Retro recipe: scones (and jam and cream)

This entry is about British/Australian scones. Not the triangle American scones, which are a nice pastry in their own right, but have nothing to do with the scone I grew up with in Australia.

From the time I was very small, my nan would take us for a Devonshire tea, which is also known as a cream tea. For us, this meant we were getting scones and jam and cream alongside a cup of lukewarm, milky tea. We always had the warm scones, split in two with raspberry jam (usually homemade if the scones came from Nan’s house), and then a big dollop of freshly whipped cream.

It wasn’t until I went to have a Devonshire tea with a friend a few years ago that I realised anyone would question the order of scone, jam, then cream, but my friend insisted that the cream went before the jam. We had a little argument, then I went home to do some research.

Evidently, I grew up with mis-information, and our way of eating scones was called a Cornish cream tea, and that a proper Devonshire tea was the way my friend ate scones. Either way, we still call it a Devonshire tea at home, and it’s a common morning tea at our place.

I rate scones as an easy recipe, but they’re not without their challenges. For a long time, my Queensland nan was my world’s foremost authority on scones; hers were always huge, light and fluffy and so deliciously moreish that you could never stop at one!

With two nans who made excellent scones, I never really had a reason to think about making them myself. But when I lived in Sydney, I started making them as a way of using up leftover cream, or sour cream, or even buttermilk. I was editing the author Jackie French’s monthly newsletter and she always included recipes. One month, it was a recipe for scones. When I realised how easy they were, I gave it a go. Sometimes they worked out and sometimes they didn’t, but it was never a recipe I could be sure it would taste good enough to serve to visitors.

But when I moved back to Brisbane and my nan bought a new oven that produced dud scones, the morning tea mantle fell to me. At first, I cheated a lot and used my Thermomix to make them, but after a few batches were stodgy and over-mixed, I realised going back to basics would be better for my scones.

There are a few things you should note if you’re going to start baking scones yourself. Firstly, don’t ever over-mix or over-knead them. The success of a scone depends on using a quick, light touch at every stage. Just lightly combine the ingredients and knead with a gentle palm until they’re combined enough to cut out. Don’t worry if they look a bit rough, they’ll sort themselves out as they cook.

Next, bake them in a very hot oven. Now, this is the big one and the thing that I most often see people forgetting to do and their scones never turn out quite right: you need to arrange them on the tray without leaving gaps between them. Scones should rise into each other and break apart when they’re cooked. I cringe when I see people putting scones into the oven all spaced out and even on a tray because the only way they will rise evenly is if they’re touching. This is perhaps one of the only recipes where your food will cook better if they grow into each other and share the heat during the cooking process. Think about how scones look if you buy them from Baker’s Delight; a dozen always comes all joined together and uniform in shape. 

Next, when the scones come out of the oven, spread a tea towel open in a bowl and put the hot scones into the bowl with the tea towel covering them. Leave them this way for around 10–15 minutes. The steam is part of the cooking process for scones and will help make sure they break apart (which is the next point).

Last, when you split your scones ready to slather in jam and cream, don’t cut them with a knife.  My nans both say this, the CWA says this and now, I’m saying it. A good scone doesn’t need to be cut with a knife. They should, with a little pressure from your thumbs, break in half. Steaming them on each other in the bowl with the tea towel will help with this. When I serve scones for morning tea I always hold my breath when nan goes to break hers apart because I think this is the hardest part to get right!

Okay, advice given, here’s the recipe I use, which is for lemonade scones, the way my Tassie nan made them.

3 cups of self-raising flour
300ml pouring cream
¾ cup of lemonade (if you’re reading this in the US, you’re going to want Sprite or 7-Up rather than your version of lemonade!)

Preheat your oven to 210 degrees Celsius. Don’t even think about putting your scones in until the oven has reached this temperature!!

Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre.

Stir in the cream and lemonade with a round bladed knife to form a soft, sticky dough. Be careful not to over-mix, but a bit sticky is ok.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface (I like to use a plastic cutting board for easy clean up). Knead gently until smooth, press out into around 3cm thickness and cut out into rounds using either an approximately 6cm round cookie cutter or a glass (if you want to be traditional about it, a glass is how both of my nans did it).

Place the rounds on a baking paper-lined oven tray (TOUCHING) and bake for 10–15 minutes until the scones are lightly browned. They’ll sound quite hollow if you tap them on the tops. 

Once they’re done, pop them in the bowl with the tea towel for 10–15 minutes, and they’ll still be lovely and warm when you serve them.

Make sure you have some lovely jam and whipped cream ready to enjoy on these (or, if you’re like my dad, Vegemite and cheese).

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