Thursday, June 22, 2006

First clabber your bonny…

It’s so easy to get sidetracked. I wanted to write about a Somerset cream tea, which would be a homemade scone, with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream, and a cup of tea. The strawberries are in spate, a big basket was picked a few days ago and the cupboard is now full of twinkling jars of ruby jam. Let’s make some scones.

I noticed that several recipes for scones suggest you use buttermilk. I’ve never done that, but it makes a lot of sense as the acid will encourage the raising agent to work better. We no longer use much buttermilk in this country, although we used to. I know about it mainly from soda bread, and in parts of the country it is easy to get, in other parts of the country impossible. I did find some locally, but just as I was about to start in on the scones I found a site that told me how to make my own buttermilk. The process is known as ‘clabbering’ as what you are aiming to make is ‘clabbered’ milk. Any method called clabbering just begs to be tried. The word ‘clabber’ comes from the Irish word for thickened or the Scots word for mud, whichever you like, and the Irish word for milk is banne (see the invaluable MacBain’s Dictionary). Together they make up the word ‘bonnyclabber’, which is what we know as buttermilk.

You can make buttermilk from scratch with milk that has soured all by itself. If you ever have milk in the fridge that has gone off, with no trace of mould, you can use that, but I didn’t want to hang around that long. In which case you take 6-8 ozs of cultured buttermilk, put it in a scrupulously clean jar and fill up with whole milk. I expect you can do this with skimmed milk too, but I used whole milk.

Leave in a warm place(around 69ºF is best) for 24 hours, by which time the milk should have soured and thickened, or clabbered. Ben Jonson mentions ‘bonnyclapper’ as a drink with beer and buttermilk, but I‘m not sure I like the sound of that – and anyway I don’t know what kind of beer Ben was drinking in the 17th century (but it would be interesting to find out…) Buttermilk keeps for weeks at a time in the fridge.

So, with thoroughly clabbered milk we can get back to the scones.

Buttermilk scones

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas 6.
225g plain flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
45g unsalted butter
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
About 185 ml buttermilk

Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into bowl. Rub in the butter but don’t overwork the mixture, it releases the gluten in the flour which will give a rubbery consistency. Make a well in the centre and add the sugar and enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Roll out on a floured surface (gently) to a thickness of 1.5cm and use a 5cm cutter to stamp out rounds. Lay on a floured baking sheet and brush tops with milk. Bake for 10 mins until risen and browned.

Eat warm and fresh, with strawberry jam and clotted cream, for a real taste of the West of England in summer.


AnnaW said...

Hi June,

Your scones look delicious. I love the detail on making your own buttermilk. Beer and buttermilk I will give a miss however. I am still working up to my West Country scone session, but feel even more inspired now.

Really good to meet you last weekend.

June said...

So nice to hear from you. I was mumbling about some other kind of West Country scone thing, which now I remember is called a split, and is yeast raised. I think it must be rather like a bread roll, and I can't imagine it working well with strawberries and cream unless you make it with plain flour. There's something else called a Chudleigh. I will happily leave the academics to you!

Liz said...

Oh god - that clotted cream looks magnificent. *Why* do I only like food which really dislikes my arteries?

Anonymous said...

What a great post. Not everyone likes buttermilk. I was introduced at a very young age by a wonderful aunt and love it to this day. Making it from scrath has never occured to me but now I must try.
When I came across your site, it makes me so glad I have a scale that does metric as it makes it easy to try this recipe.
Do you know what makes a scone a scone and not a biscuit? I don't. And what difference does shape make to a scone? Looked up split and found it interesting.

June said...

"what makes a scone a scone and not a biscuit?"
Very good question. I think I should direct you to Anna - see comment above - who is the fount of knowledge on these things. Perhaps they are identical and we just call them different things. Here, though, we think of a biscuit as a thin, flat, usually sweet and often crunchy thing. And in the US I think you call that a cookie.

Bonnie said...


I could always taste the difference between a scone and an American biscuit. It helped that my mother is American and I grew up in Australia where scones are very popular. I always noticed that the biscuits are a little more flakier than scones probably due to the use of more butter. The scones were always denser and more crumbly. Also, when there was no buttermilk to be had, Mum just added a tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of milk to substitute. I don't know how correct it was - but her pancakes always turned out better...

Anonymous said...

Biscuits are also not at all sweet. All these things are shortbreads of various degrees, I believe? Biscuits are notable for their affinity with ham, especially the intensely salty, aged Smithfield type country hams, thinly sliced.

Actually, this is so good, you might well faint . It is not easy to come by a real country ham, but they are worth it-in the manner of Iberico, even.

Which has given me an

June said...

Some confusion I think. In the UK we do generally think of biscuits as sweet. And although it is 'short' in the sense of crisp, shortbread is generally thought of as something specific, albeit a type of sweet biscuit, but with a typical colour, shape, thickness etc. I think Bonnie may have cracked the distinction between scones and American biscuits.

I wonder what your inspiration was about the ham!

Susan in Italy said...

June, your buttermilk making reminds me of how my mom used to make yogurt. The main difference was that she reduced the milk by half before starting. I wonder how different buttermilk is (culture-wise) from thin, drinkable yogurt. Do you know if they're the same?

June said...

I am indebted to Professor Fankhauser at
for the following information.

Casein, the predominant protein in milk, is soluble at a neutral pH, but insoluble in acid. Thus when milk sours, casein precipitates which thickens the product.

Yogurt is produced by a mixed culture of two types of bacteria. Streptococcus thermophilus and either Lactobacillus acidophilus or L. bulgaricu.

Buttermilk is the fermentation of milk by a culture lactic acid-producing Streptococcus lactis plus Leuconostoc citrovorum which converts lactic acid to aldehydes and ketones which gives it its flavor and aroma.

More, much more, on the Prof's website.

Susan in Italy said...

Thanks so much, June! I always use yogurt thinned out with milk when recipes call for buttermilk. It's cheating, but I don't really notice much difference.

Farmgirl Susan said...

Yum! I am a certified sconehead (in fact I had a currant oatmeal scone for breakfast) and always interested in new scone recipes. I never have buttermilk around--I usually use milk with a dollop or two of yogurt in it. Works well. Wonderfully delicious photo!

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