Thursday, 31 May 2012

Scones - so easy. So versatile

25 years ago, I bought an old wreck of a building on the shore between the Forth bridges in South Queensferry and converted it into what remains (under new ownership) a hugely successful restaurant/cafe called The Old Boathouse. At 6am Every single morning for 3 years I'd bake a huge batch of scones and even when I sold the restaurant 5 years later I used to wake up in the middle of the night thinking that I had scones in the oven. (Trust me, it was lovely to go back to sleep knowing that I wasn't about to burn the house down.)

They're one of my favourite things to bake, not least because of their versatility. At Christmas, at home, we have Delia's little cheesy oniony scones as nibbles, although I've long since abandoned sticking to recipes and now tend to add whatever's to hand. Stilton, roasted chopped hazelnuts, thyme, chopped rosemary. Lovely lovely lovely.

These days, I'm still rather serious about scones and use them a  lot when catering for weddings - savoury little ones as described above, with perhaps a shred of cheese, or apricot and spinach stuffing - served as canapes. Or more traditionally sweet, with clotted cream and jam; afternoon tea style with tea served in china cups.

I've included 2 recipes below - the first one is my standard scone recipe, for which I use Self Raising flour and no other raising agent, and then Rachael Allan's recipe, which incorporates buttermilk, plain flour and her own baking powder mix of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartare. In honesty, I prefer mine, but I copy Rachael's twist of brushing with egg wash and dipping in sugar -you get a lovely crunch before you hit the light and airy centre.

The secret in well risen scones is to judge the liquid content - not all eggs are the same size; to rub in as lightly as possible to get in the maximum amount of air; to mix in the liquids as gently as possible (using a fork) to keep the air in; and to flatten lightly the final mixture with your hands and not a rolling pin - flattening to the depth of a standard scone cutter. If the mixture is sticky it's too wet. If the mixture doesn't spread easily when you flatten lightly it, it's too dry. If you get all of this perfectly right, you're scones will double in size. 

Click here for recipes

Carole's Scone Recipe (with apologies for not being metric. This is the recipe I have had in my head from 25 years ago and I don't like speaking it out loud metrically!)

1lb Self Raising flour
3oz Margarine
3oz sugar
2 eggs
Milk to mix (Approx 5 fluid oz)
Egg wash - 1 egg and a splash of milk, beaten together
2bsp granulated sugar (my son used to call it granny related sugar. Still makes me smile)


Heat the oven to 220C/Gas 7 (200C in a fan oven)

Rub the flour and margarine together - lifting your fingers high into the air as you do so. Maximum air, remember.
Mix in the sugar with a fork and then bind together with 2 beaten eggs and enough milk to create a nicely pliable dough.
Tip the dough onto a floured surface, flatten slightly with your hands and then cut out your scones and place on a floured tray - you should get about 30 canape size (flatten slightly more for canape size) or 12 ordinary size.
Brush over the tops with egg wash and sprinkle over the granny related sugar.
Bake at 220C for about 12 minutes or until the scone is golden on top and clearly cooked on the inside. If it is not cooked enough on the inside, you will see that the dough is slightly darker and wetter looking. Simply pop back in the oven for another few minutes- perhaps on a lower shelf so that you don't over brown the tops.

Rachael Allan's Scone Recipe

  • 500 g light Italian or plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 heaped tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 125 g chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  • 25 g caster sugar
  • egg, beaten
  • 275 ml buttermilk or milk, plus extra for the egg wash
  • 50 g caster or granulated sugar, (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 220C/gas 7. 

2. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt into a large bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and mix well.

3. Set aside about a third of the beaten egg and combine the rest with the buttermilk, then add to the flour mixture and mix briefly to combine into a moist dough. Place on a lightly floured work surface and knead ever so slightly to bring together, then press or roll out to a thickness of 2cm.

4. Using a 6cm round cutter, cut out approximately 12 scones and place on a floured baking tray.

5. Add about a teaspoon or so of buttermilk to the remainder of the beaten egg to make an egg wash. Brush the scones with the egg wash (and dip the tops in sugar if you wish) and bake in the oven for 10–12 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve while hot.

Adapted from 
Rachel Allen, Bake (Collins)