Last weekend I went to High Tea with my older daughter at a lovely English tearoom called Fancy That in Walpole, MA. It was the 20th time that we went to tea for her birthday. The first time we went she was 5 years old because I wanted to have a “Mommy Date” with her to make her feel special on her special day, and I felt she was old enough to really enjoy the experience (that, and I love High Tea and needed an excuse to go myself!). I took her from preschool to a quaint little coffee and tea shop near our home where the owner proceeded to make a VERY BIG DEAL about my little girl’s birthday. We had the traditional scones (with cream and jam), sandwiches cut into fun shapes with no crusts, and an assortment of sweets…there was even an extra Lemon Bar provided just for her. My young daughter loved it, and we had a wonderful date. The next year I took her out of Kindergarten early to go to Tea, and a tradition was born. Later when my younger daughter turned 5, I treated her to the same experience. Both my girls knew that on their birthday they’d have a special date with Mommy.
We’ve had many an adventure at our teas…the third year the tearoom forgot about our reservation, so my older daughter celebrated tea at a mall coffee shop…not the finest moment. That was the last time we went to our local tea room, and they went out of business soon after, so the search was on to find English tea places around South Orange County (in the Los Angeles area). We always managed to find somewhere to go. Some places we only went once (either they went out of business or we just weren’t that impressed), and some places we went to for years. For my older daughter’s Sweet 16 birthday, we made High Tea at home for her and her friends…that was extra special.
When my daughters went off to college, it became more difficult to go to tea ON their birthday, so I had to learn to be flexible (which doesn’t come naturally to me, let me tell you). But we always went, one way or another. The biggest obstacle so far has been that my younger daughter is at college on one coast, and I’m on the other…I’ve usually waited for her to visit for Spring Break for our tea date, however her freshman year I baked scones and sent them with tea, a china cup, and instructions to call me so that we could celebrate together by phone on her birthday. Our birthday tea tradition is very important to me!
So why am I going on about this? Formal High Tea is something special, but parts of the tea tradition have become very mainstream, and the best example are scones. To my American palate, scones are quintessentially British and I’m definitely an Anglophile, but now they are everywhere…from the supermarket bakery section to Starbucks. You know me well enough by now to know that I would rather bake my own items than take my chances on commercially made products with who-knows-what in them. (Oh, we know, we know!). I also have talked in great detail about baking ratios (See …and now to explain the “& Scones” for further enlightenment), so I won’t repeat that here (hurray!). Luckily, scones are easy to make from scratch, and the ability to riff on the basic recipe means that the variations are only limited by your imagination (yes, yes, and the ingredients you have…yeesh!).
A scone is an enriched biscuit (meaning eggs are added), so I use the 3:1:2 biscuit ratio (3 parts flour, 1 part fat, and 2 parts liquid), and count the egg into my measurement of the liquid (one egg is about 2 oz). The method is similar to making pie crust, and the importance of keeping everything chilled is just as important here (see Easy as Pi (Day) for a quick refresher). Here is the basic recipe I use:
Basic Cream Scones
9 oz all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
3 oz butter, chilled and cubed or grated
4 oz cream
1 egg, beaten
Extra cream for brushing on top
Turbinado (coarse) sugar to sprinkle on top (like Sugar in the Raw)
In a large bowl, stand mixer, or food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add butter and mix until coarse, pea-sized crumbs appear.
Mix the cream and egg together in a small bowl. Slowly add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and mix until the dough just holds together (here you have to be flexible about the amount of cream to add as the actual amount will depend on the humidity of the day). Squeeze a small amount of dough between your fingers and if it is very crumbly, add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time (2 tablespoons maximum). If the dough is too wet, you can knead in more flour when you turn out the dough. Remember, do not over mix the dough (you want to keep that butter cold and separate from the flour).
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and push together into a rough ball. Knead a few times to combine (if you’re adding any mix-ins to the dough, here’s when you’d add them in). Gather the dough, and flatten into a disc or a rectangle about 1″ high, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 20 minutes or up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Once the dough is chilled, cut the disc into wedges or the rectangle into squares (if cutting the rectangle into squares, trim the outside edges of the dough first so that the scones can rise evenly). Alternatively, use a biscuit cutter to cut out shapes (gather and cut the leftover dough again as needed, but hopefully not more than 2 times). Place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Brush the tops of each scone with cream and sprinkle some coarse sugar on top. Bake at 400°F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on pan for 2 minutes, then move to a cooling rack.
The yield is generally about 8 scones (that’s what I get from a rectangle or 3″ biscuit cutter).
Here’s where the fun lies…you can use all sorts of substitutions for the liquid (e.g., pumpkin purée, applesauce, etc.) and add additional spices to change up the flavor. You can drizzle the baked scones with melted chocolate or an icing that complements the flavor profile of your scones. And the mix-ins…well, I’ve said before that chocolate chips are practically a must for my family, but you could use nuts, fresh or dried fruit, or something else entirely. Also, scones don’t have to be sweet (what?!?) Just omit the sugar and use savory liquids and mix-ins (cheese, bacon, caramelized onions…shall I go on?) and you’ve got a wonderfully enriched biscuit to serve with dinner.
I hope you’ll make up a batch of scones, and if you do, please drop me a comment telling me what you made and how they were. Pictures are welcome, too! And if you have the time, inclination, and a local tearoom, go have High Tea with someone you love. It’ll be quite special.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!