Monday, June 11, 2012

Sweet Memories from South Africa

Last Sunday after only being home for 3 days from my trip to South Africa, I awoke craving a scone. To feed my craving, I made a small adjustment to my biscuit recipe and called it a day. Sadly to say it was not the same. It wasn't that the biscuit was not good but I had the memory and flavor of a scone. The difference being scones are flakier and lighter than biscuits. I wanted to master making scones so I was back at making them on Saturday. I researched online South African scone recipes and traditions associated with them. What I found is that South Africans usually learn to make scones from their grandmother and/or mom. The tradition of making them on Sundays is very popular. How fascinating! My great grandmother would always make her fluffy biscuits on Sundays. I would watch and learn from her the art of making Southern biscuits.
When looking through the various scone recipes online I found that the addition of an egg and milk is what makes scones differ from biscuits. After deliberating over the ingredients and the amounts, I baked my first batch of scones. The end result wasn't what I was looking for. I abandoned the challenge that day and thought more about what I would do differently.
                                                  Buttermilk Scones (Sunday's 1st batch)
Waking up this morning with an excitment for creating scrumptious flaky scones, I flew into the kitchen. "Baking is a science." I have heard this statement over and over but it doesn't really resonate until I am experimenting in the kitchen.
How do I make my scones flaky and light and not cakey and dense? After some deliberating, I came up with what I thought would be the perfect ratio of flour to butter and egg to milk. For the milk, I went Southern style using buttermilk.
Once the ingredients were incorporated, the dough produced was soft and pliable. It was much easier to work with than the dough from Saturday's batch of scones. 
The timer sounded and I opened the oven door with anticipation. The scones were risen nicely but the tops were not browned. Hmmm....this is why I didn't bake all of the dough. To fix this batch, I broiled the tops. They tasted great but the tops needed to have gotten golden brown during baking. 
Breakdown of my experimentation:
1st batch) Baked at 425 degrees F and brushed with buttermilk on top
2nd batch) Baked at 450 degrees F. Tested one with buttermilk on top and one with egg
3rd batch) Baked at 425 degrees F and brushed egg on top
Third time is a charm! Baking the scones at 425 degrees F was the perfect degrees but the problem with the 1st batch was that the scones were not golden brown. The solution was to brush the tops with the egg instead of the buttermilk. The result was flaky and light scones with beautiful golden brown tops which lended both a light crunchiness and appeal.
I can thank chef Reza (UK Food Network's Spice Prince) for introducing me to the proper way to indulge on a scone. After conducting a cooking demonstration at one of the theatres in the Good Food and Wine Show in Cape Town, I relaxed in the lounge with my mom and sister. Then enterd Reza with his explosive energetic personality. He took one look at the tier of freshly baked scones, provided by the culinary students, and dove in. "Where's the clotted cream?" he exclaimed. "The what? I said in bewilderment. In a second, he was out the door and on a mission to find clotted cream. With a smile on his face and a bowl of fluffy mile high cream in his hand, Reza sat down and continued to compose his scone. First smearing the cream then the strawberry jam. I had never seen anything like it except maybe strawberry shortcake which is whipped cream and strawberries on top of a scone like baked good. My first thought though is a biscuit which I have never eaten cream on. I didn't even know what clotted cream was. Reza's face lit up as he enjoyed his concoction. Without skipping a beat, Reza repeated the process three more times to prepare a scone for my mom, sister, and me. After one bite, we understood what the hype was all about.

At home where clotted cream  is not so easily found, I prepared my own cream by beat whipping cream to soft peaks then incorporating greek yogurt. My scone wouldn't be complete without homemade strawberry jam. My foodie memory enveloped me and I was back in South Africa.
Buttermilk Scones
1 2/3 cups self-rising flour
Pinch salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter cut into cubes, cold
2 ½ Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg (egg wash), beaten
4 Tbsp. buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Sift the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until it is the size of breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
In a small bowl, beat the egg and buttermilk until combined.
Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Then using your hands, lightly knead the dough together to form soft dough.
Place the dough on a floured surface and shape into a sphere then pat down about ¾-1 inch thick. Using a floured 2-inch cookie cutter, quickly push the cutter down through the dough and lift without twisting. Cut out scones, reshape dough, and repeat. Creates about 14 scones.
Place on the greased baking sheet and brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg. Bake for about 7 minutes. Transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool.
Serve warm with cream or butter and jam/jelly.


  1. Hi Whitney, I so enjoyed reading your post, as I live in Cape Town and making scones is one of the very first baking lessons we get from our mothers. We don't use a cookie cutter when making ours, we just spoon out the dough with a big spoon and place it in a muffin tray. We also do a double batter, so that the scones come out bigger than those in your pic and they take on the form of a rock, if that makes sense. Hmmmm, yummy, this is making me yearn for some homemade scones with strawberry jam and cream. See ya! hugs Sharon, Cape Town, South Africa

  2. Hi Whitney,

    I'm from South Africa and LOVED watching you in Masterchef, you were my favourite and I jumped up and screamed when you won!

    I remember learning to make scones from my mom when i was about 7. It was the first recipe out of my kid-friedly recipe book that I mastered. I still use the same recipe today. It's so simple and the scones always turn out perfectly. There is nothing that quite satisfies a scone craving than a freshly baked scone with cream and jam...yum!

    The recipe I use is so simple, you don't need to brush anything on top and you just flatten the dough a bit and then cut it into 12 squares. We are having super cold weather at the moment and i think a fresh batch of scones is going to be perfect for supper tonight!

    If you would like me to send the recipe to you i would be more than happy too :)


  3. I felt the same when Whitney won MC!! Her self determination was and is today an inspiration to all!! Thanks for your comments about this superb beautiful young woman!! She is my favorite!

  4. There you are ... Now that MasterChef is back on, I've been wondering whatever became of you. Can't wait to see what your next post will be :)

  5. Replies
    1. Here it is :)

      500g Self raising flour
      2ml salt
      25ml sugar
      2 large eggs
      75ml oil
      1Cup milk

      Mix dry ingredients together.
      Beat eggs, oil and milk together and add to dry ingredients. Stir until just mixed.

      Turn out mixture onto floured board and shape into a rectangle (rectangle must be thick and fluffy, no need to roll out the mixture). Cut into 12 squares and place on floured baking tray.

      Bake for 8 - 10mins at 220C (not sure what that is in F)

      The biggest secret in this recipe is that the dough doesn't get over mixed or rolled out. It is quite sticky so just make sure you have a well floured surface.

      Hope it works out for you :)

  6. Lovely blog post. Nice anecdote and great writing skills !


  7. Amazing! I have got such a nice article about South African memories after a long period of time. There is no doubt that this country can provide a lot of momentous experience to every traveler.