The scone is a poor, confused baked good with an identity crisis. It doesn't recognise itself when it crosses the Atlantic. There are scones ("sk-ohwns"), and then there are scones ("sk-ons"). Americans eat the former. The inhabitants of the British Isles (and other formerly British countries) eat the latter.
"Sk-ohwns" are sweet, sold at Starbucks, taste like muffins with a crumbly texture, and sometimes come slathered in frosting. "Sk-ons" are not sweet, are not sold at Starbucks, and bear more of a resemblance to biscuits than anything else in American cuisine. In a traditional Devonshire tea, they're served with jam and clotted cream. When I talk about scones, I mean "sk-ons."
The best scones I have ever eaten may be found at the Vaucluse House Tearooms in Sydney. They're light, tender, and perfect with a nice cup of tea on a chilly afternoon. Unfortunately, Sydney is a long way from New England, and so when I want scones, I have to bake them myself.
I spent a good part of my senior year in college attempting to perfect a recipe for scones. I lived in a co-op with twenty other students, so I had plenty of guinea pigs. Every Saturday, I'd get out a giant mixing bowl and whip up a double batch. They would disappear within an hour. Unfortunately, this is not so much positive proof of my baking skills as it is a reflection of the average college student's appetite. Some of my attempts turned out fairly well, but the scones were still far from perfect.
It was cold and blustery this afternoon, which made the idea of teatime very appealing. So I got out a mixing bowl, and tried to tinker with the recipe again. This time, I'm afraid I went too far.
I saw a recipe on Orangette a few days ago that promised light, tender biscuits. I thought I'd apply the technique to scones - after all, they bear a passing resemblance to each other. You can see where this is headed. I ended up with a pan of light, tender, fluffy biscuits. They were almost, but not entirely, unlike scones.
Unauthentic Biscuits That Are Also Not Scones
(Makes about 15 biscuits. They go stale quickly, so make them only if you have other people around to eat them.)
Preheat the oven to 475F. Oil a cake tin. Get out a large mixing bowl.
Dump three cups of self-raising flour and a half-teaspoon of salt into the mixing bowl. Take three-quarters of a stick of chilled butter and cut it into small pieces. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Measure out two cups of whole milk plain yogurt (I recommend Stonyfield Farms) and stir in half a cup of milk. Add this to the dry ingredients, and stir until the mixture comes together in a very wet, very sticky dough.
Dump a cup of plain flour into another bowl. Use a quarter-cup measure or an ice-cream scoop to portion out lumps of the dough; dust them in flour, and pack them into the cake tin. Brush the tops with milk. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Whatever you call them, they're not bad with jam.