Chemistry is key

In the past, I was never a huge fan of the scone.

For most of my life, the scone was an anonymous doughy vehicle for conveying jam and cream into my mouth. Often a bit dry, often a little tart with too much baking powder, frequently too sweet or with superfluous dried fruit, I simply couldn’t raise much enthusiasm for them. And then I came to Australia.

Here, the scone holds an unassailable position in the hearts and minds of the people. A good scone is a point of pride with those who like to bake. Men hold opinions about them, women compete to produce the best, and I’m not talking about the blue rinse brigade, either. It’s a social accomplishment to be able to whip up a batch of tall, fluffy, lightly bronzed lovelies at the drop of a hat. So it was a matter of some embarrassment to admit that actually, I couldn’t make a decent scone.

At school in the early 1970s, we were subjected to scone-torture, and mine were always akin to cannonballs, much more suited to being fired at the enemy with lethal effect. All that rubbing butter into flour, carefully measuring bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar, mixing the batter with a palette knife and always, always getting the amount of liquid wrong… I gave up on the dratted things and moved on to a lifelong love affair with yeasted dough and all its works. But in recent years I’ve found the fragrant, warm piles of freshly baked scones at my favourite teahouse strangely alluring.

30 seconds later, these looked as if T.Rex had attacked…

So I decided I would not be defeated. In the past few weeks, I have tried multiple recipes and methods and baking temperatures. I have gazed dismayed at dry, crumbly doughs that would not stick together, and horrendously clingy messes that stuck all too well. The Husband has heroically sampled them all, generous with encouragement and feedback. But today, I cracked it. My scones are tall, tender, light and fluffy inside. They split perfectly without a knife, to soak up butter and lavish strawberry jam. They didn’t crumble or cleave to the palate. They were not thick biscuits or thinly disguised rock cakes. They were Proper Scones. True, they could be smoother: my finishing still leaves a little to be desired, and on a couple of them I used the wrong (wavy) side of the cutter instead of the smooth side, but only a purist or a show judge would complain.

Not beautiful, but very yummy 🙂

And now that I can do it properly, I wonder why it took so long for me to attain this important skill. But the title of this post says it all. Chemistry really is the answer. So, the recipe:

3¼ x cups of self-raising flour
1 rounded teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup pouring cream (half & half)
1 cup fizzy lemonade (Sprite or 7up, for example)
1 good pinch of salt

Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Make a large well in the centre with a spatula. Pour in the cream and lemonade. Cut everything together with the spatula, mixing as little as possible to combine the ingredients. If it’s still very, very sticky, add a smidge more flour. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead no more than 5 times to bring everything together. Flatten gently with your hands until about 2½ cm/1 inch thick. Roll gently across the top with a rolling pin to give a fairly smooth surface. Using a smooth sided 6cm/2½ inch cutter, cut out rounds, pressing down firmly but not twisting the cutter at all. If you twist, you will prevent the scone rising to its full potential. Place onto a sheet of baking paper on a cookie sheet in the top half of a fan forced oven preheated to 200°C/395°F, for about 12 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Place half of a tea towel on a cooling rack, put the scones on the towel and cover with the other half, which will prevent the outsides drying out and going hard. Wait as long as you can before eating them. They’re best warm.

Makes about 8 man-sized scones or 10 more ladylike ones if you use a slightly smaller cutter.

The Chemistry bit:
Sift the flour and baking powder together, twice, to incorporate as much air as possible.
Measure the ingredients, don’t eyeball it. The cups I used are standard 250ml metric measuring cups.
Use fresh self raising flour. If it’s too old the raising agents will not activate as well as they do in fresh flour.
The fizzy lemonade contains both citric acid to boost the effect of the cream of tartar in the flour, and carbon dioxide to increase the aeration of the dough.
Don’t over-mix or over-handle the dough, you’ll toughen it.
Don’t twist the cutter, it seals the cut sides and prevents rising. You’ll want to twist. Just don’t. You can also cut the dough into squares, removing the temptation.
Place scones close to each other on the baking paper. It’ll help them rise upwards.

