Afternoon tea scones are a quintessential part of British culture. Learn how to make the best scones using my tried and tested scone recipe, and how to serve them with a lovely cup of proper British tea.
Originally published May 1, 2012
As I was born in Scotland, scones were part of my life. I grew up with scones, and I LOVE scones! I want to start by saying, this is a proper recipe for British scones, if that’s what you’re looking for.
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If you don’t want to hear what I have to say about scones, simply scroll to the bottom for the printable recipe. However, I will tell you, you’ll miss all of my tips.
Scotland’s bakeries and tearooms have to be among the best in the world. The sweets and savory treats being created in these places, are often beyond description, so my standards are high. I’m also going back to the UK enough to keep getting the “real thing” which keeps my standards high!
The Afternoon Tea Experience
We were just in the UK last July, and were lucky enough to have so many wonderful scones! Afternoon tea scones can be served very casually.
My wonderful Aunt Rosa made us her homemade afternoon tea scones the day we left to go to Scotland. Then, we found the loveliest little tearoom called the Sweetapples Teashop, in Marshfield, England.
I was so excited to have tea and scones at Cafe Loco in Oxford, an Alice in Wonderland themed tea room in a 500 year old building!
While in London, I bought a scone from Harrod’s for only 65p (about $1) for my daughter, which she ate the next morning and it was still incredible the next day! Yes, I’m asking myself the same question you probably are: why did I only buy one?!
However, afternoon tea scones can also be served quite a bit more formally, as they do at Down Hall in Essex.
As you can see, good afternoon tea scones come in all shapes and sizes.
Traditionally, they are plain or have raisins, or currants. They must be light and well-risen to be considered really good scones.
Many times when my mother and I attempted to bake something British here in the US, it wouldn’t turn out the same. Of course, the flour is different, so are the milk and eggs and all the other ingredients, so it’s not surprising. However, we’ve always kept trying to replicate certain things we loved from when we lived in Scotland.
Scones are one of the bakery items we baked a lot. I must have tried a dozen or more different recipes until I created this one myself. Now, it’s the only scone recipe I use.
In my quest to find the best scone recipe, I learned many things which result in lighter, and more perfect scones.
How to Make the Best Scones
(Tips for Best Scones)
- (My) GOLDEN RULE OF COOKING-Use QUALITY ingredients!
- Use real butter, no substitutes
- Buttermilk helps the scones to rise more than plain milk (no buttermilk? use milk + lemon juice)
- Do not overwork the dough, or the scones won’t be light
- Use very sharp cutters to cut out the scones, this also helps them to rise
- Place them relatively close on the tray as they will rise more than if they are far apart
And no, American biscuits and scones are not the same thing. They look similar, but that’s all. They are made differently using different ingredients.
How to Freeze Scones
I love to make a double batch of these and bake half, then freeze the other half (unbaked.) It’s very easy if you place them on a well-floured tray and put them in the freezer, uncovered. Leave them for about two hours, until frozen, then remove them from the tray and place in a freezer bag, and return to the freezer.
This way you can bake one, two or as many as you want, whenever you want warm, freshly baked afternoon tea scones, with no mess to clean up!
You can also bake the scones and freeze them as soon as they have cooled completely. However, the first method is my favorite way to freeze them as you will end up always eating a freshly baked scone.
Afternoon tea scones are perfect for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays (including having a tea party for children), and of course, afternoon tea! Here’s how to make a perfect pot of British tea.
In case you didn’t know, there are lots of different types of scones. I don’t mean currant scones, or orange cranberry scones. You could make girdle scones, or potato scones or soda scones, for example.
Printable recipe is at the bottom of the post.
Afternoon Tea Scones
Prep time: 15 mins Baking time: 16 min
Adapted from an old Scottish recipe Makes about 8 medium sized scones
FULL PRINTABLE RECIPE BELOW
NOTE: for best results I highly recommend using a scale for precise measurements
Special equipment: sharp cutters like these or these
Make the Dough
Heat oven to 400ºF (205ºC)
In a bowl, place the dry ingredients. Mix lightly to combine.
