A correspondent, “Nancy,” wishes recipes to be given in this column for home-made scones fit to be entered at a show. I am sure “Nancy” understands that the secret of good scones does not lie in any recipe, but in the skill acquired through long practice.
And practice is not everything. Some people have the knack more than others. A peculiarity of scone-making is that we do it best in our own way. A friend’s are better than our own, we say. She follows a slightly different method in some detail, and we imitate her, without the desired improvement. Indeed, our scones are probably not so good as usual, simply because our hand was not so sure.
First, as to her question about the kind of flour, the only answer that can be given is to use the best quality. Flour varies greatly, and the only test is a trial of it. Sometimes we have found flour that did not make the best bread made particularly good scones.
A mixture of flour from home-grown wheat makes scones of rich flavour and spongy texture, but they would not be likely to score high at a show. The best flour is of a creamy colour, and is soft and light when handled. For any special purpose, flour that has been proved should alone be used.
In respect to cream-of-tartar and buttermilk, there are differences of opinion and of practice. Some like the milk quite fresh, and others prefer it a week old. The chief point is that it should be well “lappered” and acid, but not in the slightest degree stale. As a rule, I do not find cream-of-tartar necessary but it does make the scones a litle whiter.
The ingredients of soda scones are ridiculously simple: 2 lb of flour, 1 oz of carbonate of soda, 2 oz of cream-of-tartar, a pinch of salt, buttermilk (sugar is not allowed at shows I think). Mix the salt and other ingredients with the flour, and pass it through a sifter or sift with the tips of the fingers, then stir in sufficient milk to make a fairly stiff dough; work smooth with the hands on a floured- board, and roll into a round a quarter of an inch thick; cut into quarters and bake on a floured girdle (the flour should have turned light brown if the girdle is of the right heat).
I do not know whether by “dropped scones” “Nancy” means a spoonful of batter dropped on to a greased girdle, then turned when bubbles form on the surface. These are then called pancakes locally. Experience alone can tell what consistency to make the later.
The same may be said of the other form of dropped scones, too thin to roll out and too thick to drop on the girdle; a good spoonful is dropped into flour and tossed lightly with the hands into a well-floured ball. It is placed on a floured girdle and pressed flat with the palm of the hand.
As regards the treatment of the scones after they are removed from the girdle: place them singly on a clean cloth folded several times and, after allowing the steam to escape for half a minute or so, pile them on each other and cover. This makes them much softer and prevents the skin being tough.
If they have to be kept for a few days, wring another clean cloth (an old towel or old white apron will do), not too tightly, out of cold water, and lay over the dry covering. I find that scones keep much longer soft and moist when treated in this manner.
There are several other details of scone making under question. It is better to mix the dough lightly with a minimum of beating, or it is improved by being well beaten with a spoon in the mixing? These are points which I have heard discussed along with others. And it ends with this that some possess the secret, which cannot be imparted of making better scones than others.