Scones are traditionally eaten at afternoon tea but I've always loved them even more, with coffee, in the morning. Last Saturday, I had these, in bed, way past lunch time, for breakfast, while twittering, with crumbs all over my keyboard, bed and a few unmentionable places.

My husband will soon be returning home for good, after almost 8 years working and living a 5 hour flight away from me. Once he's back, I won't be able to enjoy anything else in bed anymore, except wine and, well, my husband. He doesn't like crumbs, or ants and much as he loves these scones, he's never gone in for breakfast in bed; I put it down to the Virgo in him.  These really are very good, but, never as wonderful as when you're wrapped in the soft, comforting folds of a downy quilt. Crumbs be damned.

Scones are one of the simplest things to do in a kitchen, and also one of the hardest to get just right, for two simple reasons. Many are afraid of adding too much liquid and end up using far too little, and even more tend to overhandle the dough and toughen it. A moist (but not soggy) dough will encourage a higher rise, with a fluffier interior and a light hand will not develop the gluten in the dough, keeping it tender and crumbly. There is a trick some employ which is to coarsely grate cold hard butter into the flour instead of rubbing it in. This does work beautifully, and produces an almost flaky pastry like, layered effect in the baked scone, but is too fiddly for me and with my uncommonly hot hands, the butter just starts to melt on contact.

I prefer to add chunks of butter to the flour then very quickly and almost carelessly, rub the butter in and stop while the mixture is still very course and rubbly, with small lumps of butter showing through the flour here and there. Once the liquid is in, use a broad bladed, blunt edged knife to bring everything in together and only use your hand to gently shape it when the mixture has more or less already formed a ball. The exact amount of water you will need will vary slightly according to the flour you use. Start with the amount stated but if you find the mixture crumbly or difficult to form into a ball, sprinkle in more water, a little at a time until you are able to form a tender ball of dough. Handle as little as possible and don't even think of kneading it. Whatever you do, don't substitute baking powder for the baking soda and cream of tartar. It won't come out the same, trust me.

This is the recipe that I've found the hardest to share as it's taken years of tweaking and eating less than stellar specimens, to get a scone I'm finally really happy with. They're crusty topped, tender bellied, subtly sweet and bursting with plump sultanas and chocolate chunks. I hope you will love them as much as I do. Just looking at the picture makes me want to stir up a batch right now, and it's past midnight. Think I'll have them for breakfast bed of course. 

Prep 10 mins       Cook 15 minutes       Makes 16


300g (3 level teacups) plain (all purpose) flour
2 level tsp cream of tartar, sieved
1 level tsp baking soda, sieved
2 tsp fine sugar
1/2 level tsp fine salt
75 g (1/2 packed teacup) cold, firm butter
80 g (2/3 teacup) sultanas
100 g (2/3 cup) coarsely chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
150 ml (3/4 teacup) water, with a few drops of white vinegar added


Preheat oven at 210 C (400 F) and line a baking tray with non-stick paper or brush lightly with butter.

Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a whisk until well mixed.

Add the butter and cut into the flour mixture until you have large chunks of butter. Squeeze and rub the butter into the flour very quickly and lightly until the mixture looks like very coarse pebbledash or fine rubble. The crumbs should be large, with bits of umixed butter throughout the mixture. Do not overmix. Lightly stir in sultanas and chocolate.

Pour in the water all at once and use a spatula or palette knife to combine the water and flour. Use your hand to gently push the mixture together and once you have a rough ball of dough, turn mixture out and quickly but lightly flatten and shape with your hand until you have a neat square about 2 cm (almost an inch) thick.

Cut dough into 16 neat squares or triangles. Dough will be very soft and airy, so pick up the pieces gently, trying not to deflate them and lay them close together, on the baking tray, so they push against each other when baking and rise higher. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden and lightly crusted.

Remove from oven and serve with coffee. They taste good as they are or split and buttered or slathered with Nutella.

A Twist - Mocha Vanilla Breakfast Scones

I did make them this morning, but tweaked the recipe a little, inspired by the smell of coffee wafting into my kitchen, from the neighbouring apartment. I left out the sultanas and added more chocolate than usual. While they were baking, I stirred together 3 generous Tbsp of sifted icing (confectioner's) sugar, 1 level tsp fine instant coffee powder, 1 level tsp pure cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1 scant tsp water, to a thick, smooth glaze.
When the scones were out of the oven and quite cold, I drizzled them generously with the glaze, using a spoon. I tried to wait for the glaze to set, giving them sidelong glances as I washed up the mixing bowl, cups and knife, but 10 minutes was the extent of my patience. They tasted very much like those sinfully rich European yeasted coffee cakes, at a fraction of the effort.The smell of the mocha vanilla glaze remained on my fingers, long after I had washed my hands. They're still teasingly scented with that maddening aroma, as I type this.