I am just back from a nearly-three-week vacation in New Orleans and I am now, concurrently, missing it terribly, cherishing the memories and happy to be back ‘home’ in London. The sun is shining here and I write this with the windows open wide over Portobello Road with the hum of voices from the market rising up and pouring into the living room where I sit, with terrible posture, and type.
Because I am never content to be in one place – physically or emotionally – while I was in New Orleans I spent a disproportionate amount of time baking English tea scones. Now I am back in London and I want to tell you about what I did in New Orleans. It is a vicious cycle.
A few months ago I collaborated with the people behind the blog for Reese Witherspoon’s clothing brand Draper James. For that project I added my two cents to their fantastic guide to New Orleans. Shortly after that I contributed a solo piece called A Southerner’s Guide to London (which will be handy when the Saints play in London in October WHOOP! WHOOP! Get those paper bags ready). I was lucky enough to be asked to keep going so while in New Orleans I spent some time whipping up scones, styling and shooting on some super cute Draper James bits and pieces and also shooting at The Henry Howard Hotel with the very talented Gabrielle Geiselman. As part of this process I also undertook making scones nearly every day to try out different recipes and different methods.Scones seemed a natural food to make for Draper James because it feels both quintessentially English and yet perfectly at home in the South. I have not yet mastered the truly English version (the very, very best of which I had at a place called Turnbull’s in Shaftesbury) which is fluffier and drier – almost like a mix between a buttermilk biscuit and Irish soda bread – but a version that is basically a buttermilk biscuit with fruit added in has never once been turned down by my English husband or my mother-in-law.
My Draper James mixed berry scone recipe is coming out any minute now so keep an eye out on the Draper James blog as well as my Instagram account to see when it comes out. It is slightly different than this recipe but these two are my two favorites out of the many I made over my visit, and either one will serve you well. The recipe below was edited ever so slightly from a recipe by Ms. Jeannie Livaudais, the greenest thumb in the South, and gifted to me by her lovely daughter, Zan.
What I discovered over the weeks was that scones are easy to make but good scones have a few secrets to them. The first key to success with a scone recipe (either this one or the upcoming one) is to handle the dough as little as possible. People mentioned that to me before but I really learned to appreciate it this time. The dough just wants to come together lightly, just gently. It should feel spongy and pillowy and just plain good in your hands. Also important is to chill the dough for a bit in between shaping and baking to allow the gluten to fully relax and give you a fluffier scone. The other secret is that because there are so few ingredients it is important that the ingredients you select are the best quality you can find. The butter should be fresh and not be contaminated with any other flavors from your refrigerator. Same goes for the flour and of course use real vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla extract.
Worth noting, also, that scones just don’t last that long. I mean hopefully they don’t because people have eaten them all but if you, for instance, oversupply your family then you should make sure to go quickly deliver leftovers to your friends and neighbors. After a day they just dry out a bit too much and aren’t that nice.
And of course serve them with strawberry jam (never jelly) and either clotted cream or room temperature butter. Tea is interchangeable with a rich, dark coffee with cream…just don’t tell my Mother-in-law. That she would not stand for.
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (150g), very cold
- 1 ½ cups fresh strawberries, diced and frozen
- 1 cup whole milk (8oz)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (285g), plus additional for work surface
- ½ cup sugar (100g), plus extra for sprinkling
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Dice 8 tablespoons of cold butter into small pieces (the size of green peas) and place in refrigerator until needed. Melt the other two tablespoons and set aside.
- Whisk together milk, vanilla and lemon juice. In a separate bowl whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in medium bowl. Add frozen butter to flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.
- Add milk mixture to flour mixture; fold with spatula until just combined and on your last stir or two add the frozen strawberries. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Dust surface of dough with flour and then, with floured hands, press the dough together until it holds a rectangular shape about an inch thick.
- Cut dough in half and then cut an "X" onto each half so you end up with 8 triangular scones.
- Place individual scones onto baking tray and then brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour and then bake at 425 for 20 minutes or until the tops just begin to brown.
- Serve immediately with strawberry jam and clotted cream or soft butter.