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classic plain scones

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cream tea

Cream tea is an afternoon meal, not necessarily taken in the afternoon and not always incorporating tea. It is a Cornish specialty, or Devonian, and is common also everywhere else in England.

Nothing about it is healthy, unless you count the benefits of tea (the beverage), albeit milky and usually sugary. The food partaken at cream tea is bread with jam and cream – or specifically scones (pronounced to rhyme either with ‘gone’ or with ‘bone’ with no particular determinants), which are perhaps known to the Americans as ‘biscuits’ but not dished out with meat and gravy.

classic scones

So far, so confusing. To add insult to injury, there is a heated battle between the Cornish and Devonshire folk about what goes first onto a split scone: jam or cream? In Cornwall it’s cream on top, in Devon the other way around. They will argue the importance of the order, none of your ‘laissez-faire’ nonsense, and even the recent revelations about the Queen’s personal preference have not managed to settle the dispute. Oh, and also the cream is not just any cream – it’s clotted cream which exists nowhere outside the British Isles and is basically baked milk skin.

You know, don’t ever let anyone tell you English food is uninteresting.

plain english scones

Anyway – this is my peak scone recipe, achieved after several hundred scones baked and all of them eaten. I don’t think it’s awfully traditional viz. yoghurt but it produces light, un-stodgy and un-gloopy (the cardinal sin in mediocre scones), well-risen product. You can certainly make them with dried fruit but the classic for cream tea should be plain. Apart from everything else, the raisin scone with jam and cream doesn’t look handsome in the picture.

classic plain scones

Servings: a dozen sconesTime: about half an hour

INGREDIENTS

  • 400g (3 cups plus 1 tbsp.) plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 30g (2 tbsp.) sugar
  • 70g (5 tbsp.) softened unsalted butter
  • 230ml (scant cup) full fat yoghurt
  • 40ml (2 ½ tbsp.) double cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tbsp. milk
  • extra flour, for dusting

METHOD

Stir the flour, salt, baking powder, bicarb of soda and sugar together in a large bowl or the bowl of the standing mixer. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingers or with the mixer paddle attachment, until all the butter clumps disappear.

scone pastry

Stir the yoghurt, vanilla and cream together and add to the flour mix. Fold it in with a spatula or stir a few times with the mixer paddle until it starts to come together. If it still looks very dry and crumbly, add the milk.

Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly into a ball. Flatten it to a disc about 2 ½ cm (1 in) thick and cut scones with a 6cm (2¼ in) cookie cutter; press it firmly down through the pastry without twisting. Re-knead the offcuts and cut more scones.

cutting scones

Arrange the scones on a baking tray lined with parchment; dust the tops lightly with flour. Preheat the oven to 210C/410F/gas 7 (fan on in electric oven if available).

Let the scones rest for about 15 minutes while the oven heats up. Bake them for 10-12 minutes until well risen and barely golden on top. Brush the flour off the tops and cool them on a wire rack.

english scones

And now only the question of jam or cream first remains.

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