There is something profoundly reassuring and unexpectedly grounding about the British ritual known as afternoon tea. Since my boarding school days in the UK, the pause in the day to drink a hot tea and eat a little accompaniment has been a welcomed moment. It could be alone or with friends and acquaintances. It could be elaborate, with a range of sandwiches, scones, and sweets; or simply a mug with a couple of biscuits. Regardless, the moment of a hot beverage and a bit of calm is fortifying and carries one on through the rest of the afternoon.
The entire tradition can be traced back to the mid-afternoon hunger pains of Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. Feeling peckish around 4pm, the Duchess began taking little sandwiches (invented not so long before by the Earl of Sandwich) and cream tea in her room. After inviting an initial few to join her in her chambers, the private snack spilled into the drawing room, grew in popularity, and became fashionable among the aristocracy.
Afternoon tea is now a beloved part of British culture, and one that I wholeheartedly appreciate. My parents are life-long devotees of Chinese tea, a tradition going back thousands of years. In small cups (never with milk) they re-infuse tea leaves and follow the fragrance and taste as it evolves from one brewing to the next. Regardless of the differences in style, the sentiment is the same. Sitting with family or friends over a tea is precious. It’s a tradition that I truly value, not only as an oasis, but for the bonds it creates among myself and my fellow tea-drinkers.
Making your own bites for tea is pleasantly satisfying and quite simple. One of the classics of afternoon tea are scones. Last Sunday, on a rainy afternoon, I made that staple at home.
In contrast to how I approach constructing a garment, where even ⅛ of an inch throws me off, I get the most pleasure from baking when it’s a spontaneous, unmeasured act.
Rather than feeling encumbered by scales, measuring cups and spoons, I keep the experience as free-flowing and instinctive as possible. Relying on my tactile sense of the dough, the wonderful feedback between hand and brain, I’ll add flour or butter until the ideal texture is achieved. Likewise, the amount of scattered currants is purely visual - a constellation more or less dense depending on mood.
Below I’ve provided the recipe I used as a reference - the sketch I consulted before abandoning it - as you might be a more relaxed baker in following recipes to the gram. Above all, whichever technique feels better, enjoy that moment of rolling dough, brushing yolk, and then breaking scones with people you love.
Classic Scone Recipe :
All Purpose Flour 200g
Unsalted Butter 50g
Baking Powder 6g
Whole egg 1
Egg Yolk 1
Currants (or raisins) 20g
Egg yolk (surface) a small amount
1. Add flour and butter (refrigerated state) to a large bowl, use your fingers to knead the butter into small pieces, add sugar and baking powder, and mix well.
2. Add whole egg, fresh milk, Yogurt, mix gently to form a dough.
3. Put the dough on the table, add the raisins, cut it in half and fold it 4-5 times, flatten it out about 2cm thick, and use a 5cm cookie mold to press out about 8 small circles.
5. Coat egg yolk on the surface and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes
6. Break the scone in half with your hands, spread with cream and jam. Enjoy it with a cup of hot cream tea!
Also I love this Jamie Oliver’s super easy recipe.