Whether you're thinking of monarchs or Mother's Day, a simple scone can morph from tea time to spring picnics — this recipe traces its royal roots to Buckingham Palace!
Words and photos
By CINDA CHAVICH
Whenever I think of scones, it’s the tender kind, topped with decadent clotted cream and raspberry jam, alongside a steaming cup of tea.
But a scone, as they say, is simply a biscuit with attitude, and whether sweet or savoury, it’s an easy and impressive addition to any breakfast, especially for a holiday like Mother’s Day.
In the American south, biscuits are served smothered with gravy alongside fried eggs and ham for breakfast. Often made with buttermilk, they’re definitely a savoury sort of scone.
The kind you’ll traditionally find on the tea trolly here — or across the pond anywhere in Britain — are usually sweet scones, made with sugar and cream, and dotted with raisins, currants or other combinations of dried fruits.
But modern bakers like to make oversized scones, filled with almost any combination of flavours to serve as portable breakfast fare. I’m rather partial to cheesy scones, like the Greek-style feta, spinach and caramelized onion scones at my favourite coffee shop or tender potato scones made with mashed potatoes and cheddar.
Biscuits and scones are endlessly adaptable — you can create your own savoury or sweet combinations, whether it’s sundried tomato and basil, roasted red peppers and smoky Gouda, caramelized onions and thyme, or white chocolate and dried blueberries, experimenting is fun.
It's easy to adapt the recipes for scones and buttermilk biscuits (below) to use up leftover cooked vegetables or bits of charcuterie and cheese in the fridge.
Still, not every scone is created equally. Butter and flour are standard, with some kind of dairy product – milk, cream, buttermilk or even yogurt. Scones may be enriched with beaten eggs, too, making them richer and more cake-like.
And whether biscuits of scones, most of these quick breads are raised with simple baking powder or baking soda (not yeast), then simply rolled and cut into rounds or wedges for baking. Brush them with a wash of beaten egg and water or cream for beautiful golden tops.
EMPRESS HOTEL SCONES
At the Empress Hotel in Victoria, bakers in the hotel pastry kitchen are rolling out scones every most mornings and baking them in the big rotating ovens, even making the wee thimble-sized scones to serve alongside the hotel’s famous tea-based Empress 1908 cocktail.
They serve about 300,000 scones every year at The Empress and you can try their recipe for high tea at home, or make some savoury scones for portable lunches and picnics.
Pastry chef Joga (a.k.a. Yogi) Kaler gave me this recipe for the famous Empress Hotel scones, one he says came directly from Buckingham Palace. This is a pared down version of their usual massive batch to try at home – it makes 35 scones but they caution, don’t try to cut it in half.
8 1/2 cups (2 pounds 4 oz.) all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 teaspoons (9 oz.) sugar
pinch of salt
1 cup + 2 teaspoons (9 oz.) butter
4 tablespoons (2 oz.) baking powder
6 eggs, divided (see note)
3/4 cup (6 oz.) golden raisins
2 cups (16 oz.) whipping cream
Egg wash (reserved egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons cream or water)
Using a large stand mixer, slowly blend flour, sugar, salt, butter and baking powder together. Mix slowly for about 5 minutes. The mixture should be crumbly but hold together when squeezed.
Beat the eggs lightly and, with the machine running slowly add the eggs along with the raisins.
With the mixer still running on low speed, add just enough cream to make a soft but smooth dough; do not over mix – the dough should gather and be slightly sticky but not wet.
Dump the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead gently together for a minute, just until the dough is smooth. Don’t overwork.
Roll out into a large, thick round (about ½-3/4 inches thick) and cut into 2.5-inch rounds using a biscuit cutter or glass. Reroll any scraps and cut more biscuits.
Set them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg wash.
Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 25-35 minutes until golden brown. Makes 35 scones.
