This basic buttermilk scones recipe is the starting point for almost every scone dough I bake. Think of it as an easy recipe with multiple spin-offs, because you’re going to come away from it with a whole host of scone baking ideas!
The perfect scone recipe makes flaky scones that come together fast, perfect for morning or afternoon tea with a cup of coffee. These fit the bill in every way, and I’ll have you turning out tender scones just like mine in no time.
Let’s dive into the art of golden brown British style scones, including my favorite variations and best tips
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The difference between scones and biscuits
Before we get into the recipe, let’s clarify the difference between British scones and American biscuits. While the two share some similarities, they have a couple of distinct characteristics:
- Texture: Both should be tender, however scones have a crumblier, slightly drier texture than biscuits, which are more flaky and buttery.
- Variety: Scones can be sweet or savory and are often flavored with fruits, nuts, spices, vegetables or cheese. Biscuits are almost always savory.
- Occasion: Scones are traditionally a snack eaten for morning or afternoon tea. Biscuits are usually served as a side with main meals.
What you’ll need for your buttermilk scones recipe
My buttermilk scones recipe is simple to whip up with pantry staples.
For the dry ingredients you’ll need flour, salt, sugar and butter. A little flour in addition to the recipe is also helpful for dusting your counter.
When it comes to wet ingredients you just need buttermilk. If you can’t wait for your scones and don’t have buttermilk, don’t worry! Whole milk with a little lemon juice added is a decent substitute. You may need a little extra buttermilk to get the perfect dough consistency, so keep that in mind.
You don’t really need special equipment to make perfect scones, but there are a few things that make the process easier:
- A decent round cookie cutter is important if you want neat round scones. If you don’t have one, use a thin-lipped drinking glass or just cut scones into squares or triangles with a sharp knife.
- A pastry blender can be handy if you don’t want to rub the butter into the flour yourself. I use one like this, though more often for large batches of pastry than for scones, which don’t use as much butter.
- Some people swear by a rolling pin for flattening the dough evenly, but you don’t need it. Your hands make perfect tools for flattening and shaping the dough, plus they’re free and you’ll be washing them anyway! Why dirty another utensil unless you have to. 😉
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Tips for the best scones
In Australia we can readily buy self-raising flour at the supermarket. It makes fantastic scones and cuts down on the number of ingredients required. If self raising flour isn’t available, substitute all-purpose flour mixed with 3 teaspoons of baking powder. It’s not an exact substitute but it will do fine. I have baked scones with half whole wheat flour on occasion, and it will work but you’ll need to add extra liquid to the dough.
I always use unsalted butter for baking, it allows you to control the saltiness of the overall dish. The softness of the butter is key in this recipe; it needs to be just soft enough that you can rub it into the flour, but as cold as possible for the best texture. You don’t want butter so soft that it melts and blends in during mixing, rather it should be a cool room temperature that rubs in to make coarse crumbs. I remove my butter from the fridge and cube it about 15 minutes before I’m ready to mix the dough.
Cold buttermilk makes the scones very tender and gives them a slight tang. If you’re desperate for scones but have no buttermilk, mix regular milk with a teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to curdle and thicken slightly before using.
Use a large bowl for scones; it gives plenty of room to rub the butter in and mix the dough easily. When combining the flour mixture with the buttermilk, mix until just combined. Overmixing leads to toughness, instead of the fluffiest scones with the desired crumbly texture.
A lightly floured surface
When shaping the dough, make sure to lightly flour the work surface and your hands. Don’t go overboard! You just need enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Any more and your scones will be covered in thick, cakey bits of flour when they’re baked (not nice to eat).
Shaping and cutting
Pat the dough gently into a round or rectangle shape and cut each scone cleanly and straight down with a round cookie cutter (rather than wiggling it around). As my Nanna would say, ‘just a light touch’! Gentle shaping and clean cuts make for uniform, pretty scones that rise more evenly and have a better crumb.
Bake scones on a lined baking sheet (I use parchment paper), and put them close together on the sheet. They should be almost touching before they go into the oven, and will expand to ‘kiss’ at the edges.
Brush the tops with extra buttermilk (some say egg wash, but you’ve already got the buttermilk out so why not use that?!). Then get that baking tray into the oven as soon as possible. The rise of the dough begins as soon as the buttermilk mixture hits the dry ingredients, so for maximum lift and the flakiest scones, get them cut, glazed and into the oven fast.
Bake buttermilk scones in the middle position of the oven for the most even cooking.
