It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you want to start a fight in the West Country, one need only express an opinion regarding scones, pasties, or clotted cream. Nothing gets a Cornish man more riled up than telling him it was Devonians who invented pasties, and nothing grates the cheddar of a Devon lass quite like being told she should put the jam on her scone before the cream.
Nothing will divide a group of friends quite so efficiently and swiftly as a cream tea. The politics of cream or jam first is so hotly debated that I’ve sometimes considered leaving the room on the pretence of checking something in the kitchen so that I can eat my scone in peace.
…the least said about butter, the better. Sorry mum, but you’re wrong.
This week a debate raged amongst our Facebook group about the correct pronunciation of scone (rhyming with ‘gone’, not ‘cone’ seemed to be the overall consensus), but when the debate veered dangerously close to the question of jam or cream first, most people had the good sense not to enter the fray. And the least said about butter, the better. Sorry mum, but you’re wrong.
Of course, the one thing we can all agree on is that whichever goes on first, what it goes on is very important. A cream tea is so simple in it’s make up, that every element needs to be the best it can be. Freshly brewed tea (in a pot), Rodda’s or Langage Farm clotted cream, homemade or Bonne Maman strawberry jam (says the girl who always has raspberry), and a light, fluffy, buttery, still warm scone.
This recipe is a little unconventional, but I promise you that if you read through my notes below before starting, you’ll have the best scones you’ve ever eaten.
And when it comes to the all important question, I have to confess, I’m a Devon girl who puts the jam on first. A traitor to my county, but I’m hoping the scones make up for it!
Notes: The pasta flour is key to the light texture of these scones. I use Sainsbury’s own brand.
Your butter should have been in the freezer for at least an hour before making these scones. Freezing makes it possible to grate the butter into the flour, which in turn helps create the light layers in the dough. As you grate, keep dipping the end of the butter into the flour, so that it doesn’t get too greasy, and stirring the butter into the flour with a fork so that it doesn’t all clump together.
When you tip the dough out it will look like a dry mess, don’t panic, it doesn’t need to be smooth. Only handle the dough for as long as it takes to get it into a neat-ish rectangle, and resist the temptation to knead it like a bread dough, simply fold it in half and press down gently, pressing in at the sides to keep the rectangle shape. Over-handling the dough will lead to tough scones.
The reason for cutting scones square is so that you use up all the dough in one go without having to re-roll and make the scones tough. You’ll also notice that the buttermilk and bicarb will very quickly start doing their thing and making the dough rise, re-rolling would deflate the rising that’s already happening (see above for the layers already rising and puffing up). The square corners also provide a pleasing little crunch (along with the sugar on top).
Lastly, scones should always be served warm from the oven. By the time they reach room temp they start losing their charm. Freeze unbaked scones by all means, but don’t even think about keeping left over scones. Not that you’ll have any!
And so, dear reader, without further a do, one of my most closely guarded recipes…
- 500g Type ’00’ pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 heaped tsp cream of tartar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 125g butter, frozen
- 25g caster sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 275ml buttermilk
- Demerara sugar, (optional)
Preheat the oven to 220C.
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt into a large bowl. Add the sugar and mix.
Take the butter out of the freezer and dust it quickly in the flour (this helps to stop it sticking to your fingers or the grater) before grating it into the flour mixture, stopping now and then to stir the grated butter into the flour with a fork.
In a small bow, mix 1 tablespoon of the buttermilk and about a quarter of the beaten egg, mix and set aside. Combine the remaining buttermilk and egg and add to the flour mixture and mix briefly to combine. The dough will most likely look very dry at this point, but don’t panic. (see notes above)
Tip out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead ever so slightly to bring together, using a folding action to create layers. Then press or roll out into a rectangle with a thickness of 3cm.
Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 squares and place on a floured baking tray.
Brush the scones with the buttermilk egg wash (and sprinkle 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.