In a measuring jug, put the buttermilk (including the 1 tbsp.) Beat the egg in a small bowl, then pour into the buttermilk and mix well.
Place the butter in the center of the dry ingredients and cut with a knife into about 16 pieces. Next, take another knife, pastry blender or your hands and cut/mix the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg and buttermilk, *reserving one tablespoon of liquid in the jug.
Mix gently with a wooden spoon until a dough forms, just about 10 seconds. If you are adding dried fruit or any additions, add it now.
Roll and cut the dough.
Place dough onto a clean, well-floured surface. Gently, form into a ball, then pat out with your hands to approximately 3/4″ in thickness. Fold the dough over once, then roll or flatten to approximately 3/4″ in thickness. Do not knead the dough or it will make the scones tough.
With sharp cutters, cut out scones. Use whatever size you prefer; larger or smaller.
Prepare to Bake the Afternoon Tea Scones
Place on silicone baking mat or parchment lined baking tray. Gently knead scraps together and repeat until dough is finished, (make a “runt” with the remaining little bit of dough). Don’t worry about cracks and imperfections in your scones.
Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the scones with the remaining egg/buttermilk mixture.
Bake the Scones
Place in middle of preheated oven for about 9 minutes, then turn tray and continue to bake for another 9 minutes or until the afternoon tea scones look golden brown on top.
Meanwhile, cleanup is super easy if you have one of these little pastry scrapers!
Remove from oven, and tray, then place in a towel lined basket, or cooling rack if you wish to serve them on a plate.
How to Serve Afternoon Tea Scones
There are several ways to serve scones, but the most traditional is with raspberry jam and clotted cream or Double Devon Cream; and since the latter two are hard to come by in the US, freshly whipped cream (no sugar added). Please do me a huge favor and do not ever serve these with any non-dairy whipped topping!
If using fresh whipping cream, whip until thick (an organic cream with no added ingredients will taste best).
Use homemade or good quality jam, such as this one from Scotland. Strawberry jam is perfectly acceptable, as is raspberry jam, or blackcurrant, etc.
Next, make a pot of tea.
Before I write this next step, I must say that England has one of the most heated debates regarding whether one should put jam first, then cream or vice versa, when eating a scone.
The Jam First or Cream First Debate.
If you want to read the arguments for and against each position, you are more than welcome. While 99% of the time, I put the jam first, to me, it depends on the type of cream one is using. A thick clotted cream can easily go on first, but if you’re using whipped cream, then that just has to go on top of the jam, otherwise, there will be a big mess! Also, Queen Elizabeth II says jam first, so who’s going to argue with the Queen!?
How to Pronounce the Word “Scone”. It depends!
There is another debate regarding scones, which is over the pronunciation of the actual word. Coming from Scotland, I pronounce “scone” as if it rhymes with “gone.” Parts of England also pronounce it this way, but then other parts say, “skown” (rhyming with own). The whole debate is actually quite interesting, however, while I may be biased, scones were invented in Scotland, so I say our way is the correct pronunciation if there has to be one.
Milk only; never put cream in tea.
And we are ready to serve the afternoon tea scones.
Want to make it more than just tea and scones? Add some dainty finger sandwiches for a more filling afternoon tea.
For a full afternoon tea experience, add some small pastries such as strawberry tarts, and these passion fruit and lemon meringue tartlets, and maybe some individual desserts like these trifles.
Oh my, afternoon tea is just so civilized, and delicious!
If you’re being more formal, just take a little jam and cream (from your plate, never directly from the serving bowls) and put it on a part of a scone. Take a bite and repeat.
Enjoy the afternoon tea scones!
And here’s how to make a “proper” cup of British tea!
