What Is A Scone

A scone on a plate with raspberry jam and clotted cream. The scone is baked with currants and is cut in half. It is golden brown on top.

While enjoying scones as a breakfast treat the other day, a question was posed to me “What makes a scone a scone.” The person asking the question elaborated and wanted to know what defined a scone as a scone and not a muffin, roll, or biscuit. What a good question. At the time, I did not have an answer.

Scones

Plain scones stacked on a glass cake tray. The scones are golden brown on top, and a hand is reaching for the top one.

These delectable treats are the perfect accompaniment to a morning cup of tea. They are a denser bread than a croissant or biscuit, but lighter than a bagel or English muffin. To me, a scone is very similar to a biscuit. Both use baking powder as a leavening agent. Biscuits are made with butter and scones are traditionally made with heavy cream. Scones originally were made with oatmeal and wheat. Scones today can be made using a variety of flour.

The word scone originated in Scotland from a Gaelic word “bannock”meaning a thin cake made with oat and wheat flour. Urban legend suggests the name scone was possibly derived from the Stone of Destiny or Stone of Scone in a historic abbey and palace in Perthshire, Scotland. The abbey was the location where Scottish kings were said to be crowned. The Stone of Destiny, or Stone of Scone, is allegedly now under the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey.

Scones can be oven baked, or placed on a griddle, to rise to the sublime perfection of the perfect tea time treat! Historically, when indoor ovens were scarce, a baker would place the scone on a griddle, over an open fire to bake scones. The griddle scones tended to be thicker than a pancake but a little shorter than a traditional scone. Currants and raisins are the most popular ingredient added to the scone. Dried cherries, chocolate chips, and ginger can be added as variations to a traditional scone recipe. A baking tip for taller scones; let the dough rest before placing in an oven to bake. Often the shaped scones can be frozen, unbaked, for approximately a week.

Traditional Scones

  • 2 ¾ cups self-rising flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ¾ cup (3 ounces) raisins

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour and sugar in a food processor. Add the ½ cup butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl, then stir in the egg and buttermilk with a wooden spoon until a soft dough begins to form.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, knead in the raisins. Roll out or pat the dough into a ½-inch-thick round. With a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, cut into rounds. Reroll the scraps and cut out additional rounds. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle the tops with sugar crystals.

Bake the scones for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm with butter or clotted cream, and jam, if desired. Makes 12 to 14 scones.

Recipe from: Johnson, Margaret M. Tea & Crumpets: Recipes & Rituals from European Tearooms & Cafes, Chronicle Books, 2009.

How To Eat A Scone 

Small scones with raisins. A bowl with a spoon and clotted cream is in the background.

There are specific ways to separate a scone, and proper ways to spread clotted cream, and jam on a scone. A scone can be sliced horizontally, dividing a scone into a top and a bottom. An afternoon tea table might even include a scone knife for gently slicing through a scone. Separating the top half and bottom half of the scone should be a fluid and deft movement, not a sawing back and forth motion. A scone can also be broken into a bite size piece and consumed. It is a major faux pas to break the whole scone into bite size pieces, leaving a rubble of bits on a plate at one time. Simply break off a bite at a time.

One of modern day quandaries is to know what order jam and clotted cream are spread on the scone. Etiquette dictates that jam be spread first on the bottom scone half, next the top half of the scone. Jam is to be placed on each individual bite size portion of scone right before consumption. The clotted cream is placed on top of the jam. Lastly, don’t forget to have a napkin quickly available, because it will be needed after one heavenly bite into a decedent scone!

My Vice

A blue plate with very thick, fluffy scones. One scone is cut in half and spread with plum jam. Clotted cream has been placed on top of the jam, and the spoon is setting next to the plate. A jar of jam is in the background.

While visiting England a few years ago, I made sure that I had a scone with my tea at least once a day. My saving grace that I did not become as large as some of the castles I toured, was the simple fact I walked everywhere. While I can not recommend daily consumption of scones for better health, it is always a great idea to check in with a medical professional before beginning a daily exercise regime (or daily scone consumption).

Scones and tea…a perfect pair,

Leslie

References:

Johnson, Dorothea and Bruce Richardson.Tea & Etiquette: Taking Tea for Business and Pleasure.Benjamin Press, 2009.

Johnson, Margaret M.Tea & Crumpets: Recipes & Rituals from European Tearooms & Cafes,Chronicle Books, 2009.

O’Connor, Sharon.Afternoon Tea Serenade.Menus And Music Productions, Inc., 1997. Pratt, James Norwood.Tea Dictionary.Tea Society Press, 2010.

Women’s Day.Encyclopedia Of Cookery.Fawcett Publishing, Inc., 1966.

About The Author

A photo of Leslie on the patio wearing a pink cardiganLeslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea.  No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!

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