English Scones

The taste of memories

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I was young and newly married when I first visited the county of Cornwall on the southwest peninsula of England.

Traveling along its dramatic coastline, I fell in love with the tumbling and tumultuous surf of pristine beaches, ancient castle ruins and fishing villages filled with houses bleached by the sun and old, wooden boats, their paint chipped and peeling.

Many roads were twisted, single lanes lined with clumps of rosemary. Pink and purple hollyhocks and foxgloves were lanky and so bent by the wind it seemed they would reach inside an open car window. The beaches were covered with fine sand; often the winds were so strong that granules would collect in my eyebrows and ears. We found smooth bits of blue and green sea glass and searched for tiny, mottled stones covered in veins. The stones I found resembled miniature-sized globes of the earth.

I still remember the fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, served with malt vinegar, and my first Cornish pasty, a hand-crimped pastry stuffed with seasoned beef and chopped rutabagas and onions.

Twenty-five years ago I had only one stamp in my passport. I was innocent, impressionable and eager to taste the pleasures of the world. Cornwall was the perfect place to start.

My English sister-in-law introduced me to a Cornish cream tea when we stayed in a hamlet called Ruan Lanahorn near Truro.

Proper cream teas contain scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream. Scones are crumbly and look similar to biscuits, but are sweeter and denser. Clotted cream is essential to the cream tea. Silken in texture and more spreadable than American cream cheese, it is made by leaving heated milk in a pan for several hours. The cream rises to the top of the pan and “clots.” (Since it is about a million calories per teaspoon, I also think it refers to the transformation that takes place in your arteries after one too many cream teas.)

I remember this particular cream tea because, during my first trip to Cornwall, I experienced an inexplicable slowing of time. Sitting in a little cottage near the sea with my new family, my hands wrapped around a cup of warm, milky tea, I could hear the ticking of the clock. I saw the brightness of the jam and watched crumbs from the scone drop onto my lap.

Cream teas are the perfect way to end a day spent on the beach, smelling of the sun, covered in sand with the roaring of wind and waves in your ears.  There is no finer way to while away an afternoon in the Cornish countryside.

Scones are one of the great dining pleasures of traveling through England and Cornwall. The recipe here comes from the New York Times and is easy to make at home.


English Scones

From the New York Times Dining Section


3 cups self-rising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter at cool room temperature, more for pan, optional
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
1 cup dried currants, optional
1 egg yolk

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the sugar. (Or give all the dry ingredients a quick whirl in a food processor.) Cut butter into bits and work it into the dry ingredients with fingertips or a pastry blender, or by pulsing the processor, until mixture is finely crumbly. If using a food processor, transfer mixture to a bowl.

Gradually add one cup milk and the currants, if using, and mix with a fork. Knead lightly by hand to make a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with butter or line it with parchment paper. Roll dough to a 3/4-inch thickness. Use a fluted 2- or 3-inch cutter to punch out scones. Scraps can be kneaded lightly for additional scones. Beat the egg yolk with remaining milk and brush on the scones. Place on baking sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes until risen and golden brown. Makes 16 medium scones or 10 to 12 large scones.

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