Tue 16 Mar 2010
Generally speaking, Americans have no idea what a real scone should taste like. We have Starbucks, with its gigantic, triangular mound of cooked dough that strangely manages to be both oily and dry at the same time, to thank for that. Whether it’s the maple glazed or blueberry, these would-be breakfast pastries are better off as door stops, flying weapons or hockey pucks than as a food source of any kind.
In Ireland, scones are as they should be: buttery, soft and a flaky. Just a few days ago, I encountered a scone that I can say, in all honesty, is the best I’ve ever eaten. Allow me to start from the beginning: I went with my friend to a “coffee morning” for charity, hosted by the fab Olga Sherlock at her home in Drogheda. Basically Olga spent the better part of two days baking up a storm, and then invited friends over to eat her baked goods with coffee or tea. Everyone is encouraged to eat as much as he or she would like and stay for a bit of chit-chat. On the way out, patrons leave a donation and Olga donates the proceeds to charity. Really, it’s a win-win situation; you get to pig out on fantastic pastries and a deserving organization gets some much-needed help.
Olga really went all out for this coffee morning; there was cheesecake and sweet breads and chocolate chip cookies and – alas – the mind-boggling, life-giving, does-it-really-get-any-better-than-this (no it does not) scones. I really should address them as The Scone, because from now on, all scones will be held to the standard of The Scone I ate at Olga’s. These were crispy and golden on the outside, and soft with a touch of richness on the inside. They had just a hint of sweetness, and with a dollop of clotted cream and a spoonful of jam these scones were, to put it simply, heaven. When I took my first bite, I knew that no one else in the world was eating as well as I was in that moment.
The guests at Olga’s soiree agreed that these really were special scones, and though everyone would have surely left money even if there were no scones, I have a feeling that they inspired everyone to be extra generous that day. The money will go to an orphanage in Bolivia, which is run by an Irish nun and survives strictly on donations. Olga’s brother, Ivor, is going as a volunteer this year and will see to it personally that the money is put to good use.
Of course it would be cruel to write in such depth about these scones and not provide step-by-step instruction on how to make them yourself. Many thanks to Olga for a wonderful afternoon and for sharing the recipe!
450g self-raising flour
a pinch of baking powder
a generous pinch of salt
50g caster sugar
110g unsalted butter, diced
1 egg lightly beaten
50ml double cream
200ml milk (you may need a little more)
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water to glaze
1. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Using your fingertips, lightly work in the butter until the mixture resembles dry breadcrumbs. Add the egg, cream and enough milk to moisten. Mix well until it has a soft, doughy texture – but it shouldn’t be too moist.
2. Gather the dough into a ball and turn it out on to a floured surface, then roll lightly with a rolling pin to 2.5cm/1 inch thick. Cut out with a round cutter, transfer to a greased baking sheet and brush the tops with the egg glaze. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 15- 20 minutes or until well browned.