Scones recipes variations
There are almost countless variations you can make to scones. From berries to bananas, pumpkin to tomatoes and chocolate to nuts. A great basic scones recipe is kind of like a muffin in the sense that you can include loads of different ingredients to make them your own.
Here are a handful of the scone variations I regularly make.
Blueberry Buttermilk Scones
Add a little orange zest (I find half an orange worth’s is plenty) to the bowl when you rub in the butter. Add a cup of whole, fresh blueberries to the scone dough when you turn it onto the bench to bring together. Gently fold and squash them into the dough then proceed with cutting and baking. These are lovely with a quick glaze made from powdered sugar, lemon zest and fresh lemon juice.
Chocolate Chip Scones
Add a cup of chocolate chips to the bowl just after the buttermilk and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Spiced Date Scones
Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg to the flour at the start of the recipe. Add 8-10 pitted and chopped dates to the bowl just after the buttermilk, then proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Head straight over to my recipe for lemon scones, it’s based on this recipe!
Cheese and Herb Buttermilk Scones
Omit the sugar from the recipe and increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon. Add 2/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs to the bowl once the butter is rubbed through the flour, then proceed with the recipe. I love thyme, rosemary and parsley as a good all-around herb mix.
Go forth and bake your best scones ever! I can’t wait for you to give this simple recipe a try. Share in the comments below if you do, and if you test out one of the buttermilk scones recipe variations I’d love to hear about it.
Happy baking, see you here again soon.
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Best Buttermilk Scones Recipe
- For conventional oven, preheat to 450°F/220°C. For steam oven, set to Combi Steam, 400°F/200°C, 30% humidity (if your steam oven doesn't have variable humidity, don't worry! Just set to combi steam at the correct temperature and the oven will sort out the steam for you). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Make scone dough
- Place the flour, salt and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter. Using fingertips or a pastry blender, rub butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse, lumpy breadcrumbs.3 cups self-raising flour, 1/4 tsp fine salt, 2 Tbsp granulated sugar, 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Make a well in the flour mix and pour in the buttermilk. Using a butter knife, stir and cut the mixture together until it forms a rough dough that almost comes together. Do not overmix. If it seems very dry you can add a little more buttermilk, but don't go overboard! You want a damp dough, not a muffin batter!1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to gently bring it together so it just forms a cohesive mass. Press out into a rectangle 1 1/2-inches/4cm thick.
Cut and bake scones
- Use a 2-inch/5cm round cookie cutter to cut scones (dip the cutter into flour between cuts to prevent dough sticking). Gently press leftover dough pieces together and cut these to make a total of 12 scones.
- Place scones, almost touching, onto the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with extra buttermilk and bake until light golden brown and puffed, about 15 minutes. If they're done, they'll sound hollow when tapped on top.2 Tbsp buttermilk
Wrap, cool and serve scones
- As soon as you remove the scones from the oven, cover them with a clean hand towel. This helps them stay soft and tender when cooled. Allow to cool until they're warm, then split and serve with jam and whipped cream.
- Flour: In Australia we can readily buy self-raising flour at the supermarket. If that’s not the case where you are, you can substitute all-purpose flour mixed with 3 teaspoons baking powder. It’s not an exact substitute but it will do fine here.
- Butter: The softness of the butter is key in this recipe; it needs to be just soft enough that you can rub it into the flour, but not so soft that it melts and blends in. I remove it from the fridge and cube it about 15 minutes before I’m ready to use it, and that works well.
- Buttermilk: cultured buttermilk makes the scones very tender and gives them a slight tang. If you’re desperate for scones but have no buttermilk, mix regular milk with 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice or white vinegar and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to curdle and thicken slightly.
- Blueberry Buttermilk Scones: add a cup of whole, fresh blueberries to the scone dough when you turn it onto the bench to bring together. Gently fold and squash them into the dough then proceed with cutting and baking. These are lovely with a quick glaze made from powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice.
- Chocolate Chip Scones: add a cup of chocolate chips to the bowl just after the buttermilk and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
- Date Scones: add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg to the flour at the start of the recipe. Add 8-10 pitted and chopped dates to the bowl just after the buttermilk, then proceed with the rest of the recipe.
- Lemon Scones: head straight over to my recipe for lemon scones, it’s based on this recipe!
- Cheese and Herb Buttermilk Scones: omit the sugar from the recipe and increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon. Add 2/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs to the bowl once the butter is rubbed through the flour, then proceed with the recipe. I love thyme, rosemary and parsley as a good all-around herb mix.
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