The humble scone: simple pleasures of a national treasure
Nothing brightens a morning tea or coffee like these surprisingly easy scones
Wholemeal brown scones with cream and jam. Photograph: Harry Weir
We have a wonderful tradition of serving warm, freshly baked scones almost everywhere in Ireland – in homes, small cafes, pubs and hotels. Tourists delight in tasting their first freshly baked Irish scone. The simple ordinariness of scones makes us take them for granted, when they might justifiably be regarded as a national treasure.
A morning tea or coffee with a friend, or an otherwise dull business meeting, can be that much more enjoyable with a scone served with cream and jam. I am proud that in hotel lobbies, they are still served with a certain aplomb alongside silver teapots and starched napkins, often with as much fanfare as afternoon tea, but for a fraction of the cost.
Scones are so easy to make by hand. White scones, with their soft, light, fluffy texture, are most popular with scone bakers, but brown scones are just as delicious, although much more humble. I suspect fewer people make brown scones at home – simply because there are fewer recipes for them.
Adapting a brown soda bread recipe might give you a passable brown scone, but I have found the nicest brown scones have a little “fat” added to them. All this entails is rubbing a little butter into the dry ingredients, but it really does make brown scones less dense. Buttermilk also adds a pleasing tang and a soft, rich, creamy quality to scones.
While white scones are largely served at morning time, I make brown scones to serve at any time of the day. They are great served as a savoury snack with butter, cheese, or avocado. Kids will devour them as a light supper when they come home wired and ravenous after a late session of sport, scouts or a summer evening walk.
Some people don’t bake scones because they feel they need to be eaten fresh or not at all. Here’s the best bit: I always make a full recipe because, once baked, extra scones can be popped into a plastic bag and frozen. Next time you have no bread in the house, you can take a scone out of the freezer and reheat it immediately – it is perfect once microwaved for 1 minute.
Wholemeal brown scones
Makes 12 scones
225g wholemeal flour
225g self-raising flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
30g sugar (optional)
75g butter, diced small, room temperature
To glaze: 1 egg mixed with a little extra milk
To serve: whipped cream and jam
Preheat oven to 220 degrees fan and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
In a large bowl, sieve together the wholemeal flour, self-raising flour, baking powder, salt (and sugar, if using it). Tip any wholemeal flour left in the sieve into the mixture.
Using your fingers, rub the butter through the dry ingredients until the fat is evenly mixed in and the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
With a light touch, stir the buttermilk with only 3-4 turns of a spatula into the dry mix to form a loose, moist dough – don’t over-mix it.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and lightly bring it together with your hands, use a rolling pin to roll it out to 2.5cm thick (or else pat it level with your hands). Use a medium-size scone cutter to stamp out scones (dipping the scone cutter in some flour helps stamp out scones evenly).
Place the scones on the lined baking sheet. Before baking, whisk the egg with a little milk and use a pastry brush to baste the top of each scone.
Bake at 220 degrees for 12-15 minutes depending on size, until risen and nicely golden on top (reduce oven temperature to 180 degrees after 10 minutes if the scones are getting too dark on top).
Once baked, transfer to a wire rack to cool. To serve, cut in half and serve with a dollop of cream and your favourite jam.
Don’t worry if you cannot buy buttermilk for this recipe, as it is easy to make your own. Simply add one tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to 225ml whole milk and leave it to sit for 30 minutes before adding into the dry scone mixture.