I’ve tried recipes with butter, with just cream, with egg and with milk. This one is by far the simplest, easiest and most effective. The scones are not sweet, but if you’re going to be adding the traditional toppings, I don’t think sugar is necessary. You get a tiny hint of sweetness from the lemonade.

And now, excuse me please. My scones are getting cold.

56 thoughts on “Chemistry is key

  1. Nanette says:

    Well now, next time you pop in I’ll be expecting that it’s with a tea-towel wrapped basket full of these lovelies.

  2. Brilliant… was wondering if you used lemonade and I see u did … I love making scones but don’t do many anymore as my kids are all health freaks and I end up eating them all !!! Thus the lovely rolls 😃

  3. craftycreeky says:

    I’ve never mastered the scone, despite being in the WI for over 20 years! I’ve never heard of putting lemonade in them either, I’ll have to try this one 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      Lemonade scones are a well-known thing here. Our CWA is your WI equivalent, and the CWA ladies are the queens of sconnery. I’d give it a go, as this was the one that finally changed my luck!

  4. rutigt says:

    Oh, you are so full of energy! I would have given up a long time ago! Then, on the other hand, we don´t do scones that much here in Sweden 🙂

  5. I’ve also never heard of scones with lemonade before, but the idea sounds great. I’m impressed with your perseverance, I’d have given up a long time ago. Hopefully, the Scone will be taking over from the Cupcake soon, as far as foodie trends go. I don’t really do cupcakes, just sick of seeing them everywhere. Of course, over here rusks are very big, but the last time I went out for tea Karen ordered scones with butter, jam and cream – and I have to say I’ve never seen or tasted anything quite like it. We’re going to the same tearoom on Friday so this time I’LL order the scones and remember to take a pic 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      These are definitely not cake-like. They’re similar texture, but not sweet, and you totally don’t have to have sweet toppings. I had cheese and ham on a previous, less successful version, which was pretty darn tasty.
      When you say rusks, do you mean something light and crisp, like beschuiten? I like those, but they’re messy to eat!

      • Rusks are double-baked so very crumbly, can be super messy. The idea is to dunk your rusk in your tea or coffee, but I’ve never liked having crumby bits in my coffee so eat mine dry. Not a good idea to munch on in bed….

      • katechiconi says:

        Some things demand to be dunked, and other are more trouble than they’re worth. And there’s definitely technique involved… But I’m with you on not munching the crumby, crumbly stuff in bed, although toast is OK if carefully managed…

      • Clearly you have also given this matter some thought. The easiest thing to eat in bed is, of course, chocolate….

      • katechiconi says:

        No, no! Ice cream! No chocolate crumb stains on the sheets…

  6. tialys says:

    Might just try these to go with my homemade lemon curd. It’ll have to wait until next weekend though as Mr. T. made not one but two pumpkin cakes on Saturday and they will have to be got out of the way first.
    (ooh I just see you’ve tried yours with lemon curd already – definitely a project for next weekend then.)

    • katechiconi says:

      We’ve just ‘tested’ them half a day after they were made. Still delicious. Two left for the morning, just to make sure they’re OK the next day…. Well, you have to do these things, don’t you? I think I’d like to try rhubarb compote and cream, too.

  7. Yay!!! If at first…In the U.S., scones are not at all that common. Instead we have biscuits. Not cookies but rather nonsweet versions of scones that look very much like what you produced. As my Yankee husband would say, pretty darned good.

    • katechiconi says:

      A friend in the US tells me that biscuits have a slightly drier and denser texture, but I’d think that depends on where in the country you are, and your family’s recipe. These have no butter or shortening, so I think the texture may indeed be a bit different.

      • I use the biscuit recipe my mother gave me—what a biscuit maker she was!—and they are very light and fluffy. But, yes, I expect it depends on where in the country you are. And denser biscuits are pretty darned good, too.

  8. Sandy says:

    They look great! I am another who never heard of lemonade in scones. Your version is interesting as it reminds me of a cross between the US versions I grew up with using buttermilk and the really basic Yorkshire ones I see in England.

