It’s not often I’m able to draw on a cosy, sweet-scented story from my childhood for this recipe column. Baking just wasn’t really a priority in my family when I was growing up, and it certainly wasn’t something at which any of us were naturals.
The exception was my paternal grandmother. Grandma was a prolific baker, and known amongst family and friends for her scones especially. She died when I was still very young, so I failed to take full advantage of her baking prowess, but not before I’d stood at her side many times acting as scone sous-chef. Luckily for me, she was a devotee of the Be-Ro school of cookery. Be-Ro is a flour manufacturer founded, appropriately enough for me, near the quayside of the Tyne.
They specialised in raising agents and self-raising flour, which were more expensive than the plain alternative, and in a bid to promote these items to the masses, exhibitions were held showcasing scones and cakes made with the produce. So popular were these bakes that recipes were demanded a free pamphlet was produced in the 1920s and handed out at exhibitions as well as being delivered door to door. While it was broadly self-promotional – each recipe features Be-Ro branded flour – this distinctive, narrow cookbook became the backbone of many Northern kitchens. And my grandma’s was no exception.
A few of her recipes I haven’t been able to track down – her orange cake, and date and walnut bars remain consigned to the past – but I know I have her scones right. And for that, I have the Be-Ro cookery book to thank.
So I make no bones about the fact that my recipe is a barely updated version of theirs. Like grandma, I add demerara to the top of the scones – there’s very little sugar in the mix, and although sweetness comes from the sultanas, I like the additional caramelly crunch that demerara brings. The original recipe calls for margarine and so, of course, Grandma used margarine. I often plump for butter instead, which gives a richer, rounder flavour to the scones – but when I want my baking to smell like Grandma’s I use margarine – and am instantly transported back to her Sunderland kitchen, standing on a stool to reach the worktop, plunging small hands into tall, slim glass jars filled with sugar. Use whichever you like: they are interchangeable in this recipe and both will work beautifully.
Scones should be baked at a high temperature to produce a good rise, so make sure your oven has preheated fully before putting your scones in. And one final tip: dip your cutter into flour before cutting each scone, and once you have cut through to the bottom of the dough, don’t twist the cutter – a hot bake and a clean cut will help your scones rise, as they’ll stop the sides of the dough from being compressed.
Once baked, eat warm or cool, but either way, spread liberally with butter. It goes like this…
Makes: 6 scones
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 10 minutes
225g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
50g margarine or butter
25g caster sugar
30g demerara sugar
1. Preheat your oven to 220°C, and line a baking tray with baking paper or a silpat mat.
2. Stir the flour and salt together, and rub the butter or margarine into it with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir the caster sugar and sultanas through the mix.
3. Place the egg and milk in a small jug and using a fork, stir them until combined.
4. Add all but about two tablespoons of the milk and egg mixture to the other mixed ingredients. You will use the remaining milk and egg to glaze the top of the scones. Bring the mixture together, first with a knife and then with your hands – mix just until it comes together into a ball.
5. Place the ball on a floured work surface and pat out with your hands until it is 1.5cm thick. Cut each scone firmly using a 6cm round cutter. Place the cut scones onto the lined baking tray.
6. Gently squidge the trimmings back together and cut more rounds until you’ve used up all the dough. Brush with the remaining egg and milk mixture, and sprinkle with the demerara sugar.
7. Bake for 10 minutes until the scones are puffed and golden.