The Secret of a Traditional Afternoon Tea, the humble scone!
Have you ever wondered how the ritual of afternoon tea started? I have always enjoyed the lovely custom of a fancy afternoon tea with family or friends! It's so much fun to get dressed up in your fanciest clothes, get out your finest chinaware & bake the perfect scones for a delightful afternoon soiree. This custom of afternoon tea is somewhat new, said to have been introduced in the nineteenth century by Anna Russell the Duchess of Bedford, a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria. In the late 1800s people tended to only have two meals a day, being breakfast & dinner. So, to help ward off the late afternoon hunger, the Duchess's solution was to have a pot of Darjeeling tea with some light food.
The traditional afternoon tea would include delicate finger sandwiches, cakes, scones, jam & clotted cream with fresh brewed tea. The simple afternoon tea grew in popularity when Queen Victoria engaged in this ritual. Eventually in the Victorian era afternoon teas became very grand formal events that came to be known as "tea receptions".
Recently, I was at a fundraising afternoon tea at my favourite elegant Victorian Era saloon “The Palace Tea Rooms” in Sydney’s historic “Queen Victoria Building”. I got talking to a delightful lady from Singapore who was telling me about her most delicious jam recipe & said to me “I just don’t know how to make a good scone; the recipes all say something different! So how do you make the perfect scone?” Interestingly the humble scone originated in Scotland in the 1500s, so it’s an institution in itself!
Afternoon at the Palace Tea Room at Queen Victoria Building photo by Linda Gaden ©
Now as we all know, a fresh home baked scone is an integral part of a good afternoon tea, so I’m going to share with you two of my most trusted recipes, as I shared with her. These two scone recipes are so easy & simple when you need to whip up an afternoon tea on the fly. I will certainly be baking these scones for the RSPCA Cupcake Day Fundraiser that happens in Australia every August.
First perfect scone recipe - Judy’s Lemonade Scones:
My friend Judy taught me to make these light as air scones that are a real crowd pleaser for any occasion. Judy makes hers with lemonade - however I think there’s enough sugar in the jam topping, so I use soda water instead (I’ve even made them with tonic water if I’ve run out of soda & they have still been delicious).
3 Cups self-raising flour
1 Cup pure cream - cold
1 Cup lemonade - cold (you can use soda water which is my preference)
1 pinch of salt
(optional add-ins 1/2 of sultanas)
Jam, fruit preserve or lemon curd (recipe on the gourmet section in this blog)
Fresh clotted cream
Image from WIX media heart shape
Pre heat oven to 220°C or 200°C fan forced. Prepare baking tray by lining with baking paper & also a well-floured surface to roll out scones. Chill the bowl, spoon & cutter.
You must work very fast & with a delicate touch to make light as air scones! So have all the equipment & ingredients ready at hand. The wet ingredients need to be icy cold.
Sift flour & salt into a large bowl. Pour in cream & lemonade (or soda) plus any add-ins. Mix to a soft sticky dough working quick & light. Scrape onto well-floured surface.
Knead very lightly to about 3 cm thick. Use a 6 cm cutter or glass to cut dough into disks.
Re knead scraps & repeat to make disks - do not overwork the dough. Place on baking tray quite close together as they help each other rise! Lightly brush the top with extra cream or milk (watered down if you prefer)
Bake until lightly brown on top for 10-15 minutes depending on the size of scones, if you make smaller 8 to 12 minutes. You will smell when ready, but they should be hollow sounding when you tap them & easily come off the tray.
Serve with cream, jam & a lovely pot of tea or fresh brewed coffee. Enjoy with friends or family somewhere beautiful on your prettiest chinaware!
Image from Unsplashed by Jonathan Ybema
Second perfect scone recipe - Sadie’s Scones
My Aunty Sadie was the best scone maker & a delightful character too. She was the sister of my dear grandmother, both were born in the turn of the 20th Century growing up in a working-class suburb of Sydney during the Great Depression. Times were tough in those days, with little money to go around. People didn’t go out to cafes much but would visit each other at home for afternoon tea. However, simple modest pantry staples of any good homemaker could be made into a delicious treat. Aunty Sadie would spot a visitor coming up her garden path & within ten minutes she’d have hot scones on the table! This is how she did it.
Have all the ingredients & equipment ready & cold, including a knife for stirring, a floured bench & your baking tray. You need to work fast & light to make delicious fluffy scones.
Pre heat oven to 250°C or 220°C
2 cups self-raising flour
30 grams (2 tablespoons) salted butter, cold diced into small pieces
Pinch of salt
1 cup milk
(optional extra watered-down milk for glaze) – in our family we leave scones with floury tops.
Sift self-raising flour, then using your fingertips rub butter & salt until well blended in like breadcrumbs. Add milk (plus any add ins if using) & stir it with a knife, the dough will seem sloppy, turn out on a floured bench.
The knead lightly into a little round shaped ball & cut it into triangle scone shapes. Sadie would throw them on the baking tray, (optional brush with the glaze –or leave with floury tops as Sadie did), then quickly put into a very hot oven at 250 dec for about 10 minutes maximum, about 7 minutes is usually enough (depending on your oven). Your nose will tell you when the scones are ready, they need to be golden brown. Be careful not to burn! Take them out of the oven, to keep them fresh & hot wrap in your best clean tea towel!
Serve plain with good quality butter or with homemade jam & cream. Another delicious way to have scones is with homemade Lemon Curd, you can find the best recipe on my blog “Life giving you Lemons? Make Lemon Curd!” It’s Sadie’s granddaughter Gai’s delicious recipe!
Enjoy the scones with friends or family somewhere cozy & don’t forget to serve with a pot of fresh tea!
Be like scones! When the heat is on stay close to each other to lift one another up!