Tea and scones with butter and jam – it’s a yummy Irish afternoon treat. When I’m in Ireland I can whip up a batch of scones in double quick time, and I’m guaranteed success every time.
Now, I make two kinds of scones. Irish raisin tea scones without buttermilk, or my granny’s favorite Irish buttermilk scones.
Traditional Irish buttermilk soda scones used three simple ingredients, flour, baking soda and buttermilk. No eggs, no butter, just a simple dough which rose to tender perfection when cooked over an open fire in a cast iron bastible.
But alack and alas, scone making in America is not as simple. I thought I could take this age old Irish recipe and make lovely scones like my granny did with these three simple ingredients.
Believe me, I’ve tried, and all I created was tough-as-old-boots, tooth-cracking, hockey pucks you couldn’t even inflict upon the poor dog.
I come from a long line of scone bakers, and can wax poetically about tender, soft scones dripping with melting butter. You can’t beat a wee bit of scone nostalgia from an Irish mom.
And since I lived in the American south for over 15 years I learned southern biscuit nostalgia runs just as deep as Irish scone nostalgia. Must be a southern Irish American thang, because let’s face it, a good Irish buttermilk scone, is exactly like a perfectly tender southern biscuit.
I take great pride in my baking skills, but once I came to America I quickly learned not to toot my own horn about my scone making abilities. It took me quite a few years to discover what I was doing wrong, and rectify my baking mistakes by tweaking my family’s old Irish recipes. I now feel confident to share them on the internet.
Before I share my recipe – let’s review some important pointers I’ve learned along the way for baking perfect buttermilk scones or biscuits …
The best flour for making biscuits or scones is one ground from soft winter wheat grown in the southern states. White Lily is my flour of choice and luckily it’s easily available here in Kentucky. This flour best resembles the soft wheat flour of Ireland.
Soft winter wheat contains less protein than the harder, more cold-resistant wheats from Illinois and Indiana, the grain belt of America.
So if you can, buy a flour ground from wheat grown in Tennessee. I know all the biscuit making experts from the south give two thumbs up on this flour choice.
Buttermilk and Fat:
Years ago in Ireland soda scones and bread were made from authentic buttermilk, the curdy, acidic milk residue left behind after churning butter.
Today buttermilk is made by adding acid to regular milk and the fat content is not as high as the real buttermilk of years gone by.
Now my local grocery does not stock full-fat buttermilk. They only have the low-fat variety. I often wonder if dairies realize we don’t drink the stuff, but use it for baking, and for lovely cakes, biscuits, scones, or buns, full fat is best.
I have a little trick to overcome this fatty shortcoming. I substitute some heavy whipping cream for buttermilk in most of my baking recipes.
Trying to make tender scones without any butter, while using today’s American low-fat buttermilk just won’t work. My motto is, the more fat the better for a tender scone or biscuit. Trust me, butter is needed to substitute for the less fatty buttermilk available today.
Some biscuit or scone recipes call for shortening and butter, some just shortening, some just butter. My buttermilk scones turn out best by using Kerrygold Irish butter.
Irish cows are grass fed, and dairy products like butter, made with their fatty, rich milk, are simply tastier in my opinion. Kerrygold is always my butter of choice for baking.
It’s a little more expensive than American butter. Actually it’s a lot more expensive, but for this Irish girl it’s well worth splurging on Irish butter for my Irish baking recipes.
My granny simply used baking soda for her scones, but in today’s world I find it best to use a combination of baking soda, baking powder, and cream of tartar.
If you wish you can use self-rising flour and eliminate the baking powder, but baking soda is needed to combine with the acid of the buttermilk for scone rising power.
I also use a teaspoon of cream of tartar. It helps to activate the baking soda a little faster to help my scones rise.
And so, here’s my recipe for Irish Buttermilk Scones. This one might even qualify as a Southern Buttermilk Biscuit recipe …
Ingredients for Irish Buttermilk Scones:
Here’s a quick ingredient list. Check the printable recipe at the end of this post for both US and Metric measurements.
