According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a scone is “a soft flat cake of barley meal, oatmeal or flour, baked quickly and eaten buttered.” Pronounced “scon” in Scotland (their believed place of origin) and northern England and “skone” further south, they may be savory or sweet, and are related to soda bread (see Irish soda bread) and pancakes (see Queen Elizabeth’s drop scones). They are a fixture at afternoon tea throughout Britain, accompanied by jam and clotted cream.
The recipes are easy: typically flour, baking powder and sugar are mixed together, cold butter is rubbed in, then eggs, milk and, occasionally, dried fruits are added. The mixture is patted or rolled out into a thick sheet on a lightly floured surface, cut into rounds and usually baked in the oven, but sometimes cooked on a griddle. The only tricks are not to overmix, the dough should be slightly sticky. The butter should be uniformly mixed in but should be in pea sized pieces which, as they melt, will create a light, airy interior. If you cut the scones into rounds don’t twist the cutter, it will prevent proper rising. If you need to prevent sticking, dip the cutter lightly in flour between scones. To quote the Oxford Companion to Food, “This recipe, so simple and excellent, should not be messed around with.”
Often scones are baked as one large round cake and then cut into individual wedges, a practice that some food writers suggest was common in previous centuries. And they have earned unique terms of endearment from the British people, for example Northumberland offers currant scones called “singin’ hinnies” (singin’ refers to the sizzle made when dough meets hot butter on a griddle), Scotland makes “fattie cutties” and Yorkshire specializes in “fat rascals.” On the other side of the pond, scone-type mixtures are used to top fruit cobblers (see blackberry cobbler) and they share common ground with American biscuits.