British baking gains an audience
Scones and other popular British-inspired creations like Millionaire’s shortbread are staging a comeback, of sorts, in the United States, as American consumers seek out bakery products backed by tradition but loaded with unique flavors.
“Surprisingly, there has been a lot of interest in English baking,” says pastry chef Rachael Coyle of Coyle’s Bakeshop in Seattle. “That’s been fun to experiment with new things.”
Scones are taking on new flavors across the country, as evidenced by recent examples of caramel apple scones, bacon cheddar scones, and orange marmalade and thyme.
At Scratch Bakery, a locally owned bakery and pastry shop located in Lawrence, Kansas, baked goods range from classic American selections to European-inspired fare, including scones in such creative flavors as white chocolate raspberry, chocolate chip, and bacon, cheddar and scallion.
These creations are the brainchild of owner Mark Gregory. Raised in the Midwest, Gregory ventured south to Georgia, where he began his pastry training at 103 West, Atlanta's premier private dining destination. He returned to Lawrence in 2005, where he began his 6½-year tenure at The Lawrence Community Mercantile, five as bakery manager. He opened Scratch Bakery in 2013.
With all this newfound attention on traditional bakery products from Britain, it’s no wonder the most popular British baking show is now coming to America. On the heels of a record-breaking UK ratings bonanza — with its recent season finale reaching half of the country’s television viewership — The Great British Baking Show (called “The Great British Bake Off” in the UK) made its US television premiere on December 28, 2014, on PBS. Renowned British bakers Mary Berry, the UK’s “doyenne of baking” and a leading cookbook writer, and Paul Hollywood, one of Britain’s top artisan bakers, serve as the series’ judges.
The History of Scones
Scones got their start as a Scottish quick bread. Originally made with oats and griddle-baked, today’s version is more often made with flour and baked in the oven. Scones are related to the ancient Welsh tradition of cooking small round yeast cakes (leavened breads) on bakestones, and later on griddles. One claim, probably not the best, says that scones are named for the Stone (scone) of Destiny, a stone upon which Scottish kings once sat when they were crowned (the Abbey of Scone can still be found, upriver from Perth; but the Stone of Destiny was long ago removed to Westminster Abbey).
Other contenders include the Dutch schoonbrot, fine white bread, and the closely-related German sconbrot, fine or beautiful bread. The Oxford English Dictionary favors the latter two. Scones became popular and an essential part of the fashionable ritual of taking tea in England when Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, one late afternoon, ordered servants to bring tea and some sweet breads, which included scones. She was so delighted by this that she ordered it every afternoon and what now has become an English tradition is the “Afternoon Tea Time.”
Originally, scones were made with oats, shaped into a large round, scored into four or six wedges (triangles) and griddle-baked over an open fire (later, a stovetop). With the advent of oven baking, the round of dough was cut into wedges and the scones were baked individually. Traditional English scones may include raisins or currants, but are often plain, relying on jam, preserves, lemon curd or honey for added flavor—or with a touch of clotted cream.