NOTE: Lightly beat 5 of the eggs and separate the 6th – use the egg white in the batter and save the yolk for the egg wash
SAVOURY BUTTERMILK DROP SCONES
Get creative by adding sautéed ingredients (from chopped caramelized onions and roasted red peppers to mushrooms or greens like spinach and kale), chopped fresh herbs, and almost any kind of cheese to this simple drop scone batter.
6 cups pastry flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, cut into cubes
2 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs
½ pound each: chopped fresh spinach and crumbled feta cheese; seasoned with black pepper, dried oregano and thyme
3 roasted bell peppers, drained well and chopped, with ½ pound chopped old Cheddar or smoked Gouda, chopped basil and parsley
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of the food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the butter and pulse, just until the mixture is crumbly (you can also cut the butter into the flour by hand, using a pastry blender).
Transfer to a mixing bowl. Beat together the buttermilk and eggs, then add to the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. Fold in the savoury additions (spinach and feta with spices or roasted peppers and cheddar with herbs, or your own combination).
Scoop the batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, forming about 5 large scones per sheet. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, until golden. Makes 10 large scones.
This is my simple recipe for buttermilk biscuits (from The Guy Can’t Cook by Cinda Chavich, Whitecap). Serve biscuits (aka scones) for breakfast — eat them with ham and eggs, or for an even more decadent treat, split them and fry them southern style in butter until golden and crisp. The trick to fluffy biscuits is a light hand. Don’t overwork the dough and your biscuits will retain that ethereal quality.
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk
melted butter or light olive oil for brushing
Preheat oven to 425ºF (220ºC).
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender or two knives, cut through the butter and flour repeatedly until the butter is chopped into small bits, no bigger than peas. Add the buttermilk and stir quickly with a fork, until just combined. Turn the batter out onto a lightly floured surface, gather the dough lightly together, knead very gently and pat into a circle, about 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick.
Using a floured water glass or biscuit cutter, cut the dough into 2 1/2 inch rounds. Reshape any leftover pieces of dough and cut more biscuits.
Set the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet, brush lightly with melted butter or oil and bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Makes 1 dozen.
For savory herb biscuits add 3-4 tablespoons (45-50 ml) of chopped fresh herbs (like parsley, rosemary, basil, thyme) with the buttermilk.
For sweet biscuits to serve with strawberries for shortcake (or to use to top desserts like cobblers), make the biscuits with sweet cream instead of buttermilk and add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar to the dry ingredients. Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar before baking.
To make the sweet biscuits into chocolate shortcakes (awesome with ice cream and hot caramelized banana and pineapple toppings), add 3/4 cup of Dutch process cocoa to the flour and toss in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.
Or try flavouring your biscuits with orange rind and cranberries, apricots and almonds — the possibilities are endless!
CRANBERRY ALMOND SCONES
Dora Friesen of Integrity Foods in rural Manitoba shared this recipe for the yummy scones she sells from her farm-based bakery. While Dora uses a cup of her own cultured sourdough starter, this easy variation is made with baking powder. Dora says the scones can be sweet or savoury. Options for sweet include orange zest and raisin, strawberry and basil, apple and cardamom, blackberry and lavender. For savoury scones, omit the sugar, add 3/4 cup extra spelt flour and ½ tsp salt, then flavour your scones with parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, sundried or oven-roasted tomatoes and basil.
2 ½ cups whole grain spelt flour
¼ cup (cane) sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter (cut into dry mix)
½ cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Blend flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl, then cut butter into dry mixture until crumbly. Stir in the cranberries and almonds. Stir the yogurt into the dry mix with a fork. Work dough until nicely blended and smooth.
Roll dough into a ball. Pat it into a 9” circle on a parchment lined pan.
Score into 8 pieces or cut into 8 pieces and arrange separately on a pan for a crisper scone. You may also divide the dough into 2 equal 6” pieces and score each into 6 pieces.
Combine sugar with cinnamon for topping and sprinkle over patted dough.
Bake at 375 F for 12 minutes or till nicely browned.
Enjoy with coffee and friends!