A year and a half ago, a batch of homemade scones would have been made in someone else’s home, not mine. Now a year of experimenting with homemade scones has created a small sense of accomplishment for this tea and scone journey of mine. Just a small sense, though, because scones humble me as well. Despite the relative simplicity of the ingredients, the process of combining cold butter into a flour mixture remains my nemesis. Yet scones are part of my life now, and the experiments continue.
My latest scones were based on a recipe for Buttermilk Scones, with the option to substitute for the buttermilk with plain yogurt. A substitute for cold butter would have been more welcome, but this recipe is intriguing nonetheless. While the yogurt does not make these scones healthy, this recipe inspires me because of its connection to four women who share a commitment to natural, homemade foods.
The first inspiration is my friend Sara.
Sara is the mother of three who makes her meals from all-natural ingredients and uses local and organic products whenever possible. In her ideal world, Sara would live on a farm and grow all of her own ingredients. When I asked her for a scone recipe, she referred me to celebrity chef and modern pioneer Georgia Pellegrini and her 2010 book Food Heroes:16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition.
One of the culinary artisans featured in the book was Sue Forrester from Cumbria, England. Sadly passing away at age 63 shortly after the book appeared, Sue Forrester was known for her hand-made Cream of Cumbria butter, as well as for her “Butter Poetry,” which she enjoyed composing during the butter-making process.
A chapter about butter, poetry, and England of course must include a scone recipe. Georgia Pellegrini adapted a recipe from Cumbria’s celebrity food artisan and one of Sue Forrester’s customers, Annette Gibbons OBE (Officer in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). Annette Gibbons is author of Home Grown in Cumbria and has been recognized for her services to Cumbria’s Food and Farming Industries.
To do justice to these women and their commitment to natural, locally sourced food, the butter and buttermilk should be homemade (Food Heroes includes instructions for both), as well as the yogurt (my friend Sara makes her own yogurt). I’m satisfied with working on scones for now and saving butter and yogurt making for another time. As a compromise, I shopped at Whole Foods and bought Kate’s Homemade Butter (produced in nearby Maine) and 365 Organic Low Fat Plain yogurt.
In this recipe (used with permission), Georgia Pelligrini adds prunes to the scones and suggests cooked and crumbled bacon, grated cheese, or any other dried fruit as alternatives. My fruit additions paid tribute to a scone I discovered last year at a farmer’s market: strawberry and coconut. Again, I should have dried my own strawberries and coconut, but since I have no idea what that involves, I turned to Whole Foods for freeze-dried strawberries and shredded coconut, both free of additives and sweeteners.
Buttermilk Scones (made with yogurt)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ cup prunes, coarsely chopped, or any other flavoring tidbits (using my version, ½ cup of dried strawberries and ½ cup of shredded coconut – more of each if desired)
- About 1½ cups plain natural yogurt or buttermilk
- 1 large egg white, lightly beaten (Optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425º F.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
- Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles fine sand.
- Toss in the prunes or other flavorings. (Dried strawberries and coconut for me)
- Gradually stir in the yogurt (or buttermilk), stirring until the dough just barely comes together. If you find you need more yogurt, add a teaspoon at a time so you don’t overdo it.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and press down gently. Lightly roll or use your fingers to flatten the dough to about ¾ inch thick.
- Using a ⅔-inch round cutter or an upside-down cup, stamp out scones and place them on a baking sheet. (If you use dried strawberries, push the fruit deeper into the scones. Some of my strawberries were sitting on top and got a bit burnt.)
- Brush the tops with egg white, if you’d like, for a shiny touch. (I skipped this step)
- Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Eat immediately to enjoy them at their best, or let cool completely and freeze. To serve, thaw at room temperate and fill with fresh whipped double cream and thick strawberry jam.
These scones have a fluffy texture with a moist and buttery taste that lacks the crumbly quality of many scones. Even though the taste and texture may differ, the effect of spreading jam and cream and serving with tea creates a wonderful scone experience. While I’m far from mastering scones or qualifying as a food artisan, this recipe inspired me to continue my efforts and also to consider more deeply the rewards of natural, homemade foods.