At the center of my Boston neighborhood sits the Loring-Greenough House, a historic mansion. It was the home of a wealthy British naval officer Commodore Joshua Loring. Loring, a Loyalist, followed his good intuitions and abandoned the property in 1777 right before the Revolutionary War broke out. The house was confiscated by colonial forces, served as headquarters for Gen. Nathaniel Greene, and eventually as a hospital for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Bunker Hill. It is local legend that George Washington paid the hospital a visit.
That’s a lot of history for a place that I consider one of my bus stops. Despite how badly things turned out for the British in my neighborhood, I have the courage to admit that when it comes to scones, I am a bit of a Loyalist. America may be about bigger, faster, better, but this unfortunately has resulted in scones that are much, much too large and heavy – colonial one might say.
When researching a recipe for this essay I wrote about superior English scones for the Monitor I called my good friend Glenda who has years of professional baking experience in England. She told me the secret is in using self-rising flour and working very quickly and lightly so that the dough doesn’t get too dense.
She was right. I swear my tea kettle whistled a Tory tune when the scones came out of the oven in my Boston kitchen.
I happily make these scones a few times a year and I recently committed to supplying my bookclub with fresh scones and cream on a Saturday morning. Trouble brewed when I discovered that I was a little low on self-rising flour. I consulted my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for the second batch to be sure I got the right proportions of baking powder to flour. And just because I felt a little guilty I wasn’t bringing a pure batch of English scones, I tossed in some dried currants.
The scones were a triumph topped with preserves and freshly whipped (unsweetened) cream. But I couldn’t help but notice that the few that were left were the “pure” scones made from self-rising flour.
I questioned my group, did they not like the superior scones? There was an uncomfortable pause until Jenna cleared her throat and said, “Personally, I like my scones with things in them.”
Of course. But secretly I think her Yankee spirit was asserting itself.
The key to making perfect scones is to use self-rising flour. Sifting the flour will add air and ensure that the scones are light. Work quickly and lightly and handle the dough as little as possible.
2 cups self-rising flour*
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk, approximately
1 cup whipping cream
Jam, to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. and grease a baking sheet.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add sugar and salt. Cut the butter into the bowl with a knife or pastry cutter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. (You can also use a hand mixer to do this.) Make a well in the center of the mixture and drop in the egg. Adding a portion of the milk at a time, stir the egg and milk into the dough using a rounded-edge knife. How much milk you use depends on the size of the egg. The dough should incorporate all the flour, but it shouldn’t be wet and sticky.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Using your fingertips, gently smooth out any cracks in the dough. Lightly press out the dough or roll lightly with a rolling pin until about 3/4 inch thick. Cut with a 2-inch round cutter dipped in flour. Place rounds on the greased baking sheet and brush the remaining milk on top with a pastry brush. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
After removing the scones from the oven, put them onto a cooling rack covered with a tea towel. Place another tea towel on top of the scones to trap the steam and to keep the scones from drying out as they cool. Serve warm with jam and whipped cream (simply whip whipping cream on high with a mixer until soft peaks form). Makes 8 scones.
*If you don’t have self-rising flour, use 1 teaspoon baking powder for every cup of flour.
Add 1/4 cup dried fruit, such as currents, raisins, or cranberries to the dry mixture.
Omit sugar. Add 1 teaspoon dry mustard and 3 to 4 ounces of grated cheese to the dry mixture.
Leftover scones can be frozen for several weeks. To reheat, wrap a frozen scone in a paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds. Enjoy!