The perfect scone: building on the work of six baking giants

Beth O’Brien tried out six very different recipes before creating her own

It’s hard to beat a fresh scone: warm from the oven, served with butter, jam and cream. I tested six different recipes (three traditional and three alternative), and finally I developed a recipe for an oat scone that is perfect for breakfast, with either sweet or savoury toppings. My main taking from this experiment is that scones should always, always be eaten fresh: maximum four to six hours old, or preferably warm from the oven.

The contenders

For this recipe test, I chose to make three traditional scones (by Darina Allen, Delia Smith and Mary Berry) and three more alternative options (Martha Stewart’s raspberry scones, Felicity Cloake’s cheese scones and Claire Ptak’s prune, oat and spelt scones).



Scones are typically made with wheat flour, enriched with some combination of butter, milk (or buttermilk) and egg. They should be slightly flaky, slightly crumbly, and light, yet sturdy enough to bear the weight of a generous amount of jam and cream.

The traditional scones all used the same ingredients, albeit in slightly different quantities. These recipes either used plain flour and baking powder or self-raising flour, both with similar results (although I prefer using plain flour and baking powder, as it gives you more control over the rise).

Butter content was in the range of 20-33 per cent of total flour quantity, with the lower fat content producing a lighter, crumblier scone, and the higher fat content (in Delia Smith’s scones) producing a richer, slightly heavier scone. Sugar content was in the 7-17 per cent range: both are relatively low, but the higher sugar content contributed greatly to flavour and colour. The liquid proportion was made up of either milk or buttermilk (in Delia Smith’s case) and egg.

Mary Berry’s scones had dried fruit, which I like in a scone but is entirely optional. If you want to add fruit, I like sultanas but you could also use raisins or currants, or even chopped apricots or dates. Martha Stewart’s raspberry scones followed a similar method to the traditional scone recipe, but incorporated fresh raspberries at the final step. I like the idea of a raspberry scone, but the added moisture from the raspberries ended up making my dough far too wet, and the result was more cakey than sconey. If incorporating berries into scones, I think frozen raspberries would have worked better, and add them before the wet ingredients so you can adjust the liquid accordingly.

Felicity Cloake’s cheese scones also follow a traditional scone method, but add cheese and chives. These were super easy to make and very delicious, especially when served with more cheese. Claire Ptak’s prune, oat and spelt scones, a regular fixture at Violet Bakery in London, are delicious – higher in fat than all of the other scones, but with a really delicious flavour from the prunes soaked in Earl Grey, and a beautiful colour and texture. They do involve slightly more work than the other scones, but they can be baked from chilled or frozen, making them a great breakfast option.


In my opinion, scones should always be made by hand: the optimal result can only be achieved with a light hand, and machines such as stand mixers often lead to heavier, denser results. Typically, the butter is rubbed or cut into the dry ingredients, before wet ingredients are added. I recommend sieving the raising agents when adding to the dry ingredients, and whisking the flour, sugar and raising agent together before incorporating the butter and liquid.

When forming the dough, it’s best not to add all the liquid at once, as it may not all be necessary. Add just enough to form a soft dough that comes away from the edges of the bowl. Don’t overmix – it’s okay if there are some dry bits, as they will come together as you roll and re-roll it. The first batch that you roll and cut will have the best texture, as the dough has been worked less, so try to get as many scones out of the first rolling as possible.


I like baking scones at a relatively high temperature – about 220 degrees (200 fan). They should be spaced out evenly on a baking tray with generous spaces in between, and baked in the middle of the oven. You may need to turn the tray during the bake to ensure they colour evenly. I recommend an egg wash, so that your scones bake with a nice golden crust, and I also love sprinkling Demerara sugar on top before baking.

Recipe: Beth O’Brien’s Oat Breakfast Scones

Recipe sources:; The Violet Bakery Cookbook, Claire Ptak;;;;