I feel a little like I have fallen down a rabbit hole and joined Alice’s tea party in Wonderland. It started when I asked a long-suffering locked-down Melbourne friend if there was anything she particularly wanted me to write about. Her suggestion was a rendition of her Scottish mother’s girdle scones. I’d never made them, so off I went to investigate.
The first lesson was on the “girdle”. What is known as a griddle in England is a bakestone in Wales and a girdle in Scotland. Traditionally it was a flat piece of iron with a raised rim and handles on each side where a chain could be attached so it could hang over the kitchen fire. The Welsh used to fashion theirs out of slate or sandstone, hence the different name. This type of cooking plate was also used for oatcakes and pancakes.
The dough for these scones is pretty standard: rub the butter into flour augmented with a raising agent, then add a little milk and roll out. Here I use a combination of cream of tartar and baking soda, so it is a bit less zingy on the tongue. Then instead of being cooked in the oven, like a normal scone, they are cooked on a heavy griddle or in a heavy cast-iron pan. This gives them a wonderful crisp, golden and slightly buttery outside that is absolutely delicious.
I tested three different cooking mediums. The top of an AGA stove was very successful; a large cast-iron pan on a gas flame was also great; and I did try them on the flat plate of my barbecue. This had the perfect flatness and heat distribution, but there was the faintest hint of old steak and sausage in the flavour, no matter how well I thought I had cleaned the plate.
The girdle scone is a bit of a staple in New Zealand – not surprisingly, given the number of Anglo–Celtic migrants – where it is often cooked as a large round and cut into wedges.
As a fitting addendum to my research, I sat mesmerised in front of an Instagram post of Prince Charles flipping Welsh cakes at a bakery in Wales. Welsh cakes are made using virtually the same recipe, but with an egg instead of the milk, only currants, and the addition of some spices. They are rolled much flatter, cooked on a flat grill and they look delicious too.
So for all of you who feel you’ve exhausted your baking repertoire in these trying coronavirus times, here’s something very comforting and a little different.
225g plain flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp baking soda
85g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes (with a little extra for the cooking process)
60g raisins or currants
2 tbsp castor sugar
½ cup whole milk
Over low heat on the stovetop, preheat a heavy pan or griddle.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cream of tartar and baking soda.
Using your fingertips, rub the cubes of butter into the dry ingredients until large, cornflake-sized pieces remain.
Stir in the raisins or currants and then the sugar.
Add enough of the milk to form a soft dough. If you end up needing a little more milk than the half-cup indicated to achieve this, add a splash more.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured benchtop and roll out into a one-centimetre-thick circle.
Cut into rounds with a six-centimetre cutter. You should get nine scones.
Check that the griddle (or pan) is now hot, then use a small knob of butter to grease the entire cooking surface.
Place the scones on the griddle and turn the heat to the lowest possible setting. This way the scones will cook all the way through without browning too much on the outside.
Cook the scones until they are a rich brown on the bottom (about eight to 10 minutes). If you feel they are too dry, add a little more butter to the griddle as they cook.
Use a spatula to flip the scones over and continue to cook on the other side until they are no longer doughy in the centre (another 10 to 15 minutes).
Rotate the scones on the griddle as they cook, as certain areas of the plate’s surface may be hotter than others. Keep adding dots of butter for flavour. If you rotate the scones as they cook, you should be able to avoid uneven colouring.
Remove from the griddle to a platter and let the scones cool for a few minutes before serving.
Serve with butter, honey or jam.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 12, 2020 as "Scone be alright".
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