Currant Scones Recipe
This simple pastry takes the crown for a traditional English teatime.
Like others across the globe, I’m following the final journey of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II from Scotland to London. During this official mourning period, I’m remembering my visit to London two decades ago over Christmas (Her Majesty of course was at Sandringham) and, most recently, a lovely evening in St. Louis’s London Tea Room with friends as we learned to make traditional scones.
Teatime is woven into the fabric of life in the United Kingdom (more history to come), and it fascinates me that a simple culinary ritual is enjoyed by everyone there, from the royals to a London laborer. Whether you’re having a common biscuit with your cuppa or an elaborate spread, teatime is important to Britons.
Although I don’t partake daily, it’s wonderful to stop activity by 3 p.m., make a cup of tea and select a sweet to savor. It rests the mind and body and is a perfectly delightful tradition to carry on.
As a young cook, I tried making scones with disastrous effects. Whatever I did caused them to turn out like hockey pucks. No amount of dunking in warm tea or coffee could save these. So, when a friend mentioned our London Tea Room was holding a scone making class, I was all in.
Turns out making scones isn’t difficult at all, but as our teacher mentioned, quality ingredients are key, especially when it comes to butter. The tearoom bakers use a Danish brand of butter called Lurpak, but she added Kerry Gold, an Irish butter that’s readily available at most stores in the U.S., will also work.
To make Currant Scones, which makes about 8 servings, you’ll need these ingredients:
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
¾ to 1 cup currants
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
Follow these simple directions to make Currant Scones:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Using clean hands, combine flour and butter until mixture resembles breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl. The butter was room temperature, but I know other recipes keep the butter diced and cold to work with. We’re not going for a flaky dough here, so I think softened butter is fine to use.
Add salt, baking powder, sugar, and currants and mix well using your hands.
Make a well in the center and add milk. If necessary, add an extra tablespoon or two to help dough come together.
Mix first with a spatula and finish using your hands.
Turn dough on a clean surface and press down until flattened to about ½ inch thick. The dough should be a smooth disk.
7. Cut using a scone or biscuit cutter and place the scones on a greased baking sheet. Some prefer to cut scones into triangles or even use a scone baking pan. Whatever method you choose will work. The size of your cutter will also determine the yield; we got 8 scones out of our dough in class.
8. Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash.
9. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with clotted cream, lemon curd or your favorite jam. (I recommend clotted cream; it’s divine.)
Other scone flavors
The wonderful thing about this basic scone recipe is it can be easily adapted to incorporate other flavors. For example, dried cranberry and orange zest would be amazing for the holidays. Fresh fruit also can be used. In fact, fresh blueberry scones were top sellers at the London Tea Room. Their tip is not to mix in the fresh fruit but to flatten the dough to 1-inch thickness, make an indentation in the center and place the blueberry in the dough, fold in half and reshape as desired.
Savory scones are wonderful. Cut sugar to 1 tablespoon, omit any fruit and add (for example) ½ cup cooked bacon, ½ cup white cheddar and 2 tablespoons freshly chopped chive.
Is anything better than cooking (and eating) with friends? From left, that's Lisa Hanly (check out her blog for food and travel ideas) and my friend from college Barb Anderson. Me and my friend Beth Immer Eppy whom I met through Barb. Beth and I were bridesmaids in Barb's wedding (I won't say how long ago).
A spoonful of tea history
I’m part of a history meetup group and we recently held an outdoor tea. Organizers Susan and Kris provided a few teas, sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and jams. The history lesson included how the custom of drinking tea came to England. It was during reign of King Charles II (1660s) whose queen, Catherine of Portugal, was accustomed to drinking tea imported from Asia. The court, not surprisingly, joined in. But tea was heavily taxed (over 100 percent) and the East India Company maintained a monopoly, making it a beverage for wealthier Britons. Eventually, taxes were reduced to about 12.5 percent and tea became the morning beverage of choice.
Afternoon tea was introduced in 1840 in England by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. Evening meals were served at the fashionable time of 8 p.m., however, the duchess grew peckish around 4 p.m., so she asked that a tray of tea with bread, butter and cakes be brought to her room. She later invited friends to join her, and the upper crust of society readily adopted the practice.
Poorer households also paused for afternoon tea but “high tea” at the end of the working day was more practical here, the menu consisting of strong tea and hearty, hot food. Today, it’s estimated the British drink 100 million cups of tea per day!
I always enjoy the Hands on History meetups and learn something at each gathering. At our teatime, Kris shared her recipe for making clotted cream at home (something I must try because this teatime accoutrement isn’t easily found on this side of the Atlantic).
Kris said she simply preheated an oven to 180 degrees F. She poured one pint of heavy cream (don’t use “ultra-pasteurized”) into a 9x13-inch baking pan and let it go for 22 hours. I’ve seen other recipes go anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. Some recipes mention covering the dish, others do not. As you want some of the liquid to slowly evaporate, I’d imagine uncovered is the way to go.
Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday will be televised starting at 11 a.m. BST (6 a.m. EST; 5 a.m. CST), so my plan is to have plenty of strong, hot tea on hand, as well as a few scones, as I watch this historic event unfold. I remember watching the royal wedding of Diana and now King Charles III. It was moving to think I was one of millions around the globe experiencing something simultaneously. I suspect the feeling will return as the world pays its final respects to the queen.
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