Let me paint you a picture, you’re in the English countryside, and it’s nearing four in the afternoon. It’s breezy, and the right amount of warm outside and you’ve got in front of you, a fresh, piping hot cup of tea and a towering afternoon-tea stand filled with warm, fresh out of the oven, scones.
Unfortunately, the best I can do to make this a reality is to give you my favorite recipe for buttermilk scones.
A scone is a quick pastry or bread that’s not too sweet; it’s super delicate, flakey, crumbly, and very buttery. It’s topped with some jam and clotted cream and enjoyed with a fresh cup of tea. Of course, scones are conventionally an afternoon-tea snack, but they also make for a great breakfast or brunch side.
You might recognize scones as an ultra-popular British snack consumed during afternoon-tea. But, scones are traditionally quick Scottish bread initially made with oats and cooked over a griddle. Today’s version of a scone is very different. The connection of scones to afternoon-tea goes back to the 19th century, and you can thank Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. One afternoon, she ordered her servants to bring tea with sweetbreads, including scones, and thus afternoon-tea was born.
With this recipe, you will learn how to make a classic, crumbly scone with buttermilk and no eggs. My recipe for buttermilk scones is a perfect canvas for any mix-ins that you’d like, such as dried fruit or nuts or chocolate chips or cheese; the options are endless.
What’s in a scone?
This recipe for buttermilk scones has, well, buttermilk, flour, butter, a little bit of sugar, vanilla extract, and baking soda and baking powder for leavening.
Any traditional recipe for scones has eggs and only baking powder for leavening. But, since I have eliminated eggs from my recipe, I’ve substituted it for buttermilk and baking soda. This not only gives the scones a beautiful rise but also adds a slightly tangy flavor to them.
Buttermilk is the residual liquid one obtains after churning butter. But, a quick hack to mimic buttermilk for recipes such as buttermilk scones is adding vinegar to some milk. Mind you, buttermilk and what we Indians know as chaas are entirely different things. Buttermilk is the byproduct of butter-making, and chaas is curd thinned out with water. So, you must use mimicked buttermilk and not chaas.
The butter in this recipe needs to be super cold; I’m talking — frozen butter. Adding cold butter to the dough will retain the shape of those buttery flakes in the scone. When it bakes, the butter evaporates, creating a hollow where it used to be and giving you the beautiful lightness and flakiness that I love in a scone. This technique of using cold butter to create flakey layers can be seen in pie doughs, puff pastry, and croissants as well. The key is keeping the butter as cold as possible until it’s time to bake.
An easy trick I have adopted from the internet to incorporate frozen butter into scone dough is by grating it. I take my required amount of butter, wrap one end in the butter wrapper or parchment paper and dip the other end in some flour and grate it directly into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. This is such an easy method to combine cold butter with flour, and grating gives you smaller, more delicate flakes of butter, therefore yielding a flakier scone. To ensure the butter stays cold and holds its shape, you must not knead the dough for too long. A scone dough doesn't need to be smooth.
Now, the shape of the scone varies from person to person and from recipe to recipe. The traditional way is to form the dough into a flat round and divide it into six portions, something like a pizza. The more popular version is cutting out circle-shaped scones with a circle cutter or a scone cutter. I’m keeping it closer to the traditional way for this recipe, and I also don’t have any circle cutters. I form the scone dough into a rectangle and then divide it into four pieces.
Next, the toppings — traditionally, a scone is topped with jam and clotted cream. Some use butter as a topping, but I wouldn’t suggest so as there is already a lot of butter in the scone.
Clotted cream is a thick English cream, and the only way to describe how it tastes is by using only two words: incredibly creamy. Now, I didn’t want to make clotted cream for this recipe, and I had leftover cream cheese in the fridge, so that’s what I used. You can also use whipped cream or some thick fresh cream. And remember — jam before cream.
The equipment needed for making my recipe for buttermilk scones is very minimal. All you need is a mixing bowl, a grater, and maybe a spatula. Then, of course, you need a baking tray and some parchment paper.
The parchment paper is optional if your baking tray is light in color, as it won’t brown the bottom of the scone as much. If you have a dark baking tray as I do, I suggest using parchment paper to avoid extreme browning to the bottom of the scone.
Here’s every piece of equipment needed to make my buttermilk scones:
Medium-sized mixing bowl
The Recipe for Easy and Simple Buttermilk Scones
Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 4 scones
90 grams (6 tablespoons) lukewarm milk
15 grams (1 tablespoon) white vinegar
187.5 grams (1 ½ cup) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
30 grams (2 tablespoons) icing sugar or powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
56 grams (¼ cup) cold butter
Preheat the oven to 220°C, grease a baking tray and line it with parchment paper.
Add the vinegar to the milk and mix. Let it sit for 2-3 minutes.
To a mixing bowl, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Whisk until combined.
Add the buttermilk and vanilla extract.
Now, grate the cold butter into the flour, and mix the ingredients using a spatula.
Once you have a scraggly dough, knead it lightly with your hands until there are no stray bits. Do not knead until smooth; you want everything to come together, and then you stop.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into a 7 cm x 5 cm rectangle that’s about 1-2 inches thick by adjusting the sides. Do not use a rolling pin.
Using a large knife or a metal bench scraper, divide the rectangle into four pieces.
Place the scones on the prepared baking tray.
Bake them at 220°C for 15 minutes.
Let the scones cool down for 10 minutes. Then cut it in half horizontally, and serve with jam and cream.
If you plan on adding mix-ins such as berries, chocolate chips, nuts, or even cheese and herbs, I suggest you mix them with the dry ingredients and then continue as you would.
You can freeze scones and have them later if you plan on making a bulk batch. Let them cool down completely and then transfer the scones to a freezer-safe ziplock bag or an airtight container. To thaw, leave them out for a few hours and then place on a baking tray and reheat at 150°C for 8-10 minutes. You can also microwave them for 30 seconds.