Proper British Scones

In honor of Sunday, which as every one knows is for sleeping in, reading the paper, and dawdling endlessly over delicious coffee and even more delicious baked goods, I made scones today.

I have been looking for years for a decent recipe for scones. Back when I was a cook in Northampton, I used to work with a guy who would whip them up out of a recipe in his head for the kitchen staff during brunch shifts. When I left that job, I made him write down the recipe for me, and for many years I had that scrap of paper tucked in my old 1898 Fannie Farmer cookbook. Now I’ve lost both cookbook and scone recipe, and it has put me in a tight spot, I can tell you.

It is hard to find a decent scone recipe in these parts. In the States, it seems that we can’t abide a baked good that isn’t drenched in sugar and cakier than cake itself. The idea of a dense, rich, almost semi-sour biscuit, with only the merest hint of an egg wash glaze on its golden brown skin, seems harder for us to fathom than differential calculus.

I failed at calculus, but I know a good scone when I taste one.

The best scone I’ve had in recent memory was at a place called The Courtyard Cafe in Bath. It was across the alleyway from the more famous and somewhat gaudy Jenny Lunn Historic Eating House and Museum — a bit of a mouthful for what is essentially a rickety old bake shop.

After our day in Bath, Melissa and I continued our researches in pursuit of the ultimate scone, but we never found anything to exceed the ones we had at the Courtyard Cafe. So when we got back to the States, I started looking for a decent recipe, so that I could at least try to replicate the experience.

I went to my trusty old friend, The Internet, but mostly what I found was the sweet, sugar-glazed, cakey variety referenced above. Eventually, I began to stumble across websites that ended in .co.uk, which told me I was finally on the right path. When I found recipes that gave the lists of ingredients in grams instead of cups and tablespoons, I knew I was in the right place.

So I experimented for a series of Sundays. (What I won’t suffer for my research, I tell you.) Eventually, I came up with this hybrid recipe, which I am still using, and will continue to use until I hear of an improved version. You are quite welcome to turn me on to YOUR amazing scone recipe. Believe me, I will not be at all put out if yours is better than mine. I will most likely kiss your toes.

Beth’s Proper British Scones

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
2 ½ tsp sugar
½ tsp sea salt
4 ½ Tbs butter (cold)
⅔ cup milk (+ 1 Tbs for egg wash)
1 egg yolk

1.  Mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, and sea salt.
2.  Drop in the butter in tiny cubes and work with fingers until no butter is larger than a pea. Add the milk and mix briefly, just enough to bind the wet with the dry. Do NOT overmix.
3.  Drop onto a well-floured board and knead very quickly only 3-4 times.
4.  Pat into a circle about 1 inch thick and cut out scones with a small glass or cookie cutter. Knead together remaining dough and cut out more scones until all the dough has been used.
5.  Beat the egg yolk lightly with one Tbs of milk and brush the tops of the scones with mixture.
6.  Bake on baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm with clotted cream and jam. Or don’t, if you’re anywhere outside of the UK, and serve instead with a forlorn little mound of butter and a pot of orange marmalade, and wonder how much it would cost to have clotted cream shipped to you in small batches.

Then go to your favorite cheap airfare website and buy the damn plane tickets to London.

You guys, scones are getting really expensive!

17 Thoughts.

  1. Thanks for sharing the recipe! My first scones were in Bath in the year 1989–I still remember how wonderful they were! Although the best scones and clotted cream with strawberry jam I had while I was in England for 3 months were in Glostershire. I’d love to get the real clotted cream here, but what I’ve found isn’t really the same thing, even though they promote it as English Clotted Cream. It’s funny, but I can still remember the Jenny Lunn place that you mentioned even though it’s been over 20 years ago! What a wonderful place Bath is!

  2. That’s so funny. I didn’t realise American’s didn’t make them. I make scones all the time because they are cheap and quick and easy. I used to make a bizarre recipe that goes like this… 4 cups self-raising flour, 1 can lemonade, 1 bottle (300mls) runny cream. Mix all together, press out till about 1 inch thick cut into squares and bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes. These are light and delicious with raspberry jam and cream. We beat the cream till thick and add a spoonful of icing sugar. It’s worth trying just for the novelty factor, but it does make delicious scones!!

  3. I will definately be making these. I too love a less american scone. Have you a good irish soda bread recipe? I adore irish soda bread….

  4. Watched “Fannie’s Last Supper” on PBS last weekend. There was an assortment of chilled/molded jellies. They were pretty and wobbly but I’m positive I’d rather have these scones! Sounds and looks addicting and mmmmmm!

  5. As an actual Brit I can attest to the fact that American scones are not quite the same, but if you want one that is damn close then go to the Dunbar Tea Room in Sandwich. Really good cream teas, very authentic and their clotted cream is quite excellent. That is where I go when I get a little homesick. I went to college in Devon (center of the universe for cream teas) so there was many a scone, cream and jam combo in my food pyramid between the years of 1982 and 1988; and the absolute best were at a little place in Ottery St. Mary. I couldn’t remember the name of it so I just googled ‘cream teas ottery st mary’ and there is a tearoom for sale there – real estate, business and living quarters all in one. Hmmm. Do I hear change in career path?

  6. Ooooooh, gotta try these. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at scones, because I love having fresh, warm baked goodies for a weekend breakfast, but my wee girlies (I’m referring to my children, not my boobs) aren’t fond of overly sweet breakfasts like frosted cinnamon rolls etc. With the long holiday weekend coming up, I’m thinking I need to add these to the menu one morning. Sconey funtimes!

