How to Bake a Scone

I can’t keep writing about life in Cornwall without posting a scone recipe. And not just any scone recipe, an English scone recipe.

You should understand that there’s no single, definitive English scone. Not only do scones divide into plain, fruit, and cheese (or savory, which is spelled savoury), but any one of those three will vary. You can also find griddle scones and drop scones. They’re like the brownie that way. Or religion. Lots of variations; lots of recipes; lots of people damning each other to hell for doing it wrong. You’ll also find regional variations. I could be wrong about this, but I believe scones get larger as they go north. It may have to do with the weather, or the longer O in the northern accents.

Some recipes include eggs, which is any right-living person would tell you is heresy, so this one doesn’t. I have no idea where I found it, or how much I’ve tinkered with it over the years. Whoever developed it, I’d give you credit if I could. All I can give instead is my apologies, and my thanks, because it makes a damned good scone.

Scone with jam. Photo by Benson Kua, and it's from Canada, not the U.K.

Scone with jam. Photo by Benson Kua, and it’s from Canada, not the U.K.

Scones: Makes 5 or 6

1 ½ cups flour, unsifted (see below)
1 Tbsp. cold butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
½ tsp. salt
[raisins if you want them]
Enough milk to pull the ingredients into a ball

Sift the dry ingredients. (I was taught to sift flour before measuring, transfer it grain by grain into the measuring cup, then sift it again after measuring, but I can’t be bothered. Half the time I can’t be bothered sifting it at all, I just mix the dry ingredients together. If we’re talking about kitchen heresies, this is a big one, but my baking comes out fine, thanks. Just don’t whack your measuring cup down on the counter to make the flour settle, because it will and you’ll end up with too much.) Cut in the butter. (You want to keep the butter cold, which will keep the scone from being heavy, so if you can cut it with a pastry blender, do. If you use your fingers to crumble it into the dry ingredients, handle it as little as possible.) If you want raisins, this is the time to add them. Stir in just enough milk to form the dough into a ball. Roll out to about ¾” thick on a floured surface and cut with a biscuit cutter or, if you don’t have one, the rim of a glass. If you twist your cutter, the scones won’t rise evenly. If your scones don’t rise evenly, it won’t make the least bit of difference, so don’t lose sleep over this. Place the scones on a greased cookie sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees. (To make sure they’re done, take the cookie sheet out of the oven, pry one open partway, and peek inside. If it’s gooey, put the cookie sheet back in for a couple of minutes.) Eat with butter—lots of butter—or jam, or both. They’re fine cold, but they’re better hot.

This is the real thing.

English Food: Cheese

The last time I wrote about English food, it was to make fun of baked beans. So let’s talk about a good part of English food: The English are known for their cheese, and justifiably. Cheddar takes as much space in the cheese aisle as baked beans do in the canned vegetable, only it tastes good. And it’s not just connoisseurs and food snobs who go in for the strong stuff, it’s normal people—kids, adults, people who eat baked beans on toast. Cheese turns up in soups, in sauces, on baked potatoes. Okay, everything turns up in baked potatoes, but still. If a store only sells one vegetarian sandwich, it’ll be cheddar. And it’ll be grated, not sliced.

English Blue Stilton. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer

English Blue Stilton. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer

Every year, at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester, people race—or slide, or roll—down an insanely steep hill chasing a wheel of double Gloucester cheese. The winner gets to keep the cheese. And a generous portion of mud. The race’s official site says of the 2013 race:

“Due to warnings from the police … a substitute, plastic cheese was used this year, so a real cheese was not in fact rolled*.

“This did not seem to matter to either contestants or spectators, but it was a failure as it just did not have the weight to roll properly! In the ladies race, one lady (not the winner) picked it up and carried it down to the finish line.”

“*Upon careful analysis of the movement of the cheese in the videos of the events, it appears that the “cheese” in the first event was significantly heavier than the ones used in subsequent races, it was the only “fast cheese” of the day, it also bounced a lot higher. There is a strong suspicion that this was a ‘real Cheese,’ the ones in the remaining races were made of foam plastic and were much slower, in most cases being passed by the contestants.”

The only injuries that year were a dislocated shoulder and a broken leg. It took more than two hours to get the guy with the broken leg off the hill, with the rescuers walking backward and held back by ropes. It’s that steep. But, hey, the prize is a cheese, right?

One winner said publicly that she didn’t like cheese and was going to offer her prize on E-bay. The bids didn’t come up to reserve price and I hope she learned to love the stuff, because she was the proud owner of an eight-pound wheel of the stuff.