    Since I can buy good ones I have never bothered to learn to make them because the calories a far less when I just pick a couple up for a treat. I do make the kids a quick version of cheese scones uses pancake mix a garlic seasoning occasionally!

    • katechiconi says:

      I think the acidity in the buttermilk may do some of the same job as the lemonade. Most ‘traditional’ English scones have butter rubbed into flour, some recipes have egg, and from memory, they’re a bit denser than these, not to mention much more fat! I was just so happy to find a recipe that worked for me 🙂

  9. I don’t bake much anymore but your terms “fizzy lemonade” and “pouring cream” leave me a bit lost. It’s interesting how we use the same language differently. 😉 My daughter and I are thinking about doing a tea for my sewing group in early December and we will definitely make scones but they are usually out of a mix. Lazy Americans. ;( They taste like a mix too. Our standards are low I guess.

    • katechiconi says:

      OK, fizzy lemonade is just Sprite or 7Up, as opposed to still, traditional, home-made lemonade from lemons like Nanna made. Pouring cream is a bit thicker than half-and-half, it’s what’s called ‘single cream’ in the UK, as opposed to ‘heavy’ or ‘double’ cream. Give these babies a go for your tea, there’s nothing package-flavoured about them!

      • Thanks, Kate. I don’t know if we have pouring cream. We have heavy whipping cream and that’s all I’ve noticed. I use so little milk product that I’m clueless. I thought it might be a carbonated lemon drink. Interesting thing with how the same things are different. 😉 Thanks for the education. 😉

      • katechiconi says:

        Half and half would work fine, I think. Australia and the UK are different too, but more aligned because of the British heritage. But cooks can always speak to cooks, food finds a way!

  10. Dayphoto says:

    Like you I never really liked scones but with the recipe and your testment, I’m going to get them another try.

  11. oh my, mouthwatering…you can wake me up in the middle of the night for scones, jam and tea!!!!

  12. anne54 says:

    My friend remembers going to her grandmother’s house, and within about 15-20 minutes after arriving they would be sitting down to a batch of Grandma’s scones!
    I was surprised to see that your recipe doesn’t have butter. Using cream would lessen the amount of handling for the mixture, so that’s a good idea……not that I cook scones!

    • katechiconi says:

      I tried a recipe with butter, but found the dough very dry and hard to handle lightly. For the quantity of flour, I find that two cupfuls of liquid is about right to make a soft dough.

  13. Robin Murphy says:

    This is the recipe my mother in law used always turned out beautifully. We love a good scone. My grandmothervused it too i think. Enjoy your last ones in the morning.

  14. kathyreeves says:

    I have made scones several times, but have no idea if they are up to standard, but they are yummy. Mine have been flavored with apples or pumpkin, etc. so I will try this one now. I have some jam that would appreciate a plain scone!😊

    • katechiconi says:

      Cheese, pumpkin and raisin are all classic flavours. But I wanted to get the simple, original version right first! The Husband is keen on pumpkin scones, so they’ll probably be next.

  15. Fizzy lemonade, hmm. I don’t normally go down the aisle where carbonated drinks are sold, will have to see if the US has such a thing. Eager to try your recipe!

  16. I’m popping round for tea 😉

  17. that’s an interesting ingredient – lemonade. Thanks 🌼

  18. I failed too many times in those years when I did baking and never mastered the scone – but fizzy lemonade!!! I’m almost tempted to have a go – I haven’t baked for about 20 years.

  19. Lynda says:

    Did somebody mention lemon curd? I’m IN!

  20. kymlucas says:

    So similar to our biscuits and yet different. Makes me hungry for one or the other. Or both!

    • katechiconi says:

      Now that I have the trick of making them, it’s been hard to stop. For the sake of both our waistlines, I’ve had to limit the output to one batch a week. Gone in a day… 😦

  21. Yum. Lemonade scones are the best. Begone dietary restrictions… so happy that your culinary world has been adjusted ☺

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