Very British - Scones to live by
May 9th, 2009

My first handshake with British cuisine has been anything but noteworthy, quite the opposite. My friend Bettina and I had talked our parents into sending us to Britain for several weeks, officially to ramp up our English language skills for school. But more than anything, we were looking forward to spending time abroad and feeling like grown ups. Provided with a litany of good advice and a few warnings we already sat on the plane to London, where we – after hitting ground – hopped onto a bus to Hastings with a bunch of teenagers. Once arrived we were sent to our families and we immediately liked the open-hearted couple and their two small kids. Our temporary new home was small with lots of corners and cats and we felt delirious with joy… until we got served breakfast the next day. Baked beans from a can – spilled over a pale slice of toast – wasn’t exactly what we had pictured as the first meal at our host family. What I didn’t know was that things would get worse.

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When you are looking forward to your daily lunchbox sandwiches, which consisted of nothing more than two slices of white bread, a flimsy layer of cream cheese and exactly three thin slices of cucumber, you can probably imagine the cooking disaster situation at our host family. Being in dire straits, Bettina and I got inventive and experts in covering up almost untouched dinner plates with napkins. And when our guest mother finally asked, if we didn’t like her food and if we had a special wish, we couldn’t help but suggest “Spaghetti!”. We shouldn’t have. Ever tried canned Spaghetti on toast?

If it wasn’t for the little cafe near the beachfront that we had stumbled upon on our second day, I would have died. They sold scones and doughnuts with fresh cream and strawberries and from then on not one single day passed by without us leaving the shop with a box of assorted sweets. We literally lived by them. And the cucumber sandwiches, of course. Well, this was back in the 80s. Anyway, I sincerely hope this was not the average way of cooking back then… You surely now understand why my heart has a weak spot for cucumber sandwiches and scones. Sweet memories!

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So when my friend Cathy offered me her trusted scones recipe years ago, I was more than happy to rush into the kitchen and give it a whirl… which I never did. Until a few weeks ago, when I came across her recipe note. I didn’t pass up the chance this time and gave it a shot, tweaked it and fell in love again. I could easily have scones every other day and to be honest, we’re having them three or four times a week now – for the third week in a row now. (Will this ever end? Is it curable?) Last week I began to challenge myself, to see if I could make them in less than ten minutes – counting from the second I enter the kitchen to the moment I push the tray into the oven – and yes, it is doable, but not quite as easy as I had thought. But believe me, the result is worth every second, the dough is so wonderful flaky and moist…

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Preheat your oven to 220°C (425° Fahrenheit) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. You can prepare the dough either by hand or in a food processor, I love to use the small food processor my Braun blender came with (EDIT Nicky: concerning size, its bowl holds exactly 1l of water):

With a food processor: Give the flour, the baking powder, the sugar as well as the salt a quick spin until well mixed. Cut the really cold butter into small cubes and add them to the dry ingredients using the pulse function four or five times until you can spot no butter pieces that are larger than small peas. Distribute the chopped dried fruits and pulse once or twice, then add the milk (or buttermilk) and pulse again just until the dough comes together and doesn’t show big spots of dry flour anymore – it may still be a little wet though (you can add a little more flour if you think it’s too wet to proceed).

By hand: In a large bowl, mix together the flour, the baking powder, the sugar as well as the salt using a (wooden) spoon. Cut the really cold butter into small cubes and add them to the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or your fingertips to rub it in until you can spot no butter pieces that are larger than small peas. Mix in the chopped dried fruits until well distributed, then add the milk (or buttermilk) and stir in quickly just until the dough comes together and doesn’t show big spots of dry flour anymore – it may still be a little wet though (you can add a little more flour if you think it’s too wet to proceed).

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Dump onto a well floured board, generously sprinkle with flour and knead very shortly (3 or 4 times should be enough!) to ensure a fluffy crumb (whereas overkneading results in tough scones). Pat into a round disc of about 3 cm (~1,25 inch) thick and cut out rounds with a cookie cutter (mine has a diameter of 6 cm/~2,5 inches) and place them on the parchment paper lined baking tray. (If you dip the cookie cutter in flour after each, the next one will come off more easily. Besides, try not to twist the cookie cutter, because this causes the scones to rise unevenly.) Quickly knead together remaining dough, pat to the same thickness and cut out more scones.

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Lightly beat the egg yolk with one tbsp of milk and brush the tops of the scones. Bake on middle level for 13 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack. Best enjoyed while still warm with unsalted butter/clotted cream and jam.

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Scones with sultanas and cranberries

Recipe Source: adapted from my friend Cathy

Prep time: 10-15 min., baking 13-15 min.

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Ingredients (yields 6 scones):

200g all-purpose flour, plus more for handling the dough

1,5 tsp baking powder

2,5 tbsp white sugar

0,5 tsp fine sea salt

60g cold butter

50g chopped sultanas and cranberries (or other dried fruits)

140-150g milk (1,5 %) or buttermilk (amount corrected)

for brushing: 1 egg yolk and 1 tbsp milk

serve with unsalted butter or clotted cream and jam

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