Our Definitive Guide to Scones

Over the years, the focus on scones as an accompaniment suprème for that freshly steeped pot of hot tea has been much pronounced across blogs and sites like this one devoted to all things tea-related. As something that is such an important part of tea time, therefore, the not-so-humble scone certainly deserves to be studied to enable full appreciation. So here goes…

Scones — The Ideal Teatime Treat

Cookies are great, as are those little finger sandwiches, but scones are the ideal tea time treat. Of course, the fact that people around the world eat scones with their tea on a daily basis can be pretty persuasive when one is contemplating the plethora of choices available to accompany a cuppa tea. This probably accounts for their reputation among those wanting just the right treat.

Why Scones Are Ideal

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  1. Easy to fix. Scones are ideal due to their ease of preparation. You have to decide which kind to make, but that will most likely be the most difficult part of your whole scone experience. There are drop scones, Irish scones, rolled-oat scones, and a host of others. You can whip up a batch on pretty short notice. Flour is the base ingredient, of course. Baking powder, sugar, butter, and egg yolk are other common ingredients. Recipes abound, but scones are even easier to make if you use a mix. Most are complete, like the ones from Sticky Fingers Bakery (my personal favorite). You just add water, mix well, plop on a baking sheet, and stick ’em into a pre-heated oven. Don’t forget to set the timer and use that baking time to steep up a strong pot of breakfast blend tea.
  2. Great holders for generous dollops of Devonshire Clotted Cream along with spoonfuls of your favorite jam. In fact, some scone eaters consider this the only reason to eat them and even disagree about which should be plopped onto the scone first, the clotted cream or the jam. Scones can be pretty tasty by themselves, especially the kind with various fruits in the mix. Anything from apricots, blueberries, and cherries, to dates, figs, currants, raisins, and many more. Other popular toppings on scones, though not very traditional, are butter, chutneys (especially ones that tend toward the sweet side like those made of mango) and even various spreads like cream cheese and peanut butter. (There’s a lot to be said for traditions, but personal taste is also pretty important. The sky – and your palate – is the limit.)
  3. Elongate tea time, especially if you include the time it takes to make them. Add to that their very warmth, aroma, and flavor — each saying, “Slow down. Enjoy me!” I like to break off a chunk, slather on some lemon curd or orange marmalade, pop it in my mouth, and let the flavor caress each tastebud. Followed by a full gulp of Assam or Scottish Breakfast tea smoothed with milk and sweetener, the experience is complete. I pause for a satisfied moment and then repeat the whole process. Sharing such a teatime with friends and family adds the element of engaging conversation between mouthfuls. (Yes, you could dare to speak while your mouth is full of scone, but you risk showering your teatime companions with sticky, jam-covered crumbs.)
  4. Fun, the final reason to put scones at the top of your teatime treat list. Aside from spraying your table mates with little scone bits (bad-mannered hilarity), you can have other activities such as speed eating contests. Speaking of games, break out the Scrabble, card deck, checkers, chess, or other favorite. Then, make your move. While your opponent debates their next gambit, you get to scarf scones and drink tea. But no slurping, please!

Scones Still Reign Supreme at Tea Time!

There are two basic scone categories: sweet (the most popular) and savory. There are also types peculiar to certain locations, most notably British-style and American-style.

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British vs. American Styles

British scones are lighter and fluffier, more like our American baking-powder biscuits. They also might contain oats and currants. They are usually not too sweet and will definitely not have a sugar coating on top, the way many American kinds do. British scones are meant to hold clotted cream and preserves (and even some butter, according to some aficionados). And they are definitely meant to be served with tea.

American scones can be complete unto themselves, needing no clotted cream or other toppings, and therefore being more like a dessert pastry. They tend to be a bit sweet and have different added flavorings: fruits, nuts, chocolate, and spices are the main ones. The style here is free, shaped anyway the maker wants, and with no tradition to have to follow. Thus, there is an American-style scone for every taste. Many think this is a tragedy while others find it wonderful.

Scones, Clotted Cream, and Jam — Oh, My!

Scones, baked fresh and then split open like we would an American-style biscuit, then topped with clotted cream and jam are the quintessence of Afternoon Tea heaven. Yet, there is some discord out there among aficionados about which to plop on that scone first: the clotted cream or the jam! A real dilemma.

The operative word is “plop,” for spreading on either the jam or the clotted cream is quite unacceptable, it seems. Both sides of the debate appear to agree. No, this is not the root of the discord. It is strictly an issue of order, not method.

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To some the obvious choice is to put the clotted cream on first since it is the equivalent of butter and has a comparable fat content. It therefore acts as a barrier and keeps the jam from sinking into the scone. This avoids “mushy scone syndrome.” That means that the folks who like to put their jam on first, a tradition with its roots in the Cornwall area of  the U.K., like mushy scones, while the clotted cream on first folks, who trace their origins to the Devonshire area of the U.K., like firmer scones.

Just how serious is this whole issue of order? Awhile back a sort of battle broke out over it, with the folks at Langage farm starting a campaign to promote Cornwall order (jam first) in response to folks in Devon petitioning the U.K. government about protecting the status of the Devonshire Cream Tea as a very particular thing (and definitely including the stipulation that the clotted cream goes on the scone first and then the jam). It was all in good fun but still showed that folks in both areas took the matter seriously enough to post comments about their favorite scone enjoyment method.

Speaking of fat content, here’s the breakdown between butter and clotted cream (and yes, some folks put both on their scones in this order: butter, jam, clotted cream):

  • Clotted cream — 55-60% butterfat (the fatty portion of milk); one source says 15g of total fat per 1-oz. serving, with 10g being saturated fat and 0.5g being trans fat.
  • Butter — 80% butterfat.

Sounds like a lot of fat, but unless you eat several ounces of each every day, along with a lot of other high fat content foods, you should be okay. Remember, moderation is the key in many things. Plus, you’ll be drinking tea with those scones, so that will help a lot in keep that nasty old fat at bay (at least, that’s the theory).

Whether you plop on the jam first or the clotted cream first, enjoy that mouthful of heaven — a great break in an otherwise stressful day.

So, why are you still sitting there? Get baking, and don’t forget to steep that pot of tea!

© 2016-2020 World Is a Tea Party photos and text

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