- all-purpose flour (preferably White Lily)
- sugar (add a little more if you like sweet scones or biscuits)
- baking soda
- cream of tartar
- baking powder
- low-fat buttermilk
- heavy whipping cream
- melted butter (to brush the tops of the scones)
Directions for Irish Buttermilk Scones:
Pre-heating the oven is extremely important when baking scones, so set your oven to 425° F before you get started. A really hot oven is needed to ensure your scones will rise.
I like to cook my scones in a large cast iron skillet. It’s the closest thing I own to the old iron bastible my grandmother used for her baking.
So, grease a large 12 inch cast iron skillet with butter. You can using a baking tray if you don’t have a suitable skillet.
In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt.
I never skip this sifting step. Sifting helps add air to the flour and makes the end product a little lighter.
Cube the butter and add to the flour. I use cold butter out of the fridge.
Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
I just can’t help myself – I always dig in with my fingers rather than use a pastry cutter. Here’s a little confession – I don’t even own a pastry cutter. I just do it the old fashioned way.
Add the sugar and mix together with the rest of the dry ingredients.
I merely use a tablespoon of sugar, since my kids like their scones a little sweet. I think they’ve had a few too many Cracker Barrel biscuits, because they won’t eat my biscuits without a hint of sugar.
My granny didn’t use any sugar in her scones, so feel free to sweeten or keep unsweetened to your own liking.
Combine the buttermilk and heavy whipping cream. If you’re making these scones in Ireland, there’s no need to use heavy whipping cream. You can use buttermilk only, since it usually is the full fat variety. But in the good ol’ USA I recommend using a little cream for a tender scone crust.
Add the buttermilk/cream mixture to the dry ingredients and combine until it just forms a dough. Usually 3/4 cups of liquid works just fine, but sometimes you may need a little bit more to form a dough. The exact quantity is dependent on factors such as the humidity and altitude of where you are baking.
From the picture above, you can see that I like to form a dough that is a little less wet than the typical dough made by American southern biscuit bakers. I find this consistency yields scones that best resemble the scones of my Irish childhood.
Next, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface, and gently fold and pat to form an oval about 3/4 inches thick.
Do not over knead your dough, or you’ll end up with tough old scones. It’s a folding and patting motion that smoothens the dough into a perfect oval.
Cut rounds using a medium biscuit cutter.
Gather the dough scraps and gently knead to create a few more scones. Remember to handle that dough with care.
I use a medium sized cutter and this recipe yields 8 good-sized scones. If you like smaller scones use a smaller cutter, and bake for one to two minutes less.
Place the uncooked scones in the buttered cast iron skillet. Brush the tops with melted butter.
If you like the sides of your scones to be soft, then place the scones close together. As they bake, the steam released from their surfaces will soften adjacent scones.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in a 425° F oven, until the tops and bottoms are a light, golden brown.
Cool slightly before serving warm with butter.
And there you have it, my tips, tricks and recipe for Irish buttermilk scones.
This printable version of this recipe can be changed between American and Irish metric measurements. Simply click the tab you desire below the ingredient list.
Irish Buttermilk Scones
- 3 cups all-purpose flour preferably White Lily
- 1 tablespoon sugar add a little more if you like sweet scones or biscuits
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 ounces butter
- 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk a few extra tablespoons if necessary
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon butter melted to brush the tops of the scones
- Pre-heat the oven to 425° F. Grease a large 12 inch cast iron skillet with butter.
- In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt.
- Cube the butter and add to the flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Add the sugar and mix together.
- Combine the buttermilk and heavy whipping cream. Add to the dry ingredients and combine until it just forms a dough.
- Turn out onto a floured work surface, and gently fold and pat to form an oval about 3/4 inches thick. Cut rounds using a medium biscuit cutter. Gather the dough scraps and gently knead to create a few more scones.
- Place the scones in the buttered cast iron skillet. Brush the top with melted butter.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in a 425° F oven, until the tops and bottoms are a light, golden brown.
- Cool slightly before serving warm with butter.
Happy scone baking to all my Irish and English readers, and anyone around the globe who uses metric measurements.
Happy biscuit baking to my American readers.
Wishing everyone successful scone and biscuit baking. May your scones be tender and moist and delicious with butter, jam and a hot cuppa.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
Here are some other recipes and ramblings you might enjoy: