One of the first things I learnt to bake was scones. I would have been in my early teens because we were living in Bombala (in southern NSW) and I even entered them in the local show a couple of times – and, if memory serves me correctly, I might have even won the category one year. But I’m not one to boast (ahem).
Mum always said that the reason I could make good scones was that I always seemed to have cold hands. I used to be all whatever about that, but I’ve since learnt that this cold hands thing is a, well, thing. The more slowly it melts, the more little pockets in the dough it creates as the scone rises and therefore the flakier the texture in the end result. Keeping the fat cool as you rub it into the flour is then, one of life’s conundrums – especially when you’re 50+ and have an inbuilt personal heating system and you live in South-East Queensland. I have, however, come up with a solution to that…but I digress.
Scones remain one of my favourite treats to make – and eat. So much so that they feature very heavily in my new novel – but more on that over the next few months.
I’d forgotten, though, just how much I love a good cheese scone until we had one for breakfast during our recent stay in Martinborough. Those cheese scones were huge but flaky, cheesy and as close to perfect as any cheese scone has the right to be.
When it comes to cheese, this is your chance to use up any pieces of cheese lying about in your fridge. Cheddar is good, Red Leicester is good, but as long as its a hard cheese and has a good amount of flavour you’ll be right. I like to scatter extra cheese on top, but my husband isn’t so big on that so the scones in the main pic have no cheese on the top, but heaps inside.
You can, of course, quickly turn these into cheesy savoury scones with the addition of a couple of tablespoons of chopped herbs – chives are good, but whatever combo you feel like – at the time that you add your cheese.
Aside from keeping the fat cool, the key to a good scone is not to overwork the dough – the less handling the better.
I use a knife to mix the milk and water into the floury-buttery-breadcrumby mix and pretty much swoosh it together. When it comes to rolling the dough, I don’t. I shape it and pat it to about an inch or so thick (although why I say an inch and not 2.5cm is beyond me) and cut from there.
The final note I’ll make is in regards to the flour. You can use plain flour with baking powder, Nigella uses a combination of bicarb soda and cream of tartar, but I don’t like the way that makes the scone look heavy even though they’re absolutely light. I use self-raising flour with a little extra baking powder and pop them in a hot oven as soon as they’re cut to get the most efficacy from the baking powder.
These scones are at their absolute best soon after they come out of the oven. All they need is good butter – and more of it than is probably good for you. After all, these are a treat.
Okay, the recipe – which, depending on the size of your cutter, will make about 12 scones.
What you need…
- 450g self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 100g cold butter
- 250 grated cheese
- 120ml cold milk
- 120ml cold water
- 1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk
What you do with it…
- Heat the oven to 220C.
- Stir together the flour, baking powder (if you’re using it), salt and mustard powder into a large bowl.
- Grate in the butter, then rub it in with the tips of your fingers until it looks like sandy breadcrumbs. Work as quickly as you can with this to avoid melting or softening your butter too much. Pop it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.
- Add the cheese, leaving a handful to scatter across the top (if you’re doing the scattering over the top thing), and stir to combine.
- Mix in the milk and water with a knife until the dough just comes away from the edge of the bowl – remember, don’t handle it any more than is necessary.
- Tip on to a very lightly floured surface and use your hands to flatten into an approximation of a rectangle about an inch high. Cut out with a whatever it is that you use to cut your scones – I like my cheese scones to be a bit bigger than I make my usual scones. Reshape your dough as necessary while handling it as little as possible.
- Put on a baking tray, brush over the eggy milk and scatter the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden.
- Allow your scones to cool slightly before splitting open.