  7. @Sian – Thank you for the reminder about the Dunbar Tea Room in Sandwich — people have told me I should go there but I haven’t managed it yet. With your heartfelt recommendation, I will make a point of it. And that tea room for sale in Ottery St. Mary is incredibly tempting. :)

    @Angel – I loved that broadcast — I caught it by accident when I was in a hotel room not long ago, and was mesmerized. I taught myself how to cook out of the cookbook they used in that show! Victorian jellies are impressive, but the calves feet kinda put me off, I’ll admit.

    @Susan – I do have a recipe for Irish soda bread, as a matter of fact. I’d have to dig it out, but perhaps I’ll post it for St. Patrick’s Day…

    @deb – Yeah, scones in America are basically just differently shaped muffins, sadly. Most places don’t even attempt to alter the recipe, really. I love your version!

    @Cathy – Bath is an amazing, wonderful place and I can’t wait to go back in a few months. CAN. NOT. WAIT. :-)

    @Heide – Coffee and scones on a lazy holiday morning are totally where it’s at. My only problem is making sure I have all the ingredients on hand before I wake up that morning. It really ruins the effect to have to run to the store for butter in the middle of all this lazing about.

  8. Thanks for sharing the recipe! My first scones were in Bath in the year 1989–I still remember how wonderful they were! Although the best scones and clotted cream with strawberry jam I had while I was in England for 3 months were in Glostershire. I’d love to get the real clotted cream here, but what I’ve found isn’t really the same thing, even though they promote it as English Clotted Cream. It’s funny, but I can still remember the Jenny Lunn place that you mentioned even though it’s been over 20 years ago! What a wonderful place Bath is!

  9. As it is the Queen’s birthday today, I will make your scones for my personal, albeit Californian, ritual at 4:00 to watch a British mystery or comedy. Ta!

  10. Hi Beth,

    I just pulled off the web the alleged “best” tea houses in England but not one included Harrods tea room in Knightsbridge where they hold high tea and have been for “centuries!” (wink) Very odd. It’s expensive but a sheer delight. I’m from London though I’ve been here for years.

    I could never call myself a cook as I’m worthless in a kitchen but your scone receipe sounds great – and like you said, I didn’t have to convert ml, ct, gas marks etc. I reviewed three scone videos off the web using saltanas and one used lemonade….all had in common jam and clotted cream. It’s been a few years since I’ve had “real” clotted cream. In one of the online videos it looked like a box-style quantity of cream. Does one just whip it up to make something “like” the consistency of clotted or thick cream or what’s the trick to getting something close to real (yellow) clotted cream, pray tell?

    I see you’re a state over from me. Do you ever hold in-home cooking classes or take trips back to the UK? I was back there a couple of years ago for the holidays and still found it “oldy worldy” (stuck in the mud – if you get what I’m saying). Glad to be here.
    Thanks
    PJ

  11. FYI, for anyone on the east coast of the US, Wegman’s sells real Devon Cream, it’s in the cheese section.

  12. Ty for sharing your scone recipe.I have made them several times with exellent results.However like you they arent the same without real clotted cream.So I rang my best friend in Cornwall whos mother makes everything from scratch.Which she gladly shared.Like the lady above me said you can buy it at wegmans but I wanted to make my own. Basically what you do is make a steam bath its real important to use full cream milk I go to my local farmer and follow these directions….. Clotted cream (sometimes called clouted cream or Devonshire cream) is a thick cream made by indirectly heating full-cream cow’s milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in shallow pans to cool slowly. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms ‘clots’ or ‘clouts’.[1] It forms an essential part of a cream tea.
    I use muffin tins in a water bath .Make sure you leave the cream to cool in the bath once you remove it from the oven. mmmm mmmmm good

  13. Dunbar tea room: I have been to many a tea room in USA searching for scones. None, and mean none, have ever measured up to those at Dunbar Tea Room, Sandwich, MA. I have been there many, many years. My husband and I LOVE those scones but have been unable to reproduce them. Would love t he recipe. I bought a cutter wi th their English recipe but was unable to duplicate what they make. Please…………………………please……………..pretty please, can we have recipe scaled down to 1 or 2 dozen? My life would be complete with it.
    judi brogioli

  14. Well, I just tried one of the many recipes out there for “quick clotted cream” and it was an utter failure. Let me assure you, a mixture of whipped cream and sour cream does NOT approximate the real thing.

    Sadly, I don’t live anywhere near a Wegman’s anymore (the nearest one os over two hours away), and I have so far failed in my attempt to locate a purveyor of unpasteurized cow’s milk. If anyone can hook me up with the (literally) raw ingredients, I’d be ever so grateful.

    And Judi, I don’t have any special access to recipes at the Dunbar Tea Room, although I do live quite close to them, so I can certainly see what I can do!

  15. Beth: Thanks for your reply above. How lucky that you live near that area; just a splendid location. I would love to be able to replicate the scones. I am sorry to hear that the Dunbar Tea Room is up for sale. I do hope the eventual new owners don’t change a thing.

    Judi

  16. Just wanted to leave a tip on clotted cream stateside. After 20 yrs of CC deprivation as an expat I finally found a jolly good equivalent. Find a good middle eastern market and buy some fresh “GAMIER” since I’m a Devonshire lass born and bred there is nothing closer this side of the pond

  17. We have found, after dozens of attempts at making scones from a British recipe, that they just didn’t work in America. They always worked perfectly every time in South Africa. We finally twigged on that you need to use bread flour. There’s something about American cake flour that just won’t work.

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