Culture: Winning hearts by Gastrono-me's Gemma Simmonite
Probably one of the questions I used to get asked most frequently when we were at our former home on St John’s Street, was: “Can I get your scone recipe?” I understand why, because really is there anything actually more comforting than a fruit scone warm from the oven, served with cold indulgent clotted cream, and spread with jam? Now include a pot of tea or a great brewed coffee and share the experience with a good friend and that probably equates to bliss in my book.
It’s pretty much why we wanted to call Gastrono-me ‘your all day and night cafe’. We knew very well that by relocating to Abbeygate Street, and by extending to the evenings, the feel of our Gastrono-me might change a little, but we were adamant that our relaxed style of eating was always to remain. The great thing about cafés is that they act as a mecca for all different individuals, providing a great hub with food, leisure, drink and conversation. We wanted our customers to feel as at home if they were ordering just a coffee and a cake, a mimosa and a pile of fries, or a three-course meal. Any way IS the way at Gastrono-me. In fact, we’ve even noticed one lovely set of customers have started to frequent us for dessert and a cocktail or two after the cinema. Now that really reminds me of Spain and Italy where people buy ice creams and gelato way into the wee small hours!
So back to scones, how and where did these little bundles of baked joy come from? Are they a cake, a pastry or are they a bread? And just how do you pronounce them – is it to scone to rhyme with John or scone to rhyme with Joan?!
We apparently have the Sscots to thank for our present day scone. Originating around the early 1500s, they were made with oats and griddled on a hot stone over an open fire, rather than made with flour and butter and baked in a hot oven as we do now. The origins of the word is rumoured to have been derived from the Dutch word schoonbrood, which means clean bread, or from the German word schonbrot, meaning beautiful bread. But it has also been argued
that it comes from The Stone of Destiny where Kings of Scotland were once crowned. . . that one captures my Celtic imagination a little more.
In England their popularity began when the Duchess of Bedford ordered some tea and sweet treats late in the afternoon. When the offering arrived they happened to include some scones. Apparently she was so delighted with them, she then went on to order them every afternoon, and hence the English tradition of ‘afternoon’ tea was born. It is, after all, that time when you start to feel peckish and your blood sugar is dropping, making you feel tired – and what better way to sate your appetite and to get you back on track than with a scone? I really enjoy them because I don’t have an overly sweet tooth, and it means that I can determine how much jam I add to sweeten my whole scone experience.
Baking them in the Gastrono-me kitchen never gets old. The smell that wafts from the oven is intoxicating, and whoever bakes them, never can they do so without raising a smile of pride when those towering beauties come out – they usually get a collective ‘ahhhh’ from the entire team, too.
As for John or Joan, scone or scone. . . it really depends which part of the world you’re from, I’m a Joan for the record. So what about the debate about jam or cream first? I know it’s hotly debated between residents of Devon and Cornwall, but just for the record, if I’m going for it, then I actually like jam, butter and cream. . . well that’s enough to get me thrown out of any afternoon garden party!
So here is a our fail-proof scone recipe. We hope you enjoy it, once you know it you’ll have it in your armoury forever. It will win you many hearts and admirers – warm home-baked scones have a habit of doing that!
225g self raising flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
10g caster sugar
70g chilled diced butter
150ml of milk
1 pinch of salt
1 beaten egg for basting
10g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 230C or 450F
In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl, then stir in the sugar.
Rub in the chilled butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. ‘Rubbing in’ simply means rubbing the butter and flour between your fingertips.
When you have a bowl resembling breadcrumbs, add your sultanas, then make a well and slowly add the milk, drawing the flour into the liquid with a palette knife. Mix together very gently. The less you work a scone the better, you don’t want to over handle them or you will end up with tough scones. The dough should be wettish, but not sticky, so you may not need all your milk.
Bring the dough together gently, flouring your hands and surfaces helps, but only lightly.
Pat out, rather than rolling your dough with a rolling pin, make sure it is uniformly the thickness of a about 1inch deep.
Now take a scone cutter and cut into rounds – try not to drag or twist the dough. Re-roll gently to make as many scones as possible. Arrange about ½ inch apart, this allows them to grow and then also support each other, any closer and the sides won’t cook properly.
Take a pastry brush and paint the tops, then scatter with some
Bake for about 12 minutes, you will find that your kitchen will be filled with a glorious aroma!
Try to wait until they’ve cooled down a little, as they still have some important cooking on to do. Then enjoy with some jam and butter – even clotted cream if you’re feeling decadent, or all three if you’re a rebel like me.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, on Abbeygate Street,
Bury St Edmunds