When the owner of Reuben's asked if we could do scones for the cafe my thoughts turned at once to buttermilk scones.
Simple buttermilk scones have no additional fat (i.e. no rubbing in!), no eggs (critical for us as we have an egg intolerant daughter) and use the reaction of the lactic acid in buttermilk with the alkali of bicarbonate of soda to rise - so you don't get that baking-powdery taste to them.
Simple, I though, be there in a jiffy. Oh, how wrong! Three weeks later, countless batches of scones baked, many inches added to the waist line in tasting, and almost (but not quite) getting fed up of making and eating scones, I think I've cracked it.
I started using a recipe in Catherine Brown's Scottish Cookery with the addition of soaked raisins and sugar. It was delicious, but too wet to handle. Somehow the scones got wetter and wetter as I tinkered with levels of soaking water, fruit and buttermilk. After about five batches which were more batter than dough I had the wetness level under control, but couldn't get the cooking time right. In the end I realised that although putting the scones in the oven on the back of a batch of bread was economical for fuel, the kiln shelves we use to mimic a bread oven were cooking the bottoms too quickly. So I moved the shelves, and, bingo, the scone I'd been looking for. Luckily the cafe agreed, or I think I might have been put off for life!
Here's the recipe.
160g fresh milk and 20g buttermilk culture, or 180g buttermilk *
40g hot water
30g light muscovado sugar
150g fine wholemeal flour
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 dsspn demerera sugar
24 hours (or 12 if you have a warmer house than us!) before you want to make the scones mix your buttermilk culture into the fresh milk. Pour the hot water onto the raisins. Cover both and leave at room temperature.
When you are almost ready to cook preheat your oven to 225C.
Butter a baking sheet and dust with flour.
Mix the sugar into the soaking raisins and stir well.
Sift the flours, salt and bicarb together into a mixing bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the flours.
Mix the 160g of the buttermilk into the raisins and sugar and pour them into the well into the centre of the flours.
Working quickly, using a fork or wooden spoon, work the flour into the liquid until it is all incorporated. You want to do this as quickly as possible, the lightness of the scones depends on it!
Tip the dough straight onto the baking sheet and, with lightly floured hands, pat it flat and shape into a circle. Taking a long knife cut the circle into six sections, flouring the knife between each cut. With a pastry brush brush the top using some of the retained 20g of buttermilk (don't use too much), then sprinkle the top with demerera sugar.
Pop into the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the top is pleasantly golden brown.
Attempt to wait until it's cool before breaking into farles and smothering with butter, jam and creme fraiche.
* We're lucky here in Fife that buttermilk is reasonably easy to get hold of. I use a lot of it, so I maintain my own culture. This is very straightforward to do. Fill a clean jar with milk almost to the top, stir in a dessert spoon of the dregs of your last lot of buttermilk (or a bought pot). Leave at room temperature until it has very slightly solidified. Then refrigerate. Mine usually lasts 10 days or so before getting a slight sharp smell, at which point I usually bin it. I try to refresh the culture once a week to keep things sweet and fresh!