There is nothing more delicious than sitting down to a delicious buttermilk scone and a hot cup of Rooibos Tea. Scones have a long and proud history and the addition of buttermilk to the traditional scone recipe adds an extra touch of flavour. In this article we explore the history of buttermilk scones and include a traditional buttermilk scone recipe for you to try.
The misty origins of scones
We know that the traditional origins of scones were the misty hills of Scotland, Ireland and England. But who exactly created them remains a mystery. The first print reference to a scone occurred in 1513 and was made by a Scottish poet. The name ‘scone’ seems to come from a reference to the Stone (scone) of Destiny that was removed to the Westminster Abbey but even that is up for debate. Scones were originally made from oats and traditional English scones may include raisins or currants. Buttermilk is also often used as a basic ingredient for its flavour and the fact that many cooks believe that nothing is better for baking than buttermilk.
Buttermilk or cultured milk
In the days when butter was churned, buttermilk was the thin, non-fat but rich tasting liquid left in a churn after making butter. It is full of delicious, healthy cultures that develop naturally when cream is left at room temperature for a few hours to improve the flavour of the butter. The cultures in the buttermilk meant that buttermilk kept longer than raw milk in the days before refrigeration, which made it ideal for baking. Buttermilk gives baked products a lovely soft texture and helps to neutralise the aftertaste of baking powder that is in most scone recipes.
Today buttermilk is still cultured milk, similar to yoghurt and kefir. Instead of buttermilk being a by-product of churning, dairies tend to inoculate fresh, pasteurised milk with lactic acid bacteria to transform the milk into buttermilk and it is sold in bottles and cartons in supermarkets. Unlike the early days when buttermilk was non-fat because all the fat went into the butter, today cultured buttermilk can range from skim to full fat. What’s more, today’s buttermilk is a lot thicker and tangier and more acidic than traditional homemade buttermilk.
To get a sense of the delicious taste and texture of buttermilk scones, why not make your own:
Traditional buttermilk scones recipe
4 x 250 ml cake flour
30 ml baking powder
3 ml salt
125 g cold butter, cut into small cubes
65 ml sugar
250 ml buttermilk
1 jumbo egg
Optional: an egg wash to give your scones a nice shine – made by beating 1 egg with a little milk
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl
- Then rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like bread crumbs
- Lightly stir in the sugar
- In another bowl whisk the buttermilk and jumbo egg together and add to the flour mixture.
- Pull the wet mixture through the dry mixture with a round-bladed knife until a soft dough is created
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and press it out by hand until it is 3cm thick
- Use a 6cm cookie cutter to cut out the scones and place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper – leaving a 2cm gap or more between each scone
- Brush the tops with the egg wash or dust with a little flour
- Bake in an oven preheated to 200 degrees Centigrade for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre of a scone comes away cleanly
- Place the scones on a rack to cook
- Serve with butter, jam, whipped or clotted cream
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