British Brownies and U.S. Scones

My last post included a traditional British scone recipe, and American readers immediately wrote in (on the blog and on Facebook) and said, That sounds great. Can I add cranberries, chocolate chips, and marshmallows? The answer is, of course you can, and it may taste great, but it won’t be a British scone, it’ll be more like a British brownie.

Why is a brownie like a scone? Because once it crosses international boundaries you can’t recognize it.

Irrelevant Photo #2. Dorset. Photographer, Ida Swearingen

Irrelevant Photo #2. Dorset. Photographer, Ida Swearingen

Let’s start with the American scone. It’s great, but it’s got only the faintest relationship to the original. Which is British, and a cousin to the American baking powder biscuit—plain, round, workaday, and delicious. Usually. If it comes in cellophane, be suspicious. It’s usually a little sweeter than a baking powder biscuit, and sometimes comes with raisins, which for reasons I don’t expect to ever understand are called fruit. I mean, yes, they are fruit, in a dried-up sort of way, but the world’s full of fruit. We don’t insist on calling a carrot “vegetable” instead of “carrot,” do we?

Never mind. The fruit scone has raisins. The cheese scone has cheese. The plain scone doesn’t have either one. And the scone with ginger and lemon and blueberries and chocolate chips and deep-fried Mars bars? It doesn’t exist. But the cream tea does exist. It’s tea with two plain scones, jam, and clotted cream, which is cream that’s been beatified. If you see one and you’re not in (a) a highway café or (b) a railroad café, try it.

The American scone is a British scone on steroids. Triple the sugar, double the shortening, quadruple the size, and add every kind of fruit and candy you can think of. Exactly when every American turned into a Texan (you know: Everything we have is bigger, and everything bigger is better) I don’t know, but somehow we did. Or it looks that way from here.

What about the brownie? The British call anything dark, slab-shaped, and sweetened a brownie. Mind you, I’ve had a few over here that were delicious, but if I see them advertised I approach the display case with extreme caution. Wild Thing ordered one in London once. It looked pretty reasonable in the display case but turned up at the table decked out with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and a blood-pressure monitor. The theory must be that if it’s American and you go over the top with it, it must be authentic. I mean, look what the bloody Americans do to the scone.

14 thoughts on “British Brownies and U.S. Scones

  1. I stopped eating wheat a couple years ago. It’s much easier on my gastrointestinal functions and I rarely miss it anymore but these last two posts are like wheat porn. I remember cream tea with great fondness.

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  2. Wouldn’t what you refer to as a British brownie/American scone rather be called a muffin? Or do you consider that something else entirely? You seem to take these distinctions very seriously ;-)

    We do English scones in South Africa as well. Marvellous with jam (preferably strawberry) and cream. Also works well with fresh butter and biltong (dried salted meat). One of the better consequences of the British invading us two centuries ago :-D

    We also do muffins and chocolate brownies (the flat ones). A consequence of the ongoing cultural invasion by America, I suppose.

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    • I only take it seriously when it makes me laugh. Or when it’s edible.

      A muffin’s a whole ‘nother thing–basically cake batter baked in a small tin. Or, in the case of corn muffins, a not-very-sweet batter baked in a small pan. Muffins are heavier and richer; scones are breadier.

      I’d never have thought of scones with dried meat, but that’s what happens when you turn one culture’s food loose in another culture.

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  3. I used to have a recipe for cornmeal scones with currants. They were an interesting compromise between the British and American version of the scone. Not too big, not too sweet but the cornmeal definitely made them new world.

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  4. ” I mean, look what the bloody Americans do to the scone.”
    This cracked me up! Love your writing and your sense of humor. Now, if I can find a blog to unfollow, I can add yours. I made that a rule when I started drowning in blogs I follow. :D

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  5. Hm, I feel that adding ginger, lemon or cranberries, though unusual, would not detract from the inherent scone-ness, while chocolate or marshmallow would turn it into something else. I wonder why?

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    • I’m not sure why, but I will confess that although I’ve seen scones in the U.S. made with chocolate chips or chunks, if I said marshmallows (and it’s been long enough that I don’t remember what I wrote in this post), I made them up for the sake of a laugh. But the U.S. does, for a fact, make a much sweeter, larger, over-the-top scone that I suspect you wouldn’t acknowledge as a scone.

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