Scones and Other Elements of Good Company

Coastal Potlatch dish, Museum of Anthropology

One of the secondary pleasures of having people over is the opportunity–nay, almost the obligation–to make something to share with them. I like baking, but as I live by myself and I shouldn’t really feed all my excess baked goods to the dogs (and I have not yet progressed beyond the merest imagining of having pigs), it’s always good when I’m either visiting or being visited.

I had some Scottish guests over yesterday afternoon, and therefore made scones. I even found clotted cream (at Sobey’s) and that, with homemade jams from last summer–strawberry was the winner, with raspberry and rowan jelly also on offer–was a treat indeed. At least I thought so, and I believe my guests did, too.

It’s been a long while I since I made scones, but I used to make them nearly every week, back in graduate school when a group of friends and I were all finished with coursework and finding the process of studying for our Major Fields and then, that hurdle successfully passed, working on our dissertations a long and lonely slog through the barren uplands of scholarship.

The answer was, of course, a weekly tea-and-scones party at my house. Well, it wasn’t a house–it was a one-room apartment in a downtown Toronto low-rise apartment building–but we managed to cram in up to twelve people for long afternoons of talking, tea, and vast quantities of scones, clotted cream, and strawberry conserve.

In honour of those Tuesdays, and this past Sunday, and well, just the joy of baking and good company, here’s the recipe for scones I follow. It comes originally from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, and it makes the most superbly light and delicious scones imaginable. The only bought scones I’ve ever liked better are the ones from the Scone Witch in Ottawa (which you should go get, if you’re ever in that city). I especially like their ginger ones–and that’s saying something, as I usually prefer my scones unadulterated.


500g flour (approximately 5 cups)
2 teaspoon baking soda
4.5 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt*
75g (2/3 cup) cold unsalted butter, diced*
* I have a tendency not to have unsalted butter, so I usually make these with salted butter, and omit the extra teaspoon of salt. Nigella Lawson gives the option of 50g butter and 25g vegetable shortening, but I like these with all butter. (I am generally a Two Fat Ladies-style cook, as my foremothers before me.)
300 ml milk
1 large egg, beaten

water glass or cookie cutter, either way about 2 inches in diameter.
baking tray, nonstick or lightly greased


Preheat the oven to 425F.

Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar into a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture has a texture like damp sand. Obviously make sure your fingers are clean first! This is not a pie crust, you want the butter well integrated.

Add the milk all at once, and mix briefly (with a wooden spoon), then knead lightly to form a dough. You can do this on a floured surface or in the bowl, depending on how quickly the dough comes together.

Roll out to about 1 1/2 inches or 3 cm. Use the cookie cutter or water glass to stamp out the scones. I usually get around 9 from the dough, then shape the remaining dough into approximately the right-size rounds. I find that if you roll out the dough again the scones get tough, whereas they may not look as perfect but tend to taste just as good (and look lovely in a rustic kind of way) when just formed gently into a round. Place all the rounds on the tray.

Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg. Put in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until risen and golden–check the underside of one to make sure it’s golden; it should sound slightly hollow when tapped.

Enjoy with butter, or (better) clotted cream and homemade jam or conserves or preserves of one sort or another. And invite someone over to share.



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