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How to Make Traditional English Scones: A Teatime Treat

Scientist and author, Beth is also a keen home cook. She enjoys trying new recipes.

Fresh baked scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Heaven on a plate!

Fresh baked scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Heaven on a plate!

What Is the Secret to Making a Good Scone?

Scones are quick and easy to prepare. If you have unexpected visitors, you can impress them with freshly made home-baked ones. Although they can be frozen, they taste best if they are baked and eaten on the same day. The secret is to make them in small batches with fresh ingredients. British scones are taller than their American cousins, and are round rather than triangular. The scone recipe given below is for the traditional English scone. It is plainer than the US version because it is usually eaten with jam and fresh cream.

The quantities for the recipe are given in US standard measurements. To change them into Imperial and metric weights, I use this recipe unit conversion app. It’s an easy way to convert all the common measuring units used in cooking and baking from US to European and British ones, and vice versa.

Recipe for Traditional English Scones

Plain Sweet Scones

  • 1 cup self-rising flour (or use plain flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder)
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, for glazing (or you can use milk instead)

Savory Cheese Scone Variation

For savory cheese scones, you simply leave out the sugar and add ½ cup of grated cheddar cheese (or other medium-to-strong-tasting cheese).

Fruit Scone Variation

To make fruit scones, add ½ cup of dried mixed fruit to the plain sweet scone recipe.

Equipment Needed

  • For mixing: Some people use an electric mixer, but I prefer to use a large mixing bowl and then manually blend the ingredients using a spatula or flexible straight-blade palette knife.
  • Flat pastry board
  • 2-inch round pastry cutter
  • Pastry brush to apply the egg glaze
  • Baking sheet
  • Wire cooling rack

Cooking and Preparation Times

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 10 to 12 minutes

Oven Temp: 425°F, 220°C or Gas Mark 7

Yield: about 10 scones

Cheese scones are a good option if you prefer savory snacks.

Cheese scones are a good option if you prefer savory snacks.

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  1. Before you start mixing the ingredients, turn on the oven. Scones need to be put into a hot oven. They rise and cook quickly at the correct temperature. If the oven is too cool when they go in, your scones will not rise properly and they will taste heavy and doughy.
  2. Lightly grease the baking sheet and dust with a little flour. This helps prevent the scones from sticking during baking.
  3. Put the flour, salt, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter or margarine cut into small pieces about one inch in size. With clean hands, rub the fat into the flour to form “breadcrumbs” using the rubbing-in method.
  4. Add the remaining dry ingredients to the mix. These will be the sugar, fruit or cheese depending on which variation of sweet or savory scone you are making.
  5. Make a well in the middle of the mixture with the spatula and gradually add the milk blending from the center. Fold the milk into the dry mixture gently so that you don't beat the air out of the dough. Your dough should be firm and not sticky once all the milk has been mixed in.
  6. To prevent the dough from sticking to the pastry board or your hands, dust a little flour on both. With floured hands, take the ball of dough from the mixing bowl and place it gently onto your board. Don't use a rolling pin to flatten it. Instead shape it by patting (gently!) into a one-inch thick sheet. This will double in height when it is cooked. (Don't make them any thinner or there'll be no room to cut them in half for the traditional fresh cream and jam filling.)
  7. Using a 2-inch diameter pastry cutter, cut scone shapes from your dough. You should be able to get about 10 or 12 scones from this recipe. Put them on the greased baking sheet and give each one an egg glaze. To make the glaze, dip the pastry brush into beaten egg and paint a little on the top of each scone.
  8. Put the tray of scones into a preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. (Check them after 10 minutes to see if they have risen and are golden on top. If not, leave to bake for 2 more minutes.) If you've handled the dough lightly whilst mixing, they will double in height.
  9. Place the scones onto the wire rack to cool.

What Is the Rubbing-In Method?

"Rubbing-in" is a technique where flour is rubbed into fat to make short-crust pastry, crumbles and scones. Using your fingertips, rub the flour and butter together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. The video below shows how to make traditional English scones. The film was made in real time and illustrates how quick and simple it is to make them.

Some Novel Variations to the Basic Recipe

Each of these is a separate recipe suggestion. They are not intended to all be added to the same batch of scones!

  • Use buttermilk in place of pasteurized milk.
  • Make a spicy scone by replacing the sugar with treacle or molasses and adding cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Add grated Parmesan cheese and crushed garlic for a tasty savory snack.

How to Pronounce "Scone"

If you visit the UK you will find that scones are eaten not just in England, but also in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You will hear regional variation in the pronunciation of the word scone.

In general, people in the southern parts of England make the o a long sound, so that it rhymes with cone and Joan. Folk in the northern areas of England shorten the o so that it rhymes with con and John.

The Stone of Destiny

Scones are thought to have been so named because of their shape. They were originally baked much flatter and resembled the stone (scone) of destiny upon which ancient Scottish kings were crowned at the Abbey of Scone (near Perth in Scotland.)

Which Goes on First: Cream or Jam?

Scones are traditionally served with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. In the UK they make an ideal snack with a cup of tea at teatime (that's about 4 p.m.).

There’s often a debate about whether the jam or the cream should go on first. The English counties of Devon and Cornwall are great rivals in this respect. They both produce rich clotted cream, perfect for putting on scones. In Devon the cream goes on first, but in Cornwall the tradition is to spread the jam on first.

Personally, I put the cream on first and then the jam, mainly for practical reasons, although my mother was from Devon. I find that the cream doesn’t stick very well on top of the jam; jam first makes the cream slither off as I try to eat the scone. But it doesn't bother me if others make the opposite choice.

Scones should be eaten on the same day as they are baked. They go stale very quickly and never taste as good if eaten the following day.

If you order a cream tea in a cafe or restaurant in England, this is what you will receive; scones, cream, strawberry or raspberry jam, and a pot of tea.

If you order a cream tea in a cafe or restaurant in England, this is what you will receive; scones, cream, strawberry or raspberry jam, and a pot of tea.

British vs. American Scones: What's the Difference?

British scones are simpler, and have fewer ingredients. The only fruit they contain may be raisins or sultanas. American scones are sweeter and come in many different flavours. They are designed to be eaten alone, unlike the English ones that are meant to be topped with fruit jam (jelly) and cream; most often strawberry or raspberry jam. The shape of the two scones differs too. American ones are often cut wedges or triangles, the British scone is taller, round, and lighter in texture.

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