure chimique to work out the quantity for good scones. What a hardship for the family. They will have to eat more scones! The good thing about scones is that they are quite virtuous really, they are low in both fat and sugar. It is the slathering with butter, cream and jam that is the problem, it is here that you need to exercise restraint.]
Acidifying the milk helps the baking agents to work which explains why my mum always thought of making scones when the milk was just on the turn. Milk gets more acidic as it goes off due to the lactic acid made by the bacteria. To recreate this effect, a generous squeeze of lemon juice into the milk is suggested by several articles including BBCGoodFood.
Being very light handed with the dough is also really important. Often scone recipes use the word ‘knead’. Knead implies the heavy handedness when making bread. The less you handle the dough the better. Patting the dough out gently and not too thin – about 2cm is thin enough. There is no need at all for a rolling pin.
Also, don’t leave the dough resting. Make the dough, shape your scones, put them on a warmed baking tray and get them in the oven…..and don’t wait to eat them either. Still warm from the oven is best!
Any additions to the four basic ingredients is up to the baker. I don’t add sugar or salt. I love to add raisins for a sweet scone. A bit of strong grated cheddar makes the perfect savoury scone. That is it.
So here is the recipe I used:
Sift 500g plain flour, 1 heaped teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, 2 heaped teaspoons of cream of tartar into a bowl.
Rub in 75g butter so that the the flour resembles breadcrumbs. If you would like raisin scones add a couple of generous handfuls now. Or for savoury cheese scones add grated cheddar. Or is there something else you would like to try – nuts, seeds, dried apricot…
Squeeze a small segment of a lemon into 275ml of milk and add to the flour. Mix it together to form a soft dough. You will need to use your hands but be as light with your hands as possible. When all the flour has become incorporated into the dough, place the dough onto a well floured surface.
Shape the dough into a round and gently press to about 2cm thickness. Either cut this into wedges and place onto a warmed baking tray or use a 6cm cutter for traditional round scones.
Bake in a pre-heated oven set at 220C for 8-10 minutes. They will be golden and will sound hollow if you tap the bottom.
Sweet scones are best with clotted cream and jam. A little butter and maybe a scraping of pickle or chutney works well with a cheese scone – a perfect accompaniment to a plate of thick creamy soup.