Nick Malgieri
Nick Malgieri

Mrs. MacNab’s Scones

This is a famous Scottish scone recipe, which I have adapted from The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian McNeill (Blackie and Son, 1929-1955). Mrs. Macnab was a farm wife at Ballater, not far from Balmoral, the summer residence of the British royal family. During her lifetime in the late nineteenth century, many of the dignitaries visiting Balmoral, including King Frederick of Prussia, came to tea at Mrs. Macnab’s farmhouse because of the excellence of her scones. Now we can all enjoy them!

The recipe is deceptively simple—the whole success of these scones lies in not handling the dough too much so that it doesn’t toughen. Mix them with a light hand and they will be excellent.

4 cakes of 4 scones each, or 16 individual scones

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
(spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Two small cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil

  1. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
  2. Stir together the flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl. Rub in the butter finely, using your hands or a pastry blender.
  3. Use a fork to beat together the egg and buttermilk. Add them to the flour mixture. Use the fork to gently mix in the liquid, scraping up from the bottom of the bowl, with a movement similar to the one used to fold in egg whites. Continue until all the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and gently fold it over on itself two or three times.
  5. Cut the dough into 4 pieces and press each piece into a 5-inch disk. Place the disks on the prepared pans, 2 disks to a pan. Use a knife or bench scraper to cut each disk into quarters, but don’t separate the quarters.
  6. Bake the scones until they are well risen and deep golden, about 12 to 15 minutes.
  7. Leave the scones on the pans to cool for a few minutes.

Serving: Serve the scones warm from the oven, but not red-hot, with butter or whipped cream and preserves or marmalade.

Storage: Keep the leftovers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer and warm them up in the oven or toaster oven before eating. (Leftover scones are not fit for guests, however.)