Scones & Cream Teas

EpicureanPiranha | June 26th, 2010 - 15:39

Scones – A Long History!

Quebecer’s are well known for their gourmand gourmet foodie culture, and for their fondness of rich, baked goods, of which there are countless delicious varieties!

My lemon scones

My lemon scones – warm, rich, tender, and fragrant with lemon zest!

One of these is the once humble quick bread known as the scone, the origin of which is Scottish, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, dates back to 1513 or earlier. This is date of the oldest written reference to the once small, flat bread. Since few people were literate in those days, and baking skills were simply handed down in families though observation, it’s safe to assume that scones had existed long before then. Leavening agents such as baking powder and baking soda were unknown until the 19th century, and eggs were rarely used for this purpose by common folk. Made from coarse flour, without sugar or leavening agents, and cooked directly on a wood stove or a sort of griddle, they were fairly hard and dry, and I’m not sure I would have been fond of this ancient version!

Thankfully, even though it bore the same name in those days, this was but a very distant cousin of the tender, delicate scones we know today! 

Enjoyed in Many Countries …

Whether you pronounce them “skon” as in John, or “skoan” as in Joan, scones have long been baked and loved not only by people in Britain, but also in Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and many other countries including Holland. The true origin of the name has been lost in time, although it may have been derived from the “Dutch word schoonbroot, meaning ‘fine white bread’, the Middle Dutch ‘schoonbroot: schoon, bright + broot, bread’ [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language], or even the Middle Low German schonbrot“[]. The other theory, though less favoured, is that the name has to do with the name of “the stone upon which medieval Scottish kings were crowned, which is from the village of Scone, near Perth in E. Scotland” [Wikipedia].

When I lived in France, although they weren’t readily available except from rare English tea shops and Marks & Spencer on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris [which, much to the chagrin of many, closed its large French branch many years ago], they were a much appreciated treat! But nothing can rival the home-baked delicacy of fresh scones made with care! These have nothing in common with the compact disks available on most super-market shelves!

Afternoon Tea Chez Epi

Afternoon Tea Chez Epi with Petits Gâteaux aux Agrumes …

Scones are the centerpiece of British Cream Teas, which is tea served with warm scones, clotted cream, and jam. Devonshire and Cornish Cream Teas are famous for the quality of their rich clotted cream.

Wikipedia offers an accurate, but sterile definition of the gorgeous and unique product called clotted cream, of which this is an exerpt:

Clotted cream is a thick yellow cream made by heating unpasteurised cow’s milk and then leaving it in shallow pans for several hours. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms clots.

In the European Union, Cornish clotted cream is a protected designation of origin (PDO) for cream produced by the traditional recipe in Cornwall.

True Cornish clotted cream must be made from unpasteurised milk or the clots will not form. It has a minimum fat content of 55% …”

A much more apt definition would be a lovely pale yellow, rich, decadent cream that is so thick it does not need to be whipped. The only accurate preparation method I have found on the web after looking at a whole page of links is this one, on the Devon Calling website, which provides Travel and Tourist information about this beautiful part of the world: Devon Clotted Cream.

In London, where the term Afternoon Tea is more often used, other small pastries and dainty finger sandwiches are traditionally served along with the warm scones, jam and cream. The best scones I tasted in England were always freshly made, in quaint teashops or Bed & Breakfasts [B&B], and of course, in London’s finest grand hotels, famous for their elegant Afternoon Teas ~ the memory of which I still savour!

Here are a few of my favourite addresses if you plan to travel to England:

  • If you’re planning to visit the East Coast and going to seaside villages like Brighton and Eastbourne, then do try to make your way to the tiny picturesque village of Rye in East Sussex, which has the loveliest old fashioned tea rooms, restaurants, charming B&Bs and ancient inns! After walking it’s ancient narrow streets, climbing to the top of the tower in St Mary’s Church for a breathtaking view, and perhaps browsing through some of the lovely shops, a cream tea is the perfect treat!
  • Betty’s Tea Rooms  in the lovely city of York has long been known for its tea and pastries since it was first open in 1920 by Betty’s founder, Frederick Belmont, a young Swiss Confectioner. All of their delicious baked goods and chocolates are still prepared by hand. After visiting York Minster Cathedral, the second largest Gothic cathedral of Northern Europe and a masterpiece of stained glass windows and architecture, it’s the perfect place for a cream tea before doing more sight seeing and then perhaps having a glass of ale in one of York’s haunted pubs!
  • Sally Lunn’s in the beautiful Roman spa city of Bath in Somerset. Situated in Bath’s oldest house, it also happens to be where Sally Lunn [Solange Luyon], a young French refugee, arrived circa 1680 and first baked what came to be known as the famous Sally Lunn Bun. But the house dates back to much earlier times, and the original Roman and Medieval foundations can be seen in their museum. Of course, you cannot visit England’s West Country without visiting the incredible Roman Baths, and if you are staying in London, Bath is close enough so that you can take do it as a day trip. After this, you may have enough of an appetite to enjoy both a cream tea and a Sally Lunn Bun!
  • And of course, when in London, you must try to have Afternoon Tea in one of London’s Grand Hotels! My personal favourite is Claridge’s for the sleek elegance of its exquisite 1920′s décor, wonderful food and service. Then of course, there is the timeless opulence and grandeur of the Ritz. Both these hotels are often booked many weeks in advance for their renowned afternoon teas, but there are many other fine hotels to try, including the Savoy, Browns, and The LanesBorough.

