These Ballymaloe scones never fail because of the generous amount of eggs and baking power in the recipe. When I make them I can hear Darina Allen talking about whipping up a batch as you see your guests walking up the garden path. I can’t possibly make them that fast even though I always use the Magimix (same for pastry – see my pathetic justification).
Plain Scones (always called ‘Mummy’s Sweet White Scones’ at Ballymaloe, referring to Myrtle Allen)
Makes about 20
900g plain flour
3 heaped tsp baking powder
50g castor sugar (optional)
about 450ml milk
Put the oven on to 250C/475F/gas 9. (Top oven of the Aga).
Measure the milk into a jug, add the eggs and mix briefly with a fork.
Cut up the butter into very rough large chunks, put into Magimix with the flour and baking powder, use pulse button until the butter is mixed through the flour. (Pulsing stops the mixture from getting warm). This stage is generally called ‘breadcrumb’ but if there are a few larger lumps it doesn’t matter – when you mix in the liquid the lumps will be amalgamated. You can take the lid off and feel with your fingers. Add the sugar if using and pulse briefly.
The amount of milk to add will vary depending on the softness of the butter, the size of the eggs, the weather (really!). To start with add about 2/3 of the milk mixture and pulse briefly a few times. I take off the lid and squash some of the mixture in my fingers to see if more liquid is required. You are after a soft dough, not too dry. If the dough is not coming together into a lump, add a little more liquid. Don’t pulse into a neat and tidy lump, that will overwork the dough, instead once it has basically amalgamated turn the mixture onto a floured board (or into a bowl) and squash it together. (Most recipes say ‘knead’ at this point but it’s not kneading like when you’re making bread, you just want to make sure it’s a smoothish soft dough – try to keep a very light touch).
Roll out the dough very gently, don’t lean down on the rolling pin (or just squash out with your hands) to about 2.5cm thick (careful not to make it too thin which gives mean, biscuity scones.). Stamp out scones using a cutter (or a glass, or little coffee cup). I prefer quite small scones. Try to push the cutter down and lift the scones straight up rather than twisting round, which spoils the shape. If the cutter sticks, dip it in flour first.
Lay out on a metal baking tray (no need to grease, the butter stops them from sticking).
If you want to, brush the scone tops with the end of the milk mixture and dip in sugar.
Cook for 10-12 minutes or until very slightly browned on top. If you’re not sure, break one in half and see if it’s cooked in the middle.
UPDATE Had tea with my friend Milly who made delicious, very soft scones from Katie Stewart, her Times Cookery Book recipe says “The secret of soft light scones is to dust the tin and the scones with flour before baking”.
I looked up Felicity Cloake and her quest for the perfect scone – she favours the National Trust recipe which uses butter and lard, plenty of raising agent, no eggs. I generally stick to using eggs because it seems foolproof, not being a natural baker. Of course this makes the recipe more expensive. Mrs Beeton’s recipe for ‘Scones, Afternoon Tea’ includes an egg but does say that it ‘may be omitted’.