Anne here, and today I'm talking about biscuits and scones. No, I'm not venturing into the territory where people with a death-wish will try to claim there is virtually no difference between English or Australian scones and US-style biscuits. (Been there, done that. Barely survived.)
The inspiration for my post today came from the frustration of reading books where Regency-era folks sit down to afternoon tea with scones and jam and cream. And no, I'm not entering the debate about which goes on the scone first, the jam or the cream. Each to his own, say I. (Obviously IMO the jam should go first, but this image from Creative Commons is clearly hedging its bets.)
Now, "scone" is an old Scottish word, and according to the OED a scone is "a large round cake made of wheat or barley-meal baked on a griddle." And it's true that scones of various kinds have been made for centuries — potato scones, drop scones, griddle scones, and so on, but these were not like the scones in the photo above. They were generally some kind of batter that were baked on a stone or griddle or over a fire, and were more like a heavy pancake or a bready sort of cake. The leavening agent most used was buttermilk. Or yeast.
Scones as we know them, the sort in the yummy picture above, that are served with jam and cream, are generally made with flour, a little fat (usually butter), sometimes a little sugar (or not according to preference), liquid (generally milk or buttermilk) and a raising agent — bicarbonate of soda often with added cream of tartar, which is what we call baking powder today. (Though whoever served up these scones on the left is committing a scone no-no in my book. Can you tell what it is? I'll tell you at the end.)
The raising agent is a key ingredient, and during the Regency, the raising agents most people used in their baking were eggs or yeast or buttermilk. Because bicarbonate of soda had not yet been discovered/invented.
Though sodium bicabonate had been used as a leavening (raising) agent for many years, and was called soda ash by some, it was an English chemist and food manufacturer called Alfred Bird who developed the first baking powder, of the sort we know today, in 1843.
He developed it because his wife was allergic to eggs and yeast, the traditional kinds of leavening agents, and was searching for an alternative for her. He mixed bicarbonate of soda and tartaric acid with starch to absorb moisture and prevent the other ingredients from reacting. He sold his product widely but didn't patent it and in 1845 Henry Jones of Bristol patented and widely sold a similar product, which he called "A new preparation of flour" that included sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid to obtain a leavening effect. In other words, self-raising flour.
You can read more about the history of baking powder here.
So please, let's not have our regency-era people sitting down to scones and jam and cream. Cakes, yes, and biscuits (which in America are called cookies) and little tarts and curd cakes and teacakes and gingersnaps and more. But not scones.
I started getting deja-vu as I wrote some of this, and recalled (after I'd written most of the blog) that Mary Jo had written a blog about scones five years ago. It's here, if you'd like to read it.
I would disagree with her that an English-style scone is a "harder baked good that's more like a cracker or a cookie." My nana's scones were always soft and light, and so are most of the ones I've eaten or baked. Perhaps Mary Jo ate store bought or hotel scones. Or stale ones. They might have a slightly crisp outside when they come out of the oven, but they're soft inside. And if you wrap them in a tea-towel after baking, the outside is soft, too. And scones are best eaten fresh, straight out of the oven.
Here are some I baked earlier. Slightly burnt, I admit, and the one in the top left hand of the plate is the odd shape you get when you squish together the leftover bits of dough after you've cut out your neat round circles. And I didn't have any cream, but jam on its own with a bit of butter, or butter and honey is pretty delicious.
Have I tempted you to bake some scones? Here's a classic English scone recipe, a little fussier than my nana's, but very reliable.
And here's a basic aussie scone recipe.
And lot of people I know bake what they call "lemonade scones" though there is not a sniff of lemon anywhere near them. "Lemonade" in Australia is plain sweet soda — like 7Up or Sprite. It's supposed to be very easy and foolproof, but I've never tried it. There's a recipe for lemonade scones here (and I'm closing my eyes to the shocking assertion that American biscuits and scones are the same thing!)
And the scone no-no I referred to above? Serving fruit scones with jam and cream! (gasp!) Nana would be horrified, I tell you. Fruit scones are served only with best butter! Or do you disagree?
Are you a fan of scones? Do you enjoy a Devonshire or cream tea (scones with jam and cream)? Or do you prefer savory treats? What kind of food do you serve if you have guests for afternoon tea?