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Afternoon Tea Scones
This recipe produces a lovely, light scone, typical of those served at afternoon teas all across the UK.
- 2 cups (284 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup (70 g) salted butter (cold)
- one egg, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) + 1 tbsp buttermilk
- (1/4 cup (40 g) raisins or currants, optional)
- Cream and jam to serve
- Heat oven to 400ºF (205ºC)
- In a bowl, place the dry ingredients. Mix lightly to combine.
- In a measuring jug, put the buttermilk (including the 1 tbsp.) Beat the egg in a small bowl, then pour into the buttermilk. Stir to combine.
- Place the butter in the center of the dry ingredients and cut with a knife into about 16 pieces. Next, take another knife, or pastry blender and cut/mix the butter into the flour until resembles coarse crumbs, finishing off the pastry using your hands once the pieces have become quite small.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg and buttermilk, (reserving one tablespoon of liquid in the jug).
- Mix gently with a wooden spoon until a dough forms, just about 10 seconds. (If you are adding dried fruit or any additions, add it now.)
- Place dough onto a clean, well-floured surface. Form into a ball, then pat out to approximately 3/4″ in thickness. Do not knead the dough or it will make the scones tough. With sharp cutters, cut out scones and place on silicone baking mat or parchment lined baking tray. Gently knead scraps together and repeat until dough is finished, (make a “runt” with the remaining little bit of dough).
- Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the scones with the remaining egg/buttermilk mixture.
- Place in middle of preheated oven for about 9 minutes, then turn tray 180º and continue to bake for another 9 minutes or until scones look golden brown on top.
- Remove from oven, and place in a towel lined basket, or on a cooling rack if you wish to serve them on a plate. Serve with butter, or real cream and jam.
Be sure to follow my tips for best results.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 213Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 29mgSodium: 157mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 1gSugar: 20gProtein: 2g
Nutrition information is estimated.
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I made these today and they were very delicious and easy. When freezing do you bake straight from freezer or thaw first and is the baking time the same. Thanks for the recipe
So happy to hear it, Jane. You can do either, to be honest. Probably easiest to thaw and use the same directions for baking. If you bake from frozen, you just need to add more time. Enjoy!
Has anyone made these scones using unsalted butter?
I am ready to make them but noticed I have unsalted in the fridge
Hi there, actually unsalted is better for baking, but I know most people don’t have it on hand. Use unsalted and add ⅛ tsp of salt and it will be perfect. :)
[…] is there anything better than a pot of tea with fresh scones and clotted cream? This recipe for English Tea Scones is the only one I use! If you’re feeling ambitious, here’s recipe for homemade French […]
These scones look like what Americans call biscuits, at least in the American South. Buttermilk biscuits! But of course, biscuits in Britain are something different entirely, like what Americans call cookies or crackers.
They do look a bit similar, but taste entirely different, Dixie. I will be posting about the difference, soon! :)
Question – should I bake using convection or regular bake?
If you have a convection oven, then use it and adjust the temp according to the oven’s directions :)
As a Canadian who has lived in the UK for a short time, I can’t wait to try your recipe!!
I truly miss the extra thick double cream from the UK. There are some special markets in my city that offer high fat creams and they do quite well but not the same.
Also I thoroughly enjoyed reading your tips!
Thank you for sharing!
I am sure you’ll love the scones, and hope you find some good cream, too!
They only difference between these scones and my biscuits is the egg. So not really much of a difference taste wise or texture.
So your biscuits are sweet? That’s not usual for most biscuits. I can assure you these are much different than American biscuits.
When you use your sharp cutters, don’t twist them! Cut straight up & down. If you twist when cutting, it seals the edges and the scones won’t rise as well. As to the cream, I’m lucky to easily find clotted cream in New England almost everywhere. If you’re using whipping cream, seek out pasteurized cream, not ultra pasteurized. The high heat used for UHT kills all the flavor.
Yes, both very good points, Mary Jo !