Scones: attempting a classic

I am not a total novice New Zealand scone maker thanks to my line of work, but the recipe we use omits butter, which most scone recipes call for – on the Great Kiwi Bake Off, Larissa’s Sundried Tomato and Feta Scones were the only ones I saw that skipped it (but they also don’t share all the recipes). I was looking for a classic recipe for this classic bake, a real icon. So I turned to the book most young Kiwis are gifted when they leave home: Edmonds Cookery Book.

And thanks to the amazing network of Archival libraries, I realized I could actually compare the recipes from two editions that were more than 100 years apart – the 3rdof the original Edmonds Cookery Book, published in 1914 and the 69thedition of the Edmonds Deluxe Cookery Book, published in 2016.  

The recipes are quite different as you can see – the older one calls for an egg and some sugar, like American scones, though provisions are made if you don’t use an egg. The newer one calls for substantially more leavening, omits the sugar and calls for salt. Both call for a hot oven and a short baking time. 

I had already conned a group of friends into being my focus group – mostly Kiwis, Brits and Aussies, all older than me and were very clear that they would tell me EXACTLY what they thought of my efforts. But I got to wondering what would happen if I threw American scones into the mix as well….

So I got up early for a morning of whirlwind baking: although I’m a huge proponent of grating cold butter into the flour to start – a trick I learned from reading Southern Living magazine from the U.S., I stuck with the instructions as they were written.

For the 1914 recipe, I rubbed the butter in first, then added the other dry ingredients. 

For the 2016 recipe, I mixed all the dry ingredients together, then rubbed the butter in. 

In 1914, I did my best to eyeball how much water to add to the egg but I reckon it was a little dry so I added a bit more. I could have probably added even more, if I’m honest.

In 2016, I added the wets, and used the same fork method to bring the dough together. I was a bit taken aback by the “lightly knead” instructions, but I did as I was instructed. 

Now, the two recipes differed in the shaping of the scones – the 1914 didn’t say anything specific except to bake in a quick oven, the 2016 called for cutting them evenly. I wanted uniformity for a fair comparison, so I tried to pat them into a mass of approximately the same thickness and punched out rounds using the same cutter. 

I had substantially less dough to work with in the 1914 recipe. 

And then into a 220C (425F) oven for about ten minutes. 

Now for those damn Yank scones – 

I combined the sugar with the dries – usually sugar is classed as a “wet” ingredient but I guess not this time. Then I rubbed the butter in and added the wets. 


Here’s where it gets a little conflicting: the recipe told me to mix with a fork until a shaggy dough forms, and that it was okay if it looked a little dry, I shouldn’t over work it. But then it tells me to lightly knead the dough in the bowl. Hmmm….

So I did my best, turned it out and patted it down, cut it into the iconic wedge shapes, brushed them with cream and sprinkled them with sugar and slid them into a 190C (375F) oven for…. 25-30 minutes?? What the what? 

I shrugged and closed the oven. But after about 15 minutes, I could see butter pooling along their bottoms, which means their bums would be overly brown and the scones would be…not nice. So I cranked the oven and pulled them out after another five minutes. They were done. Maybe I was supposed to rest them in the fridge first? Ah well. 

Now, here’s where I’m a bone-head. I swear I had pictures of them all finished, lined up side by side for comparison purposes, but I can’t find them. I have absolutely no idea where those pictures went. So you’ll just have to use your imaginations.

What I can tell you is that the unanimous agreement was that the 2016 scones were closest to what the group thought of when they thought of scones, but that they should be thicker and fluffier so no kneading. They found the American scones fascinating, and likened them to something called a “sugar bun”. A cursory internet search reveals that they do, in fact, seem similar. The 1914 scones were probably the least popular. I also found it interesting that the scones with eggs in them were more or less unchanged the next day, but the 2016 scone leftovers were pretty stale – although toasting them helped immensely with that.

If I’m honest, my favorite recipe is probably still the one we use at work – and those suckers are left a good 5cm (2 inches) thick before baking. But that will have to wait for next time…

Here are the recipes:

Preheat your oven to 220C (425F).

In a bowl, put your flour and cold butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or rub in by hand. Then add your baking powder and sugar.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg with about a cup of water. 

Make a well in your dry ingredients and tip in the egg mixture. Using a fork, gently combine until the dough starts to form a craggy mass.

Tip out onto a floured bench and using well-floured hands, pat the edges and top into a plateau shape. Use a knife to cut into equal portions and place on a  baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving about 2cm (3/4 inch) in between them. 

Bake in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, until top is evenly browned. Let cool just until you can handle them and serve with jam and whipped cream. 

Preheat your oven to 220C (430F).

In a medium bowl, measure out your flour baking powder and salt.

Chop up your 50 grams of butter – cold – and rub it into the flour.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add in 1 1/4 cups of milk. Using a fork, gently start to combine everything, until the dough starts to form a craggy mass.

Tip out onto a floured bench and using well-floured hands, pat the edges and top into a plateau shape. Use a knife to cut into equal portions and place on a  baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving about 2cm (3/4 inch) in between them. Brush the tops with milk.

Bake in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, until top is evenly browned. Let cool just until you can handle them and serve with jam and whipped cream. 

Preheat your oven to 200C (400F).

In a large bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour to combine well.

Chop up the butter and add to the flour. Rub in until the bits of butter are about the size of a pea. Make a well in the dry ingredients.

Beat the egg with the cream and pour into the well. Using a fork, gently combine until a craggy mass forms. 

Turn the mass out onto a well floured bench and knead gently until the dough comes together. Pat down into a round about 2 cm (3/4 inch) thick and cut into wedges, like you would a pizza. 

Transfer to a lined baking sheet, about 2cm (3/4 inch) apart, brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar if you’d like, and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. 

Allow to cool just so you can handle them and serve warm with whipped cream and jam.


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