English scones (known simply as ‘scones’ in Australia where I grew up) were one of the first things I learned to make on my own. I got the recipe from my cooking class in high school (which wasn’t called ‘cooking class’ but now I can’t think of what they were actually calling it) and this was something I would often make as my contribution when we were having people over. This isn’t the same recipe (that is probably long lost) but it’s based on my mother’s version, which is just as simple. You probably have all the ingredients already!
The History of English Scones
Scones are thought to originate in Scotland, showing up in the early 1500s. These early scones were made from oats, and they were shaped the way American scones usually are—formed into a round, then cut into wedges. Traditionally, they were cooked on a griddle over an open fire. It is thought that these early scones were flat (even though yeast existed back then), and that baking powder was added for leavening some time after it was invented in the 19th century.
Scones are now popular all throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland (and other places too), though they can be quite different depending on where you are. Scottish scones are still made with oats, but England began to use flour in their version instead. Nowadays, scones are baked in an oven, and they are usually leavened with baking powder, though there are versions that use yeast instead. English scones are also shaped into rounds rather than wedges.
English scones became an essential part of afternoon tea in England around 1840. They are usually very simple, like this recipe, as they are meant to be topped with jam and cream, though all kinds of variations exist.
Some English scone recipes use buttermilk instead of milk, or they use yeast for leavening rather than baking powder. You would need to make other adjustments in the recipe if you wanted to try these changes, so in that case I would suggest you look for a recipe that already uses those ingredients.
Feel free to add things such as dried fruit or chocolate chips if you like, or add cheese for a savory version. In this case you may find you only need to add a little butter when eating your scones, rather than jam and cream.
American scones usually have a lot more butter and sugar than this and often have all kinds of additions. I don’t currently have a sweet American scone recipe, but I do have one for these delicious whole wheat cheese and jalapeño scones!
How to Serve English Scones
Traditionally, English scones are cut in half and spread with jam and clotted cream. Clotted cream may be completely foreign to you; it is a very thick cream. It is made by heating milk using steam or a water bath, then cooking it slowly in a shallow pan. Over time, the cream content will rise to the surface and form the ‘clots’. In England—probably the whole United Kingdom—you can buy this in stores. Otherwise, unless you want to make it, you can substitute with butter, whipped cream, or regular thickened cream.
Scones make a great afternoon snack with a cup of tea or coffee. But they are often also served as part of an afternoon tea spread, with finger sandwiches and various baked goods. Of course, there would be tea as well!
How to Make English Scones
Prepare for Baking
Preheat the oven to 425°F or 220°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (I usually use the latter).
Combine Dry Ingredients
Add the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt to a large bowl and stir to combine.
Add the butter and use your fingers to rub it into the flour. This is something that feels less weird when you’ve done it a few times. Just keep rubbing the mixture between your fingers, breaking up any larger pieces of butter and rubbing them into the flour. You’re done when there are no obvious chunks of butter remaining; the flour will feel a bit like fine bread crumbs.
Add the milk, starting with the lower amount and only adding more if needed. The dough should come together and be slightly sticky. The exact amount of milk required depends on a few things, such as the humidity of your kitchen. This is something you will eventually get a feel for after baking a while.
Try not to handle the dough more than necessary, as overhandling may lead to tough scones. Knead only enough to ensure everything is combined.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out, or press it flat with your fingers (sometimes I just can’t be bothered to get out the rolling pin so I do this). The dough should be about 1/2 an inch thick. You don’t need to be too particular about the exact thickness, but keep in mind that your scones will not rise as tall if they start off thin.
Use a round 6cm cutter (a little over 2 inches) to cut out the scones and place them on your prepared baking sheet. Do not twist when cutting them out, as this may inhibit the scones’ ability to rise well. You can cut into different sizes if you like; just keep in mind that larger scones will need more time in the oven while smaller ones will cook faster.
After cutting out the first batch, push the scraps of dough together and roll them out to get a few more scones. After that, you will probably just have a few random pieces of dough, which I like to form together to make one final mutant scone (which is just as tasty as the others).
Brush the tops of the scones lightly with milk. I usually have enough left over from the milk that didn’t go into the scone dough. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden on top.
Scones are great either warm or cold, but they do tend to dry out quickly the following day. If you know you won’t eat them all the day you make them, I suggest freezing them. Once defrosted, they taste almost as good as when just baked.
- 270 g all purpose flour about 2 cups
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 30 g cold unsalted butter about 2 tablespoons, cut into small cubes
- 180-240 ml milk about 3/4 to 1 cup
- Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C) and line a baking sheet with baking paper or a silicone baking mat.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
- Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers until no large pieces remain. It should blend with the flour to resemble fine bread crumbs.
- Add the milk, starting with the lower amount. You probably won't need it all. You want just enough to form a slightly sticky dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll or press out until it's about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 6cm (a bit more than 2 inches) rounds and place on the prepared baking sheet. Be careful not to twist when cutting as the scones may not rise as well. You can cut into different sizes if you want, but keep in mind this may affect the baking time and the yield.
- Brush the tops of the scones lightly with milk (you probably have enough left over that didn't go into the scones). Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lighty golden on top. You can enjoy them warm or cold, but they are best eaten the day they're made.
- If you aren’t going to eat all the scones on the day you make them, then I find they freeze really well. Put them in a freezer bag, and when you want to eat one, you can heat it up in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.
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