MY QUEST TO BAKE THE PERFECT SCONE
Is there anything more British than a cuppa tea? Henry James said, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as "afternoon tea". What is it about this magic elixir that seems to make the problems of the day dissolve into the bottom of a teacup...at least temporarily. 165 million cups of tea are drunk everyday in the U.K, so the Brits might be onto something.
Paired with this afternoon tea ritual is a wonderful, delicious biscuit known as the scone. I for one would not feel right if "whilst" living in England I did not know how to make a perfect afternoon tea, scones and all. But aaaah which recipe do I follow? There were so many claiming to be the "best' scone"
So… I did what any Type A expat spouse would do who had too much free time on her hands... I did my own personal Great British Bake-Off. I decided to bake seven different scone recipes all claiming to be the “best scone” all from some of the most renown sources.
First, the official British Bake-Off judges themselves, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. Then Martha Stewart, who rarely has ever steered me wrong in the kitchen. Nigella Lawson, The British Domestic Goddess herself. The BBC Good Food website. It is very British and it was the first hit that came up on Goggle. The Dorchester Hotel, one of the most famous places in London for their tea and scones (and you pay nicely for that reputation) and finally the Leiths School of Food and Wine Cookbook. Leith's is one of the premier cooking schools in the U.K. (Kate Middleton went there not that she does a lot of her own cooking these days) and they should know a thing or two about British cuisine.
But before I say Ready...Set...Bake... here is a question...
THE PRONUNCIATION...DOES IT RHYME WITH JOHN OR JOAN?
There has been much debate on this. But since scones were invented in Scotland and the Scots say scone (John) as do 2/3rd’s of England that is deemed the correct pronunication. Although I think most Americans say scone (Joan) but I blame Starbucks for that.
I baked all plain scones (no raisins, hate raisins). Tried slight variations on the recipe; with or without eggs, lemon or vanilla. Some glazed with egg and sugar, some just a plain egg-wash. Self-rising flour or plain flour?. They were all slightly different
Literally five pounds later (I seriously gained 5 pounds!!!!!)…here is the delicious winner...and it was worth the calories.
A BROAD IN LONDON… Official Best Scone (DRUM ROLL PLEASE)
Leith's Cooking School.
THEY WERE FABULOUS. The texture was very light and flaky with a terrific rise. They tasted amazing. Honourable mention went to The Dorchester Hotel. I discounted it only slightly as they required a little more work and took a longer time to make. I think the beauty of the scone is how quickly you can whip them up.
So to save yourself the effort of your own bake-off here is the step-by-step recipe for the perfect scone, plus a few tips I learned along the way.
150ml/5oz ~ Milk
60g/2oz ~ Cold Butter, Cubed 1cm
30g/1oz ~ Granulated Sugar~ Extra for dusting
225g ~1 Cup Self-Raising Flour plus extra for flouring the surface
1 Egg ~Lightly beaten
1/2 TSP Salt
2 inch Cookie Cutter or Drinking Glass
TO SERVE ~ Makes 6~8 scones
Clotted Cream or Butter
Strawberry Jam or Lemon Curd
IMPORTANT: GET YOURSELF A ELECTRONIC FOOD SCALE. I find going between the British recipes and North American ones can be VERY confusing and way too much math when baking. To make that easier I did ask Siri to do the conversion and that worked to a degree. But I ended up using a scale and measuring even the liquid ingredients this way. British baking recipes really require a scale.
1. PREHEAT OVEN TO 220C ( 425 F). SIFT FLOUR AND SALT INTO LARGE BOWL. ADD BUTTER AND RUB BUTTER INTO FLOUR WITH YOUR HANDS UNTIL IT LOOKS LIKE COARSE BREADCRUMBS. STIR IN SUGAR.
2. MAKE WELL IN CENTRE. POUR IN MILK, STIR UNTIL DOUGH STARTS TO COME TOGETHER. DOUGH SHOULD BE SOFT, SPONGY AND A LITTLE STICKY. GATHER DOUGH WITH HANDS AND PLACE ON LIGHTLY FLOURED SURFACE. AVOID OVERWORKING OR OVER KNEADING THE DOUGH.
3. FLATTEN DOUGH BY HAND TO NO LESS THAN ABOUT 1 1/2 INCH (3CM). THICK. NO NEED TO ROLL IT OUT. I ACTUALLY GOT A BETTER RISE BY FLATTENING THE DOUGH BY HAND.
4. DIP CUTTER OR RIM OF THE GLASS INTO FLOUR AND CUT OUT THE SCONES. CUT FIRMLY AND AVOID TWISTING THE CUTTER AS YOU RELEASE THE SCONE. CUT AS MANY AS YOU CAN. GATHER THE EXTRA PIECES AND CUT AGAIN. NOTE THAT THOSE EXTRA SCONES MIGHT NOT BE AS TENDER AS THE FIRST CUT BATCH.
5. PLACE SCONES ABOUT 1 INCH/2.5 CM APART ON A BAKING SHEET COVERED WITH PARCHMENT PAPER. GLAZE TOP OF SCONES WITH BEATEN EGG. DO NOT GLAZE THE SIDES OF THE SCONES AS THAT WILL STOP THEM FROM RISING. THEY ACTUALLY RISE BETTER WHEN THEY ARE CLOSE ON THE BAKING SHEET. SPRINKLE LIGHTLY WITH SUGAR. PLACE IN TOP THIRD OF OVEN. BAKE FOR 15-18 MINUTES OR UNTIL THE SCONES ARE WELL RISEN AND GOLDEN BROWN ON TOP. TRANSFER TO WIRE RACK.
SERVE WARM WITH CLOTTED CREAM AND JAM.
A FEW TIPS
You can freeze scones. Wait until they have cooled before freezing. To reheat, best is to bring them out of the freezer and let them thaw before putting them in a moderate oven for about 5 minutes to warm them up.
MAKE ‘EM COLD
The most important thing to remember when baking scones is to keep your ingredients cold. Your butter in particular must remain solid until the scones go in the oven. This helps them to rise, giving them that tender, fluffy texture with plenty of air pockets.
DON’T OVERKNEAD THEM
The best scones are made by handling the dough as little as possible. If you overwork them they will lose their ability to rise. This in turn takes away that lovely tender texture!
USE FRESH INGREDIENTS
I know that sounds so basic but it is important. Did you know that even your flour has a "best before date'? So fresh, fresh, fresh.
AND FINALLY... CREAM ON TOP OR JAM?
Again a bit of a debate between Devon and Cornwall over the best way to serve scones. In Devon (home of the cream) the cream always goes on first with jam on top and in Cornwall it is the opposite. Either way they are delicious and use the best clotted cream and strawberry jam you can find. I also loved them with lemon curd.
HAPPY BAKING EVERYONE
ENJOY. LET ME KNOW HOW THEY TURNED OUT FOR YOU.
If you have any of your own typically British recipes I love would love to try them out and maybe feature them on this blog. Send them in.