Once a Simple Quick Bread
From the griddles of the British Isles to the chic cafés of Paris, the humble scone has come a long way. It was once a simple, and surely very heavy, quick bread made throughout the British Isles with the grains at hand, primarily oats, but also barley and, perhaps, wheat. While its history is somewhat obscure, the original scone may have come to the isles from Holland when the Dutch were plying the world’s waters, way back in the 1500’s. At the time, wherever it originated, it most likely wasn’t leavened, nor was it sweetened. Instead, it was baked on a griddle and served to nourish, most likely without condiments.
The above is just part of why fennel is special. It’s also wonderful because of its sweet/salty anise flavor that is as intriguing as it is delicious. And it has a long season, so you can enjoy it through the summer and into the winter.
TWO MAJOR VARIETIES – MORE BULB OR MORE FRONDS
Fast forward to the mostly sweetened, butter and cream laden versions of today and you think “How did THAT happen without social media?”
People attribute the popularity of the scone to the Duchess of Bedford who, as the legend goes, ordered a mid-afternoon cup of tea in the mid 1800’s. With it came scones, ameliorated from their humble beginnings, and the Duchess was charmed, then addicted. Every afternoon she made the same order which is, some say, the genesis of the British afternoon tea tradition.
The Duchess’s introduction to the scone coincided with the commercialization of baking powder, thus transforming the cakey pastry from a rock to a cloud. As the recipe evolved sugar was added, then a host of other things including currants, raisins, black currants, cranberries, and more. Today, the scone has been entirely whiplashed into a pastry of many guises. Filigreed with white frosting, dotted with chocolate chips, drizzled with salted caramel, the varieties are infinite. And this doesn’t even bring into account the savory scone, which usually includes cheese, often chunks of bacon, snips of chive, sprinklings of pepper.
Scone as Star
What accounts for the universal popularity of the scone is hard to pinpoint, but it’s definitely a star because whether you’re in a Starbucks in Hambourg, at Rose Tree Cottage in Pasadena, or at a local coffee shop in Paris, there will be scones behind the glass case, ready to be served with a hot beverage and a variety of condiments.
Queen Elizabeth loved scones and her recipes are published for all to use. Her preferred way to enjoy it was Devonshire-style, that is spread with jam then topped with clotted cream (crème fraiche) in that order. And our video is an homage to the late Queen, as well as a tribute to her country and the transitions it, and the British Isles, are undergoing. No matter what happens or what emerges, we suspect the scone will persist, and prevail. For whether it qualifies as a pastry, a bread, or a cake, it has slipped its mortal bounds to become something so much bigger than its original self. Bon Appétit!
THE BEST SCONES
- 7 tablespoons;105g sugar, divided
- 2 cups;295g all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- The zest from 1 lemon -- optional
- 12 Tablespoons; 1 ½ sticks; 180g unsalted butter, cut into small chunks, chilled
- 1 large egg
- ½ to ¾ cups; 125-185ml crème frache, sour cream, or Greek-style yogurt
- Preheat the oven to 400F; 200C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Separate 1 tablespoon of sugar and set it aside.
- In a food processor fit with the blade, place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and grated lemon rind (if using) and pulse once or twice, to mix. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal, 10 to 15 times. Tip this mixture into a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the crème fraiche (begin by using ½ cup;125ml). Add the mixture to the butter and flour mixture and mix by hand, just until you have a homogeneous dough.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured worksurface, form it gently into a round, cut it in half, then form each half into a round. Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheet about 2-inches; 5 cm apart.
- Place the scones in the oven and bake until lightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes for small scones, 20 to 25 minutes for large scones. When baked, remove from the oven, and let them cool on a wire rack, just until they’re not blistering hot.