A big jug of coffee had just been set in the hearth, the seed-cakes were gone, and the dwarves were starting on a round of buttered scones, when there came a loud knock.– Chapter 1, An Unexpected Party; The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Post rewritten and recipe updated January 2021. First posted January 2013.
No afternoon tea is complete without a heaped pile of scones, waiting to be slathered in butter or serves with jam and clotted cream. As the scene is described with a serving of buttered scones, this recipe covers the traditional plain scone, different from the sweetened version that would be served if they had mentioned cream. While there are some variations to this recipe, little has changed since the original recipes in Scotland. Some differences over the centuries:
- the inclusion of bicarbonate/baking soda in the late 1800s to help the scones rise. Because soda needs acid and moisture to activate, cream of tartar and buttermilk is also included.
- one large cake cut into wedges is now baked as individual circular serves.
- Scones were once traditionally cooked on a griddle (girdle), a flat circular iron plate, with a hooped handle to allow it to hang over a fire. Today, these scones come out of the oven.
Tips for perfect scones, everytime
Getting that perfect fluffy scones isn’t difficult so long as you follow some tips, and don’t just ‘chuck’ all your ingredients into the bowl. When I first started baking, I never quite understood how the technique could make that much of a difference. It’s all the same ingredients, right?! Now, I swear by purchasing the right flour for the job, and a sifter is always on hand.
- Use cake flour. Made using wheat with a low protein percentage means a lighter flour.
- Sift. Dump the flour in and your scones are likely to become denser. Sifting will help aerate the mixture.
- Only mix as much as you need. The mixing is to incorporate the ingredients but any more and you’ll compact the dough.
- Use cold butter. Rubbing cold butter in coats the flour, leaving the butter to release moisture when it heats up in the oven, leading to a lovely flaky scone. If you use melted butter, the moisture is already absorbed into the flour when you mix, leaving you with a dry, doughy scone.
Can I make these in advance?
Scones are best served hot out of the oven. However, some cooks suggest, and some ever swear by, chilling the dough overnight in the fridge before using the next morning. If you’re making these scones as part of a bigger Unexpected Hobbit Party, the other menu items, including:
can all be made in advance.
- Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford University Press, 1999
- White, Florence. Good Things in England, 1932