Monday, 14 April 2014

Consider the scone

Consider the scone.

It doesn't matter how you pronounce it, although obviously the correct way is to rhyme with 'gone'. The scone is an essential part of any baker's repertoire.

This really is a bake that you can do with the most basic ingredients - flour, butter, milk, egg and caster sugar. That really is it.

But despite its humble nature, the scone is far more than a vehicle for jam and clotted cream. It's the centrepiece of any good afternoon tea.

Some of you may know I have recently moved to an up-and-coming part of London. This is good in some ways - my commute is much shorter, I'm more independent and I can see more of my friends who live in London - many of whom did MA journalism with me at Kingston.

In baking terms, the kitchen is tiny, but due to my shorter commute I have more time for culinary pursuits.

So, to cut the waffle, I decided to make afternoon tea for my housemates as a kind of housewarming celebration. I believe a proper afternoon tea should have four essential components; finger sandwiches, tea (made in a pot if possible), some kind of cake, often of the tray bake or loaf variety and of course, scones with jam and clotted cream.

For this particular occasion I made spiced banana bread with a lemon icing glaze, finger sandwiches with a choice of cucumber or salmon and cream cheese on both white and brown bread and scones with homemade damson jam and clotted cream.

But scones can be a tea all by themselves, as fans of the Devon or Cornwall cream tea will know well. See below to make the fluffy, buttery scones you have always wanted to:

You will need:
225g self raising flour plus extra to dust
75g butter
40g caster sugar
2tbsp milk plus extra to brush
An egg

1. Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan). Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, taking care to get as much air into the mixture by holding the sieve quite high over the bowl.

2. Cube the butter  - if it is cold you can soften it by putting it in a bowl with some lukewarm water for a few minutes.

3. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until in makes a crumbly mixture. Stir in the sugar.

4. Make a well in the middle of the mixture. Beat the egg  and milk together and pour into the well a little at a time, mixing continuously. My recipe book suggests you use a round bladed knife, I use a dough scraper.

5. The mixture should start to come together. Use your hands to bring it into a ball. If it is too dry to do this add a little extra milk.

6. Roll the dough out flat auntie it is 1" thick and use a 2" crimped edge biscuit cutter to cut out as many scones as possible . Knead the offcuts together and roll out again. Roll, cut, knead repeat, one might say.

7. Put the scones on a floured baking tray and brush with milk. Dust with a little extra flour. Bake for 10-12 minutes until risen and golden.

8. When firm enough to move, remove from tray and cool on a wire rack. But don't cool them too much. They're good warm.

9. Serve with clotted cream and jam.

If you're going to make a bit of an event out of your tea, here are some extra tips:

- Warm your teacups with a splash of hot water a few minutes before you are ready to pour the tea
- Little touches like decanting the clotted cream into a bowl, using homemade jam, putting napkins or doilies on plates, using warm scones, adding fresh strawberries or putting milk in a milk jug make a tea awesome.
- If you are making cucumber sandwiches, dry the cucumber off a little with kitchen roll. No one likes soggy sandwiches. And butter and season them well - it makes all the difference.
- Cream cheese and salmon are nothing without a squeeze of lemon and a twist of black pepper.

What are you waiting for? Get baking!