Scones, “Galettes au Lait de Beurre”, and Many Other Versions!

On this side of the pond, where scones are also much appreciated, I love to indulge in a leisurely breakfast or brunch, and these are an ideal type of treat to serve alone or as part of a selection of baked goods on these occasions. I’ve tasted meltingly delicious scones in some hotels here, particularly in Victoria, British Columbia, in Vermont at a small country inn, and all the way down in San Francisco, many years ago!

Fresh lavender & lemon scones

Scones are delicious when served warm from the oven with cold butter, fresh fruit, jam and cream.

Since I lived abroad for so long, I haven’t had the chance to discover places where they make outstanding scones in Québec, but I’ve no doubt they exist!  My mom tells me how when she was a little girl growing up in the Gaspé countryside [Eastern tip of the Province of Québec], her mother would make these on the day she would churn the butter, from the buttermilk. They were simply called “galettes au lait de beurre”, which means buttermilk buns.

Antique cream separator

This cream separator is similar to the one that was used by my grandparents, which they had purchased from the T.Eaton Company catalogue (texture courtesy of PareeErica on Flickr).

They’d eat them hot out of the oven with lots of freshly churned butter and wonderful homemade strawberry jam made with the tiniest, most flavourful strawberries you’ve ever tasted ~and it was a real treat! The sweet butter and buttermilk made them extra tender. In fact, if you want a rich but meltingly tender, flaky scone, use soured milk made from skim milk and fresh lemon juice, or buttermilk, and a higger percentage of butter, and most importantly, don’t overmanipulate the dough! Scones don’t have to look perfect and smooth, and if they do, chances are they’ll be much more compact, which is definitely not what you are looking for!

I remember their huge centrifuge machine and butter churner, and being fascinated by the process of splitting milk into skim milk and cream.  The skim milk was given to the pigs ~ in the countryside especially, no one dreamt of drinking that pale liquid until perhaps the 1950′s or later! How times change!  Sadly, they never made buttermilk buns while I was visiting, but oh, how I used to love that tiny field strawberry jam and going to pick  them in the fields behind my grandparent’s country home [I'd end up eating as many or more than I managed to collect!].   Such sweet memories

Although the most well known varieties are plain, buttermilk, fruit, and cheese scones, there are countless flavours and names for these little quick breads. In parts of England, NZ, Australia and North America, savoury scones made with all sorts of flowers and grains, herbs, cheeses, the addition of vegetables and/or meats, and even fish and seafood, are very popular for brunch or as an accompaniment for a light meal. Sweet varieties can be made with or without the addition of eggs and with a variety of liquids from skim milk to cream, and juice to fruit purées, and with different types of sweetener ranging from sugar to maple syrup for varying degrees of richness and flavour!

Fresh lavender & lemon scones

Scones flavoured with fresh lavender and lemon zest have a fresh delicate taste!

They can even be flavoured with flowers such as lavender or roses, or with orange or rose water. Scones made with fresh lavender blossoms and lemon zest have a delicate, fresh flavour that’s simply wonderful! They’re particularly delicious served with cold butter and fresh blueberries, or other fresh fruit or jams, and would be perfect as one of the selection of treats for an Afternoon Tea.

As for the shape, traditionally they are patted into a round and scored into wedges before baking, or after gentle kneading ~ just sufficient to bind the dough and flatten it ~ are cut into small plain or fluted rounds. But they can be cut in any shape such as triangles, hearts, or other fancy shapes using pastry cutters.

Scones are best eaten warm from the oven, and don’t keep well. But wrapped and frozen as soon as they’re completely cooled, then they’ll be almost as good as if freshly baked when reheated in the oven for 12-15 minutes.

Why not try making some – they’re so quick to make !  Click on this link: Scones That Melt In Your Mouth to find my recipe for Fresh Lavender and Lemon Scones, and to discover step-by-step information and tips on how to make perfect scones

Fresh lavender & lemon scones

Fresh lavender and lemon scones are a perfect treat for Afternoon Tea, and so easy and quick to prepare!

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