I've recently spent a weekend at our house in Yorkshire. This is always a noteworthy occasion, culinarily speaking, largely because of said house's proximity to Betty's tearoom in Harrogate. This, for the uninitiated, means cream teas, excellent lunches, delicious baked goods and pastries, fine tea and coffee, and a wonderful bakery and gift shop. However, there were several other gastronomic perks to the weekend. In fact, Betty's hardly featured at all, as I was in Harrogate alone and it seemed a little tragic to queue for about an hour for a table to have tea on my own. I bought a Fat Rascal from the shop, though - this is a Yorkshire classic, a rather dense, scone-like cake with fruit, citrus and almonds. But that was not the only scone-related incident of the trip.
We've just had a new kitchen put in, so naturally I wanted to test the facilities. I went down to the corner shop intending to buy some apples or pears to make porridge with, and instead found at the local deli a huge tray of gorgeous Yorkshire rhubarb. Truly beautiful stuff - perfectly pink, perfectly slender stalks, still with the pale, cabbage-like crinkly leaves attached. Orchard fruits were instantly dismissed in favour of this rather more alluring option, and instead I made myself a huge bowl of porridge with a rhubarb, orange and raisin compote - rhubarb simmered with a splash of water, a handful of raisins, and sugar to taste until soft, then mixed with a segmented orange.
It's delicious, especially because the raisins soften in the hot rhubarb liquor and become all juicy, and the contrast in texture between the almost crunchy orange segments and the gossamer-fine strings of the pink rhubarb is delicious atop a mountain of yielding, milky oats.
For my second kitchen test, I made scones. I haven't made scones in a long time, and I hardly ever make plain ones, preferring to add some sort of twist to them. However, I fancied the plain, fluffy crumbliness of a fruit scone, so I used this basic recipe. They filled the kitchen with a delightful aroma of baked goodness. I'd forgotten how much I love the texture of scone dough; thick and satisfying like bread dough, but with a moistness to it from milk and a sweeter smell as you roll it out. I also defy anyone to not love the action of pressing a metal scone cutter down into a thick blanket of floured dough.
However, I was not content to rest with my basic scones. There was a punnet of blueberries languishing in the fridge, and it brought to mind the blueberry scones I used to eye up at Starbucks, back in the day when I used to actually offer my business to the ubiquitous, gimmicky, tepid-cappuccino-serving chain. What I really loved about those scones was the fact that they were wedge-shaped, rather than round. They had a gorgeous-looking crusty surface area with small crystals of sugar, and although I never ate one, I could just imagine how doughy yet crispy they'd be.
I'm not sure why the simple shape of a scone can make so much difference, but these just fascinated me for some reason. I think it's the rather rustic idea of baking a whole scone then slicing it into thick wedges, just waiting to be slathered in butter. Possibly also it's because the wedges resemble slices of cake, which can only be a good thing. I set about making my own version.
I decided to use mainly wholemeal flour, because I love the contrast of its nutty flavour with sweet fruits like blueberries, and because generally I like wholemeal scones for their more interesting flavour. Other than that, I used the same basic ratio of ingredients as in the basic scone mixture. I threw in a few raisins, and the punnet of blueberries (after consigning those wearing little furry grey coats to the bin), mixed it all together gently, then placed it in a buttered, round pyrex dish before placing it in the oven. This was mainly due to my lack of baking parchment - in future I'd just shape it into a round and put it on a baking tray, as I reckon it would cook more quickly.
Having sort of improvised the recipe, I could not have been more delighted. I could tell from the way the scone crisped up in the oven and became golden and cracked in places that it would have the perfect crust, but I wasn't quite prepared for the way the blueberries burst in the heat of the oven and resulted in a juicy, sweet, tart centre. You end up with something crusty yet gooey and doughy in the centre, perfect with a little butter but equally good just on its own. Slicing it into wedges was a thing of joy.
I am failing to truly convey the sheer deliciousness of this scone. You'll just have to try it for yourselves. You can even pretend its healthy, too, because of the wholemeal flour and 'superfood' blueberries (although I reckon even superfoods lose their nutrients after about a month in the fridge). A very frugal way to prevent the throwing away of perfectly fine fruit, and yet it tastes the very opposite of frugal. Mmmm.
Finally, just a few photos of another thing I love about Yorkshire at this time of year: the lambs. They are everywhere, bleating innocently around the fields and stumbling about on their impossibly spindly legs. I usually use the term 'frolicking' in an ironic, euphemistic or facetious fashion, but in this case it seems perfectly applicable: they do frolic.
I came across this pair of sleeping lambs by the side of the road and couldn't resist a photo. They just looked at me with mild interest, blinking in the sunlight. Mummy sheep, however, was not impressed, and soon afterwards came along, nudging them away from me. Bless. It's enough to fill anyone with the joys of spring. The joys of spring, and the joys of scones. A good weekend.
Wholemeal blueberry scone
- 150g wholemeal self-raising flour (or use plain wholemeal and 1 tsp baking powder instead of half)
- 75g plain self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 60g butter
- 25g caster sugar
- 150ml milk
- A large pinch of cinnamon
- A handful of sultanas (optional)
- One punnet of blueberries (month-old shrivelling optional)
- 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon together. Rub in the butter, cubed, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, sultanas and blueberries, then add the milk and mix to a smooth dough, trying not to crush too many berries.
Flour a board and roll the dough out into a circle shape, about an inch thick. Place on a sheet of baking parchment. Slash across the top of the dough to divide it into eight wedges, then brush with beaten egg.
Bake for about 20 minutes, though it could take longer - it's ready when it's crusty and crispy on top and still a bit doughy in the centre, and you can check by cutting into one of the wedges a little bit.
Eat while warm, spread liberally with butter.