Queen Elizabeth’s Drop Scones
Yes it is royal wedding time, once again (at least for those of us old enough to remember Charles and Di, and Andrew and Fergie). In honor of this festive occasion, we present to you a recipe for drop scones, otherwise known as “Scotch pancakes”, that Queen Elizabeth made for President Dwight Eisenhower on the occasion of his visit to Balmoral castle in 1959. According to the National Archives, the Queen prepared drop scones for the President, using a family recipe. Later she sent the President a letter and enclosed the recipe, with annotations and a suggestion to use treacle in place of the caster sugar.
When I first started testing this recipe, I couldn’t understand why the dough was more of a pancake batter, and not “scone-like” as I had imagined. Here in the states we think of drop scones like drop biscuits, instead of cutting out triangular shape scones for baking, we drop the dough from a spoon onto the baking pan. But “drop scones” in parts of the UK, in particular Scotland, where Balmoral castle is situated, are more like American pancakes than typical scones. Drop scones are thicker than American pancakes, and a little smaller.
If you read the Queen’s recipe in the image above, note the use of “teacups” as measurements for flour and milk. Before Fanny Farmer we used teacups for measures as well. To figure out how much a typical teacup holds, I tested two teacups, an English made one, and a French limoge. Oddly, when I filled each (completely different shape) tea cup with flour and weighed them, the result for each was exactly 100 grams. By volume, the teacups were each 3/4 of an American standard cup. So “4 teacups” would be 3 American cups, and “2 teacups” would be 1 1/2 cups.
European butter has a much higher fat content than standard American butter, so if you have European butter, you may want to use it, to more closely replicate what the Queen was making. Most recipes for drop scones I found add a little salt. I don’t know if the Queen used salted butter or not. Her recipe doesn’t call for it, but since I use unsalted butter, I added a little salt to the batter.
A note on the cream of tartar. We happen to have some in our pantry, but many people don’t. Cream of tartar is a dry acid. It combines with the alkaline baking soda to create the leavening in the scones. Baking powder is just the combination of baking soda and cream of tartar with some corn starch thrown in, so if you don’t have cream of tartar, you can substitute both the baking soda and the cream of tartar with baking powder.
Congrats William and Kate!
I've changed the method just a little from the Queen's original, by adding the wet ingredients to the dry, instead of the dry to the wet.
- 3 cups (400 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda*
- 3 teaspoons cream of tartar*
- 1/4 teaspoon salt**
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup of superfine sugar, or a heaping 1/4 cup white, granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cup (350 ml) of whole milk (and maybe a little more if needed)
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
*If you don't have cream of tartar, substitute the 2 teaspoons of baking soda and the 3 teaspoons of cream of tartar with 5 teaspoons of baking powder (make sure your baking powder is less than 6 months old or it may be flat and unable to provide leavening).
**If using salted butter, skip the added salt.
1 Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl.
2 In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Then whisk in most of the milk.
3 Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the milk egg mixture. Whisk until smooth, adding more milk until you get the right consistency - thin enough to spread on the pan, but not so thin as to run. Fold in the melted butter.
4 Heat a griddle or large cast iron pan on medium to medium low heat. Coat the pan with a little butter, spreading it with a folded over paper towel. Drop large spoonfuls of batter on the griddle to form pancakes. When bubbles start to appear on the surface (after 2 to 3 minutes), use a metal spatula to flip the pancakes over. Cook for another minute, until lightly browned. Remove to a plate and cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm while you cook the rest of the drop scones.
Serve with butter, jam, or golden syrup (Americans sub maple syrup).