There’s a Devon way to deal with scones (slather on the clotted cream first) and a Cornish way (jam first, then cream). But as far as I can tell, there’s no Venice Beach method for approaching the sweet treat. As a Californian who recently got her suntanned hands on a copy of the brand-new Claridge’s: The Cookbook – a collection of recipes and culinary anecdotes from the legendary London hotel – I knew I was entering unchartered baking territory. Here’s what happened when I attempted the classic teatime recipe…
1 Make peace with the fact that a scone is not game pie.
I must admit: when I first cracked open Claridge’s: The Cookbook, I wanted to make game pie. The golden crust and mosaic of meats called out to me, as did the recipe’s caption, which explained that baking a game pie is a rite of passage for any chef in the hotel’s kitchen. One small (feathered) problem, however: where in Venice Beach would I procure partridge, grouse and pheasant breasts? I was pretty sure I could find the duck, but as for the other birds, Southern California isn’t exactly game country. Bee pollen to sprinkle on your raw organic non-dairy coconut-based ice cream, sure. But a variety of ground-dwelling fowl? Not likely. That’s when I flipped back about 70 pages and settled on the very poultry-less pastry: the scone.
2 Google ‘caster sugar’ and find a hammer.
It turned out I wasn’t totally in the clear in terms of ingredients. Enter caster sugar. Claridge’s scones call for 60g of the superfine sugar, which sadly is hard to come by in the US. We have granulated sugar and powdered sugar and the caster cousin falls somewhere between the two in terms of granule size. I came up with the brilliant idea of putting regular American sugar in a plastic bag and smashing it with a hammer. Five minutes later I was sweaty, frustrated and covered in sugar (note: plastic bags tear when pummeled with blunt tools). I decided to put my baking on hold and leave the country.
3 Fly to Mexico City.
Ok, a little background: the trip had been planned for months and I took up my Claridge’s culinary adventure the day before I was scheduled to leave anyway. At a certain point I realised I should stop smashing ingredients and pack my bags for my trip, so I put the scones on hold. I then spent a week in Mexico City climbing ancient pyramids, eating enchiladas and cheering on lucha libre wrestlers without a concern in the world for caster sugar. Visiting CDMX is not a necessary part of making scones, but I would recommend it.
4 Abandon your pastry cutter.
Back home in California, I unpacked my newly acquired Frida Kahlo tortilla warmer (nothing to do with the scones, but a great find nonetheless) and decided to get back to the task at hand. Claridge’s serves more than 150,000 scones a year – surely I could muster the courage to make a batch of 12. I moved forward with standard granulated sugar and hoped for the best. In the end, it wasn’t even the dry ingredients that got me; it was the liquids. Overpouring both the buttermilk and milk (my bad) turned my dough into a sticky, raisin-speckled mess. There was no hope of using the pastry cutter to punch circles into my soupy batter, so I dropped spoonfuls of the sweet slop onto my baking sheet like you would with chocolate chip cookie dough. I slid my dozen blobs into the oven and paced nervously for 12 minutes. When the timer went off, I pulled them out and marveled at… yikes! They had the look of scones only a mother could love, but they smelled heavenly and I couldn’t wait to devour them down to the very last crumb. Yes, my maternal instinct is strong, I know.
5 Find an English woman and seek her opinion.
I sampled a few and was very impressed with myself, but knew I needed a genuine Brit to give the official seal of approval. Some 200,000 English expats call Los Angeles home, and Santa Monica – Venice’s next-door neighbour – is known as ‘Brit-by-the-Sea’, so I knew I’d find someone with scone-sensitive tastebuds. Plus the woman who sits behind me in the office every day is British, so I simply turned around. When I presented my cakey creations to said English woman, she was quick to point out that they didn’t look right. But as for flavour, she proclaimed, ‘The taste is authentic. It transports me straight back to the Devonshire moors.’ Success!
6 Enter a Starbucks with an air of superiority.
Once you make your first batch of scones, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment greater than even oversized granules of American sugar. The following day I found myself in a Starbucks and locked eyes with a mass-produced scone behind a sad plexiglass display case. Ha! You call that a scone?! I laughed smugly to myself.
7 Head to Claridge’s hotel in London.
Dedicated yogis often make their way to India, and serious art enthusiasts head to Rome to gaze upon Raphael’s frescoes with their own eyes. Likewise, now that I’m a scone expert, I plan to make the pilgrimage to Claridge’s for a food-focused holiday. I look forward to pulling up a chair to afternoon tea for the real deal. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try the game pie.
For the actual step-by-step scone recipe, see below…
Note: We recommend you start this recipe the night before, so the flour and butter mix can be thoroughly chilled overnight.
You will need
stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment
5cm (2inch) pastry cutter
baking tray, lined with baking paper
330g (11½oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
60g (2¼oz) caster sugar
1½ tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
90g (3¼oz) cold unsalted butter, cubed
70g (2½oz) raisins (optional)
110ml (3¾fl oz) buttermilk
90ml (3fl oz) milk
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt, for the eggwash
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then add the butter and rub into the flour mixture with your fingers until you have a fine crumb (you could also pulse this 5-6 times in a food processor to achieve the same sandy texture, but it’s almost as fast to work by hand). If you’re making raisin scones, stir the raisins in now. Transfer to a smaller container, cover and leave to rest in the refrigerator overnight, or until thoroughly chilled.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 240ºC (475ºF), Gas Mark 9.
Transfer the butter and flour mixture to the stand mixer. Slowly mix in the buttermilk and milk until the dough comes together.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to form a circle, about 21cm (8¼ inches) in diameter and 2cm (¾ inch) thick, then cut out 12 scones using the pastry cutter. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking tray.
Using a pastry brush, carefully brush the tops with the eggwash. We like to let our scones sit out for 20 minutes at room temperature to give the baking powder a chance to activate before we bake them.
Bake until evenly golden, about 12–13 minutes. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then serve warm.
We strongly suggest serving these only on the day of baking. Leftover scones can be frozen and will remain good for up to 3 weeks: as needed, defrost completely, then reheat in a preheated 180ºC (350ºF), Gas Mark 4 oven for 3 minutes.
Recipe and featured image courtesy of Claridge’s: The Cookbook