This is a true British classic that actually originated from Scottish cuisine (the name is derived from the Scots Gaelic word sgoon). These are sometimes known as biscuits in America (particularly in the South).
These tea-time cakes (though they are also served for breakfast in Scotland) truly are a British institution and you will get them at tea-time, spread with butter, jam and sometimes cream up and down the length and breadth of the country.
The secret to making them is to prepare as quickly as possible, not to over work the dough and to make as wet a dough mix as you can. Also, when you use a cutter never twist the cutter to get the circle of dough out as this seals the sides of the scone, preventing it from rising.
Ingredients:450g (4 cups) self-raising flour (or 450g [4 cups] plain flour + 2 tsp baking powder)
1 tsp salt
50g (1/4 cup) butter, chilled and finely diced
1 tbsp lemon juice
400ml (1 2/3 cups) milk (about)
Method:Sift the flour and salt into a clean, dry, mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and rub into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Beat together the lemon juice and milk (essentially you are making soured milk) and set aside to thicken for 1 minute. Pour this into the flour mixture and mix in to form a soft but pliable mixture (with scones, the wetter the dough is then the lighter the finished scones will be; however if they are too wet then they will spread out rather than raise — this is how Scottish pancakes or drop scones were invented).
Knead the dough lightly and shape into a ball. Turn out onto a floured work surface and roll out to at least 2.5cm (1 in) thick. Using a 5cm (2 in) pastry (cookie) cutter and dipping this in flour each time, stamp out 12 scones from the dough. Arrange these on a baking tray then re-roll the scraps and cut out more scones.
Brush the tops with a little milk then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 230ºC (450ºF, Gas Mark 8) and bake for about 20 minutes, or until well risen and golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and wrap in a clan dish towel to keep warm and soft.
Serve warm with plenty of fruit jam and cream.
To make these into cheese scones, simply add 115g (1 cup) grated Cheddar cheese to the dough then knead in thoroughly before rolling out on a lightly-floured work surface and cutting.