Legend has it in certain Australian kitchens that a clever farmer's wife would always keep an eye on the farm gate. If she saw visitors arriving at the gate, the fire went on and a scone dough was mixed, cut and in the oven before the vehicle pulled up outside the front verandah. Practice makes perfect, apparently.
However, I have a confession to make. Once upon a time the scones I baked turned out like rock cakes, until my little boy came home from school (some twenty-five years ago) with a scone recipe torn from an old magazine. I learned from this recipe that the addition of buttermilk as the liquid made all the difference. And, as I further discovered by chatting with the talented ladies from the Country Women's Association (CWA), scones are quite simple to make if you follow a few rules. Handle the dough lightly, mix it quickly with a large knife or spatula, don't knead the dough, just pat it out, and take care not to twist the cutter as you cut or you will end up with little leaning towers of scone Pisa.
For more guidance, let's turn to the pages of my much-loved 1941 edition of The Coronation Cookery Book (CWA NSW, "Price 2/9"), which advises on page 210: "Beware of doing any of these in scone making:
1. Mixing the dough too dry. This produces a rough-looking scone (Hmmm, this might explain my former rock cakes!),
2. Mixing the dough too wet, causing the scone to spread,
3. Not mixing the liquid evenly,
4. Baking too slowly or too quickly,
5. Not baking mixture long enough,
6. Not placing scones on a cake-cooler when cooked,
7. Cutting with a knife, which makes them 'doughy', and
8. Packing them when they are hot."
One more tip from me, place your scone cutters into the hot oven after washing them. This will stop them from rusting. You want to preserve them, particularly if they are hand-made by a tinsmith, like mine, which were made by Clarke Brothers in Sovereign Hill, Victoria.
FEATHERLIGHT BUTTERMILK SCONES
2 cups self raising flour
1/3 cup vanilla infused caster sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 free range egg whisked with 3/4 cup buttermilk
a drop of good vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 200-210 degrees C. Combine the sifted flour and caster sugar in a mixing bowl. Using your fingers (or a pastry cutter, see pic), rub the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre. Pour combined egg and buttermilk, and a droplet of vanilla extract, into the bowl and mix well with a butter knife or spatula to a soft, sticky dough, add a little extra flour or buttermilk as required but do not over-mix. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured bench and pat gently till smooth. Roll or press out the dough to approximately 2cm thickness and cut into rounds with a floured scone cutter. Pack the scones closely on a lined scone tray and bake them in a hot oven for 15 minutes until they are golden. Turn the scones out onto a wire rack, then cover them with a clean tea towel and allow them to cool. Makes 12. Serve with home made jam and whipped cream.
I've also included my recipes for pumpkin scones and cheese and chive scones.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 free range egg, whisked with 1/2 cup milk
1 cup cooked pumpkin, mashed, cold
3 cups self raising flour
Preheat your oven to 200-210 degrees C. Cream the butter and sugar. Stir in the combined egg and milk then the pumpkin. Add the flour and use a butter knife or spatula to fold through to a soft dough, add a little extra flour if the dough is sticky. Turn dough onto a lightly floured bench and pat gently till smooth. Press out to approximately 2 cm thickness and cut into rounds with a floured scone cutter. Pack closely on a lined scone tray and bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes till golden. Turn onto a wire rack, cover with a clean tea towel and allow to cool. Makes 24.
CHEESE AND CHIVE SCONES
2 cups self raising flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup freshly shredded tasty cheese
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 cup milk
Preheat your oven to 200-210 degrees C. Combine sifted flour and butter in a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, rub butter into the flour until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the cheese and chives. Make a well in the centre. Pour milk into the bowl and mix well with a butter knife or spatula to a soft, sticky dough, add a little extra flour or milk as required but do not overmix. Turn dough onto a lightly floured bench and pat till smooth. Roll or press out to approximately 2cm thickness and cut into rounds with a floured scone cutter. Pack closely on a lined scone tray and bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes till golden. Turn onto a wire rack, cover with a clean tea towel and allow to cool. Makes approximately 16.
This post was originally published in September 2011 and was dedicated to my lovely friend Ester Wimborne (a.k.a. @DairyGoodness). Tragically, Ester died last month and I would like to once again dedicate this post to her honour. I know she loved a good scone with plenty of butter and cream.
Tell me dear readers, what are your favourite scones? And do you like to serve them with jam and cream?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.