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close up sideview of buttermilk scones

The Best Buttermilk Scones Recipe – Adapt to Any Flavor!

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

both hands showing the inside texture of baked buttermilk scones

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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. 

ingredients for buttermilk scones recipe

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. 😉

Love baking in your steam oven? Try these other delicious baking recipes:

Cheese and Bacon Muffins

Pumpkin Dinner Rolls (Combi Steam and Conventional Methods)

How to Make Lemon Scones (With Lemon Glaze)

Tips for the best scones

Flour

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.

Butter

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.

Buttermilk

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.

It’s important to note that buttermilk consistency can vary considerably between brands and locations. The one I use is about the viscosity of heavy cream. If yours is thinner or thicker, you may need to use a little less or more buttermilk to get the dough consistency just right.

Mixing

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.

hand rubbing the butter with flour in a big clear bowl
milk pouring into a big clear glass bowl with flour
mixed dough for buttermilk scones recipe

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).

two hands kneading and shaping the scones dough

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.

Hand shaping the dough using cookie cutter

Baking tips

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.

Brushing a dozen of buttermilk scones with milk

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. 

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. 

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.

freshly baked buttermilk scones laid on top of parchment tray and bronze baking tray

Happy baking, see you here again soon. 

Have you made and enjoyed this recipe? I’d love if you’d be kind enough to rate and review it via the stars in the recipe card, or leave a comment below! Ratings and reviews help other readers to find and know whether one of my recipes will suit them.

close up sideview of buttermilk scones
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4.60 from 5 votes

Best Buttermilk Scones Recipe

A basic (but never boring!) buttermilk scones recipe, this makes super flaky scones which can be altered to suit a wide variety of different flavors.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Course: Afternoon Tea, Morning Tea, Snack
Cuisine: Australian, English
Keyword: best buttermilk scones, best buttermilk scones recipe, buttermilk scones recipe, scones recipe
Servings: 12
Calories: 191kcal
Pin Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups self-raising flour or all-purpose flour plus 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter cool but not fridge-cold, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk see notes for substitutes
  • 2 Tbsp buttermilk extra, for brushing

Instructions

Preheat oven

  • 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.

Notes

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Buttermilk consistency can vary considerably between brands and locations. The one I use is about the viscosity of heavy cream. If yours is thinner or thicker, you may need to use a little less or more buttermilk to get the dough consistency just right.
  5. Variations:
    1. 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. 
    2. Chocolate Chip Scones: add a cup of chocolate chips to the bowl just after the buttermilk and proceed with the rest of the recipe. 
    3. 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. 
    4. Lemon Scones: head straight over to my recipe for lemon scones, it’s based on this recipe!
    5. 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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5 thoughts on “The Best Buttermilk Scones Recipe – Adapt to Any Flavor!”

  1. Emily Rhodes

    Sorry the recipe didn’t work for you, Michelle. A couple of possible troubleshooting ideas if you’d like to try again: firstly, did you use the US measures (cups) or metric weights? Although I test and write recipes for both systems, metric weights in baking are far more accurate because they don’t rely on volume for dry measures, which can vary wildly depending on how much you pack into a cup or spoon. The other thing is that there can be differences in buttermilk viscosity from brand to brand, and country to country. Mine is quite a thick viscosity, akin to heavy cream, but some may be more watery and require either a little less buttermilk or a little more flour. I’ll update the recipe notes to reflect that point, as I was unaware of the potential variations until recently.

  2. Michelle Kliewer

    This recipe was too wet. My scones turned out flat and spongy. This recipe doesn’t work for our Canadian environment perhaps. Shame really. Waste of good ingredients.

  3. Emily Rhodes

    I’m not familiar with it, but if you’re a member of my ‘Combi Steam Cooking with Steam and Bake’ Facebook group you’re almost guaranteed to find at least someone else with the same appliance! It would definitely be worth asking in there for any pointers on how the steam operates in the oven’s combi function/s.

  4. 5 stars
    Thanks for posting this recipe. It verifie how I’ve been baking scones in batches for cream teas at our brass band summer events. I’d experimented with steam and came up with similar to you. A little humidity in the oven gives a great rise.
    My recipe used self-raising and an extra couple of teaspoons of baking powder, but might not be needed in steam. Also uses 1 egg.
    I’ve also used plain milk Keffir to replace buttermilk and that works well.

    When I bake multiple batches I never double up, just prepare one tray at a time – I have small ovens, and use one station for each step, food processor for rubbing in, bowl and jug for wet mix, floury board. When speed baking I always cut into squares, it’s quicker and avoids over handling the sensitive dough. Scones barely take 15 minutes to cook and next tray is ready to go in. I know they sell well and bake 4 or 5 batches very quickly.

    Beware when making for breakfast brunch – always expect to make 2 batches. At a family holiday they’d eaten the first tray in minutes…..they are so light and fluffy you can’t stop at 1 each.

  5. 5 stars
    “(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)”

    I don’t think my oven sorts anything out. Are you familiar with Baumann oven? Not sure how to use it for these kind of recipes.

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