One of the best parts of expat living is learning the local cuisine.
So you’re in a new country — or even just a new city — why not try some of the local foods instead of sticking to your same-old? One of the things I love most about being an expat is learning how people in different cultures live. That includes how they eat. Fellow Edinburgh Blogger Julie took it a step further and tried her hand at making local cuisine. This inspired me to share my favorite British recipe: Buttermilk Scones.
Traditional Buttermilk Scones
What I love about this recipe is its simplicity. The only thing required that you probably won’t have just lying around the house is buttermilk. But there’s an easy way to remedy that: regular milk with a tablespoon of vinegar, left to sit five minutes or more. The idea is to curdle the milk slightly. It’s not quite the same as buttermilk, but similar enough for this recipe. For more info, check out this page about different leavening agents.
It’s also important to note differences in terms and ingredients in your new country. For example, in the US we say “Baking Soda”, but in the UK, the same ingredient is called “Bicarbonate of soda”. It’s easy to make big mistakes because you are confused by the terms. A few months ago, I tried to make cornbread, and I used an American recipe that called for corn flour. It came out of the oven as a chewy, play-dough-like mass. In the UK, corn flour is what Americans call corn starch. American corn flour is UK cornmeal. BIG difference.
For this recipe, you will need:
- 400g (14 oz) plain flour
- 100g (3 3/4 oz) caster sugar (granulated is fine, too)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 175g (6 oz) soft butter
- 250ml (8 fl oz) buttermilk
If you’re in the US, you’ll need to convert these measurements. Keep in mind that it’s not a direct grams-cups/tbsp conversion. Different ingredients have different consistencies and are therefore converted differently (confusing, I know). Here are some good resources for weight conversions:
Traditional Oven — this is the butter converter, but check the right side-bar for plenty more options.
All Recipes — conversions from weight, volume, and specific common ingredients.
Prep: 10 min › Cook: 12 min › Ready in: 22 min
- Preheat oven to 220 degrees C (Gas Mark 7).
- Sift dry ingredients in a bowl. Add room temperature butter and cut into the dry ingredients with a fork until the mixture resembles dry breadcrumbs. Add buttermilk and mix. The dough will be a bit moist. Roll half the dough into a ball and flatten on floured surface. Cut into six pieces with a scone cutter or simply cut into wedges. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. You can brush buttermilk on top and sprinkle with sugar before baking if desired.
To increase your odds of success:
1) Read the directions all the way through at least once before getting started. Lucky for you, I’ve included photos. Scroll through the photos to see what to expect. Check the instructions for time-sensitive steps (for example, preheating the oven or allowing the vinegar time to set in the milk).
2) Pull out all the ingredients you’ll need. I find it helpful to put each one away as I use it, thus ensuring I won’t leave one out (if it’s still on the table it needs to be used!).
3) Give yourself plenty of space to knead the dough. You’ll need a clean counter top and extra flour. I’d suggest wiping down the counter with a hot rag and then drying it. Don’t use soap as the taste’ll likely get in the dough. I’ve made that mistake before.
Let’s get started!
- Recipe says: Preheat oven to 220 degrees C (Gas Mark 7).
Maybe it’s because I have a fan oven (convection oven), but I’ve found that it’s better at 200 degrees, and I move the rack to the lowest tier. Otherwise, in my experience, the scones have either gotten burnt on top or I’ve taken them out too soon and had a gooey interior.
- Recipe says: Sift dry ingredients in a bowl.
When I first started baking here in Edinburgh, I tried to use American recipes and American measurements. But nobody seemed to sell a cheap set of measuring cups for dry ingredients and butter wasn’t divided the same way. Eventually, I gave in and began measuring everything in grams. Unlike in the States, it’s very common in British households to have a scale. Most things are measured in grams, so it’s just easier that way. And, to be honest, I’ve grown to like using the scale. Maybe I’ll get one when I move back to the States.
If you don’t have a proper sifter, you can also use a wire strainer with a spoon. Really, it’s not a necessary step, it just makes the dry ingredients finer and more easily blended. You can see the difference in the photo of sifted flour below.
- Recipe says: Add room temperature butter and cut into the dry ingredients with a fork until the mixture resembles dry breadcrumbs.
I like using the spreadable butter with vegetable oil because I think it tastes delicious. I do think this caused a slight problem in liquids v. solids, though, as my dough turned out a little bit on the wet side. If you decide to use this kind of butter, it might be better to cut down the recommended amount just a tad. I also found it easier to mix with my hands instead of a fork. Just make sure you get all the flour mix from the bottom of the bowl.
- Recipe says: Add buttermilk and mix. The dough will be a bit moist.
I find it’s easiest to mix wet ingredients into dry ones by digging a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and pouring the wet ones in. Plus you get to pretend like you’re in 3rd grade making volcanoes out of dirt again.
My dough was a bit too wet. While it is supposed to be a bit sticky, it’s not supposed to look like this (below). If yours turns out this way, add some flour to it until it’s a more manageable consistency (sticky but roll-able). I ended up rolling my first batch around in the flour on the counter until it resembled dough a little better. This is not advisable. It’s much easier to add the flour to the bowl.
- Recipe says: Roll half the dough into a ball and flatten on floured surface.
It’s helpful to have a little extra flour stacked around the edges of your work surface. Otherwise you might find yourself with doughy fingers trying to pour more flour onto the counter top. And that’s a bit of a sticky situation (har har).
Personally, I like to cut the dough in half a few times and layer it on top of itself. I’m not sure if this really changes much about the scone, but it’s what I like to do. If you don’t squish them too much then sometimes they have discernible layers. Also, be careful you don’t knead the dough too much as that will make it tough.
- Recipe says: Cut into six pieces with a scone cutter or simply cut into wedges.
I’m a perfectionist, so I trim the edges first.
- Recipe says: Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. You can brush buttermilk on top and sprinkle with sugar before baking if desired.
So, I didn’t take my own advice and read the recipe from start to finish. I *gasp* greased my baking pan. And *gasp* it didn’t seem to make a difference. Now pop those suckers in the oven! Halfway through bake time, I usually pull them out and flip them around since our oven doesn’t always bake evenly. Another tip for success: don’t walk away. Timers are never perfectly accurate. It’s best to set them a few minutes before the suggested time so that you can check on the scones and make sure they’re not burning. If they are, you can make some adjustments (such as lowing the temperature or moving the rack down a rung).