Food: US vs. UK Round 2: Scones

by Phyllis Irene Radford

usukIn 1971, my husband and I took a belated honeymoon in Scotland — his ancestral home. At one of our many stops in a tourist shop we picked up a book Recipes from Scotland by F. Marian McNeill. There are recipes in this book I haven’t used in forty-four years, like Venison Pasty and Roast Grouse. But there are a dozen scone recipes. I go back to White Oven Scones time and time again. When I was in Scotland I learned that a most prized wedding gift was a kitchen scale. One with a large scoop-shaped weighing platform, detachable for easy cleaning, was the best of all. Here’s why:

1lb flour ½ tsp salt
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda 1 oz. Sugar
2 tsp Cream of Tartar 3 oz. butter
1 egg Milk to Mix
Sift the flour, soda, and cream of tartar into a baking-bowl; add the salt
and sugar; rub in the butter. Beat the egg and pour into a well in the flour
mixture, with enough milk to make a very soft dough. Turn on to a floured
board, sprinkle with flour, roll out or pat out to a half-inch thickness, cut into
rounds or triangles, and bake in a pretty quick oven for ten-fifteen minutes.
If you use buttermilk (which makes a better scone) halve the quantity of
cream of tartar.

Serve warm (not hot) for tea, and spread with butter and/or jam.

This took some translation. By trial and error, lots and lots of errors, I figured out that 1 lb of flour equals 4 cups. 1 oz. of sugar is about 1/8 cup. And 3 oz. of butter is 6 tbs. A pretty quick oven is 375-450 degrees depending on your oven. 425 works for me. But the milk to mix? A very soft dough? I actually went back to my grandmother’s handwritten recipe for biscuits—American style as a biscuit in Britain is what we call a cookie—very soft dough translates as too sticky to handle. Milk is what makes a scone tender and flakey. Milk to mix means keep the carton handy to add 1 tbls at a time until it is a sticky mess. I cover my baking parchment (or cutting board or one of those Tupperware plastic rolls) liberally with flour and dump 1/3 of the dough onto it, then flipped it so that just the outsides are coated with enough flour to manipulate. Then pat into a circle and cut into quarters, slip them onto the lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat with the other two blobs of dough in the bowl.
Using a wooden spoon and keeping your hands out of the dough also helps the tenderness. Oh, and don’t substitute baking powder for the soda and cream of tartar. Most commercial brands contain aluminum sulfate to prevent caking. A
properly made scone will retain the metallic aftertaste.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Food: US vs. UK Round 2: Scones — 10 Comments

  1. It’s impossible to measure dry goods like flour accurately by volume. 1lb of flour is 1lb (or preferably 454g) of flour, and can’t be converted to cups, because it’s volume depends on how densely you pack it. No serious baker should be measuring dry goods by volume. Get a good digital scale and throw away your measuring cups.

    The aluminium sulphate in baking powder isn’t to prevent caking; it’s an acid that is only activated by heat and so ensures that your baking powder works in the oven as well as in the bowl. You can get double-acting baking powders that use other acids, and I’d suggest doing that rather than mixing your own with bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar.

  2. My hands are too warm and they start to melt the butter, so I started using a pastry blender (a handle with wires attached) to cut in the butter instead. Doing this, I also discovered that handling the dough as little as possible and working quickly have another bonus–the baking soda works better the quicker the stuff gets in the oven. Over the years, I’ve gotten to the point where I walk into the kitchen, turn on the oven and I take out scones half an hour later. The faster I get them in the oven, the higher the rise and the flakier they are. (It works that way for baking powder biscuits, too.)

    I also find that if I add an extra couple of tablespoons of liquid (maybe even a quarter cup) to my roll-em-out-and-cut-em scone recipe, I have a sticky mess that turns into drop scones that work real well as strawberry shortcake.

  3. What about crumpets! I love crumpets. I also love scones. Muffins, not much. 🙂 Though the so-called English muffin yes. And cornbread. Yum. I want some right now. But due to the dental surgery, no can have. Sob.

  4. Must add to be clear — by crumpet I mean the English version, not the Scotts version, which essentially is a pancake, which I’m not so fond of pancakes to start with. But I do love “French” toast. 🙂

  5. We are having a discussion about crumpets in January, Foxessa. I amxiously await your opinion!
    How does one EAT these scones, Phyl? Do you butter them, add jam? Eat them warm, or cool? At breakfast, in the afternoon, for dessert? Context means so much, with food.

    • Eeeks. If the crumpet discussion happens the first two weeks of January, I’ll miss it as I’ll be in Cuba where neither the internets or much that is interesting eating is much available much of the time. But — there is the most splendid music in the world and some of the world’s most splendid people to make up for what is missing.

    • Eating Scones? You don’t want to just admire the work of baking art? right.

      Split in two add butter and jam (raspberry is a perennial favorite). Warm or cold according to your preference and circumstances. At the Highland Games the ambient temperature some years melted the butter. Other years they never did thaw out. I like them warm, minutes after emerging from the oven. Modern microwaves achieve much the same light fluffiness and temperature when reheated.