Scones, strawberries and cream. There are few other combinations of words that give off that warm glow of hazy, summery days than this. A cream tea sums up so much about what is wonderful about the British summertime, although they have been arguing in the South West for years about whether to serve your jam topped with your cream, as they do in Cornwall, or your cream topped with jam, as they do in Devon. Personally I think it is just plain wrong to put the cream on top of the jam, but that’s just me.
In terms of how to eat your cream tea, I would never be so presumptuous as to tell you how you should do it. If you want whipped cream or clotted, it is your choice (although if you are in possession of a can of squirty cream, you should hand yourself in for crimes against food). If you are feeling really outrageous(!), you could have raspberry jam rather than strawberry. Fruit scones or plain? Be a rebel and go for both. The pleasures of a cream tea are infinite in variety.
I am going to throw in a curveball here. It all started when, after lovingly making fresh scones and purchasing clotted cream, I discovered that someone (probably me to be fair) had eaten the last of the jam. I have posted about how to make jam before. I had a punnet of strawberries in the fridge, but it is not a quick job to make jam, nor is it really worth it unless you are doing a big batch. Undeterred, I immediately thought of strawberry compote.
A compote is basically any kind of fruit, simmered with sugar and eaten while still fresh and zingy. It is not as sweet or thickly set as jam, as it has less sugar and more fruit. Arguably, you can make compote without sugar at all, but for scones, you definitely need the extra sweetness to offset the deep richness of the cream. My eyes then alighted on the pot of basil sitting on my kitchen windowsill. Basil and strawberries are a combination of food dreams, each bringing out the flavour of the other in a quite marvellous way. Basil is very delicate-if you store it in the fridge it will go black very quickly-no matter how the supermarkets advise you to store it. It is at it’s best when it is added right at the end of any recipe, so it can add all it’s wonderful flavour. It is, therefore, a highly unsuitable ingredient for a jam as the rapid boiling would destroy all it’s fragrance, but added to a compote when it has cooled, it is perfect. I will warn you now that this is a highly messy way of eating scones-compote is runnier than jam and so you will certainly need a napkin tucked into your shirt before starting to eat this.
If you have never made scones before, I urge you to give them a go. They taste so different warm from your own oven to the brick-like texture you can get from those packets in the supermarket. They also take about 30 minutes from start to eating. If you have never baked anything, scones are a very good place to start. You can customise them in any way you want; add some sultanas, lemon zest or even chocolate chips if you want a true sugar overload. The finish of the top of the scone is also something you can control if you make them yourself. Before you put them in the oven, you can dust them with flour for a soft top, paint with milk for a more crunchy top or paint with egg for a really crunchy crust.
Be gentle when laying them on a baking sheet. Give them enough room to spread a little and rise a lot.
As son as they are out of the oven, put them on a wire rack to cool. It is best to serve them warm, but not piping hot, as they will just crumble apart.
This recipe is based on the one found in the Leith’s Baking Bible. Rubbing the butter into the flour really is the most technical part; it simply means taking the lumps of butter between your fingers and rubbing your fingers together into the flour until the texture is like breadcrumbs and you cannot feel any big lumps of butter anymore. If you cannot bring yourself to do that, you can use a food processor to whizz the butter in. I have used this recipe over and over again and it always works. Except the time I use plain flour-then it didn’t work at all. Made nice biscuity things though.
Scones with Strawberry & Basil Compote
Makes 6 scones
For the scones
225g Self Raising flour
½ tsp salt
30g sugar (optional)
For the compote
400g Strawberries, washed and chopped in half
100g caster sugar
2 tbs fresh basil leaves, as finely chopped as you can
First make the compote. Pop the strawberries and sugar into a large pan and heat gently until the sugar starts to melt. Turn up the hat until the mixture is rapidly boiling. Boil for about 5-10 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool. When cold, add the chopped basil. The consistency should be like a very soft set jam. Leave to the side, but do not refrigerate or the basil will go black.
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Add the salt to the flour, sifted into a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour. Stir the sugar (if using) into the flour/butter mix.
Add the milk into the flour mixture and mix it in with a knife. You want it to combine without stirring it too much.
Place the dough onto a floured surface, pat down with floured hands and lightly roll the surface using a floured rolling pin to make it even. Aim for about 3cm depth.
Using a floured cutter, press down firmly and gently lift out the shapes onto a lined tray.
Brush the tops gently with a little milk; you don’t need a pastry brush, fingertips will do, but try to avoid the milk running down the side of the scone as it will impede the rise.
Bake the scones for between 12 and 15 minutes, until golden on the top.
Serve warm with clotted cream, topped with the compote and a few fresh strawberries on the side. The scones will keep in an airtight container for a day or so, but are best eaten the day they are made, as is the compote.