As I have mentioned before, Derek occasionally requests some home baking to take to business meetings. Last Friday he requested scones. Although these are supposedly an easy option, quick to mix and bake, I've always felt that their homely appearance belies the whiff of baking sorcery required to get them just right. 'I can't even make a scone', is often the rueful admission of many a novice baker, but in all honesty I would start any home baking career with a sponge cake; banana loaf or biscuits, rather than the temperamental scone.
Prior to the advent of the ubiquitous home freezer, women would often keep a quantity of the 'rubbed in' mixture in a screw top jar in a cool place (then in later years in the fridge), ready for visitors, so all that was needed was to add the milk, pat out, cut and bake. In the small highland villages where I grew up, being considered a 'good baker' was a matter of great pride for many women (not only for scones of course). Each had their own secret method, or added a pinch of this or that to make their scones lighter, fluffier or sweeter than others'.
On communal occasions, or at local agricultural shows, there would be a procession of steely eyed country women, clad in home knitted cardi's, or tweeds, each carrying in their (usually substantial) bosom a carefully packed container full of golden scones and other baking, to be unpacked onto platters on the covered trestle tables in the village hall, or marquee. Friends they might be day to day, but there was no mistaking the competitive gleam in their eyes as they unpacked and displayed their home baking, with many a sideways glance at their friends' offerings.
My recipe is an amalgamation of several others, so can't be attributed to a specific writer, and has evolved over the years, but it is just right for my oven, and my style of baking. I am slightly reluctant to commit it to print incase I receive the on-line equivalent of letters of complaint written in lavender ink, but I will take the plunge. Perhaps it will turn out to be just right for your oven too.
The quantities below make about 18 scones, using a 5 1/2cm, straight sided cutter. Handle the mix lightly, do not knead the dough, pat it out using your hands, no need for a rolling pin. Additionally, the first time you make the scones, you might like to reserve about 1/4 of the milk initially, until you see how the mixture comes together (depending on what brand of flour you are using etc), adding the rest as required. Any scones that are uneaten on the day can be frozen immediately after they are fully cold, and then gently reheated in a warm oven when required.
840g self raising flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
120g caster sugar
180g raisins (omit for plain scones)
1 egg, for glazing the scones
Preheat oven to Gas 7 or equivelent.
Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together in a large bowl.
Add the butter and trex (I usually use the butter at room temp, and the trex from the fridge)
Rub the fats into the dry ingredients, until all is well amalgamated and of a sandy consistency.
Add the raisins (if using) and distribute them evenly in the mixture.
Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the milk.
Stir the milk into the dry ingredients using a round bladed knife. Work quickly and lightly.
You are aiming for a slightly sticky, loose dough.
Using a scraper or rubber spatula,turn out the mixture onto a generously floured surface.
Dust some flour on the top and pat the mixture into a round with your hands. Pat out to a thickness of about 2- 2 1/2cm. Put a handful of flour in a small bowl, or in a mound at the side of the work surface, and dip the cutter into the flour before cutting out each scone. The mixture can be drawn together, re-patted to a round, and more scones cut out, but I would do this only once; the dough results in tough scones if it is overhandled.
Place the scones apart on the tray. Brush the tops with the beaten egg, slackened off with a little water.
Place the scones in the top of the oven for 18 to 20 minutes, checking after 15 the first few times you make them. You will quickly find an exact time for your particular oven.
When the scones are well risen, golden on top, and also the bottom, place on a wire rack to cool. you might find those out the outer edges of the tray are ready first, and those in the middle can be popped back in for another few minutes.
These are best eaten when warm, and you should twist, rather than cut them in half, revealing the fluffy centre, flecked with raisins. Butter, jam, honey, cheese etc are all delicious with fruit scones. Pot of tea also essential.