No scones for us—sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland, doesn’t it?
A bright idea came into Alice’s head. “Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s it,” said the Hatter with a sigh: “it’s always tea-time … ”
Wednesday afternoon in downtown Sydney we were after a pot of tea and scones. Neither a difficult nor an unusual quest. But it was not to be. At the Westin in Martin Place the only way to obtain a scone was to order their set afternoon tea at (a minimum) $54 per person. Unimpressed with their brazen upselling, we left the Westin and tried the Sheraton on the Park where we’d had tea and scones before. But we were out of luck there as well. Although scones were on the menu, there were none today. The waitress told us we should have phoned ahead. For a pot of tea and a scone at 2:30 pm on a Wednesday afternoon! What’s going on here? Isn’t peak scone-eating time 3:00-5:00 pm? How long would it take to rustle up a batch?
That’s the thing about scones. They’re easy to make, quick to cook—and cheap. Recipes for scones are in every beginners’ cookbook and older cookbooks frequently offer several recipes—plain, date, fruit, savoury, pumpkin and other varieties. When I make them I use a recipe from an early edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly Basic Cookbook. I don’t do a lot of baking, but if you follow the instructions, there’s not much that can go wrong with scones.
The scone is described in culinary references as a quick bread (i.e. breads and bread-like products leavened with agents other than yeast or eggs—namely baking powder or bi-carbonate of soda.) Quick breads are popular with cooks because they can be made quickly and reliably. Unlike traditional yeast breads which involve a measure of waiting.
Traditionally cooked on a griddle, the scone is thought to have originated in Scotland and migrated south. That may be true. Who knows? What we do know is that, as Elizabeth David wrote in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, ‘once you start on scones, where do you stop?’ She recommends anyone interested in such recipes consult The Scots Kitchen (1929) by Miss F Marian McNeill which devotes some fifteen pages to the subject.
Oatcakes, puftaloons, Australian damper—there’s a huge range of breads and scone-like cakes made without yeast.
Whatever its origins, the scone has become the quintessential afternoon tea accompaniment, perfect with a cup of Assam or Darjeeling. I like my scones hot from the oven with butter and either a thin slice of cheese or a generous dollop of jam—blackcurrant and blackberry are my go-to preserves when it comes to scones.