Few baked products are more synonymous with England than the scone. In fact, scones have connections with all of the nations of the UK, and with the Republic of Ireland. They may even have originated in Scotland.
The first known reference to scones in print, dating from 1513, was made by a Scottish poet. That suggests that the scone was already long established, though we can’t be sure by when. But this reference does at least give us some indication of the age of the scone as a popular food.
Scones may have derived from the ancient Welsh tradition of cooking small round yeast cakes or leavened breads on bakestones, and later with griddles. One theory is that the name ‘scone’ may have come from the Stone or ‘Scone’ of Destiny, which was a large stone upon which Scottish kings sat when they were crowned. In fact, the Abbey of Scone can still be found, upriver from Perth, although the Stone of Destiny itself has been removed to Westminster Abbey.
Other potential origins for the scone are the Gaelic word ‘sgonn’ which means a shapeless mass or large mouthful; the Dutch ‘schoonbrot’, which refers to a fine white bread; and the closely-related German word ‘sconbrot’, which means fine or beautiful bread.
We think that originally, scones were made with oats, then shaped into a large round, scored into four or six wedges and griddle-baked over an open fire. Later on, they were cooked on a stovetop.
With the advent of oven baking, the round of dough was sliced into wedges and the scones were baked individually. Today’s scones are essentially quick breads, made with wheat flour, sugar, baking powder or baking soda, butter, milk and eggs, and baked in the oven, usually in round shapes.
The recipe produces a hard, dry texture, and the traditional English scone may feature raisins or currants, though are sometimes plain, relying on the addition of jam, preserves, lemon curd or honey for extra flavour, as well of course, the traditional clotted cream. Over the years, the scone has been developed as bakers have experimented with cranberries, dates, nuts, orange rind, chocolate morsels and other flavours, and these more exotic scones are often best enjoyed on their own.
In England, plain or currant scones are traditionally served with afternoon tea. First, the scones are spread with jam and then topped with a dollop of clotted cream, or the other way round, depending on whether you favour the Cornish or the Devon method.
But the vast range of choices out there means that you can find scones of every size and flavour. The ingenious modern bakers of England are turning out chocolate scones, buttermilk scones, treacle scones flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar, along with glazed scones and savoury sconesg. The sweet versions are still best enjoyed at brunch or afternoon tea, while savoury scones are more versatile. And the flexibility of the scone means that it can be enjoyed whole, filled, or simply sliced down the middle.
There is nothing quite like an English scone and to whet your appetite, here is just a selection of the scone varieties that you can find today:
Originating in Warwickshire, in the heart of the country, these scones are based around the traditional Ploughman’s Lunch, of cheese and pickles. The savoury Ploughman’s scone can feature a number of ingredients, but one of the most popular varieties is essentially a cheese scone, with cubes of apple, chopped pickled onion, and lots of additional Cheddar added to produce a whole meal in one scone!
Carrot and Coriander
The flavours of carrot and coriander are known to go well together and have worked particularly well in a variety of soups and broths. But these two ingredients naturally work well in a savoury scone, which can either have an element of cheese, or can simply rely on the natural flavours of the two main ingredients, producing a scone that is both spicy and refreshing.
The combination of chocolate and orange is not for everyone, but bringing the sweetness and bitterness of chocolate together with the zest of orange can produce a delicious sweet scone that is perfect served as a dessert or an afternoon tea option, requiring no accompaniment.
The marzipan Christmas bread, Stollen, is a luxurious winter treat, and it works surprisingly well when combined with the classic scone recipe. Care has to be taken when making a stollen scone to avoid excessive heaviness in the final product, but when well made, the Stollen scone combines the richness of Stollen with the lightness of the scone for a perfect winter dessert.
Another niche form of scone, this savoury version won’t appeal to everyone, but it makes an ideal hors d’ouvres. The hot, spicy and peppery flavours of the horseradish are balanced by the mild softness of the scone texture, for a classy and memorable scone variation.
Remaining in the genre of savoury scones, this take on Mediterranean cuisine brings the distinctive flavours of Italian pesto and Spanish chorizo together to make a perfect savoury treat that is perfect for eating at any time of day, as a snack or part of a bigger meal.
The rich flavours of sun dried tomatoes work delightfully when combined with the traditional savoury mildness of the cheese scone. There are many varieties of these scones available, and by altering the cheese used, many different flavours can be created. This type of scone also sometimes benefits from a dash of chilli and a sprinkling of herbs, for a fragrant and tasty snack.
These three ingredients may not sound like they’d make an ideal combination, but the result is a remarkable and memorable scone flavour. The fruity twang of blueberry and apricot are the perfect foils for the ginger flavour, and these rich and fruity scones are the perfect upgrade on the classic English tea snack.