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.

queen-scone-recipe.jpg

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!

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Queen Elizabeth’s Drop Scones Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 16 American-sized pancakes.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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.

Method

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).

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An extra note here, when I first started playing with the recipe, I didn't realize it was for what are essentially pancakes. I was expecting more traditional scones, and therefore kept working at the recipe until I got them. I did manage to pull a more traditional scone out of the Queen's recipe, just by doing a couple of things. I reduced the milk to one cup. I mixed the ingredients until they just came together as a sticky, shaggy dough. I used heaping tablespoons of European butter. With this mixture you can make drop biscuits. Just measure out 1/4 cup scoops of the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400°F for 12-14 minutes, until nicely browned on top. Serve warm with butter and jam.

Links:

National Archives Features Royal Wedding Breakfast Recipe
Scottish drop pancakes video from Maw Broon's Cookbooks editor, Eleanor Abraham
Drop scones from Nostalgic Recipes from Nice
Drop scones with berry compote from Inside Cuisine
Wikipedia on pancakes, including Scotch pancakes

41 Comments

  1. Sri

    Had never heard of drop scones before. Thanks for sharing.

    Had 2 questions: You mention 2 tsps of baking soda. When eating, does the taste of the baking soda stand out or you cant make out the taste?

    Do the pancakes acquire a sour taste because of the tartar or is it negligible?

    I can taste the soda, but I don’t get a taste of sour. ~Elise

  2. Bronwyn

    ahhh – now that looks like a drop scone.

    Very similar to what we would call pikelets which are a Kiwi thing because they were an English thing! Especially popular in Yorkshire I think. And in many NZ homes. Warm with butter or cold with jam & cream.
    Hope you are enjoying the coming of warmer temperatures. We just had our first frost this morning. Urrgh!

    10 out of 10 for tenacity :)
    Bronwyn

  3. Lulu

    Yes, I’m definitely old enough to remember Charles and Diana. Mom and I woke up at the crack of dawn to watch them wed, so I’m definitely getting up to watch William and Kate. I even took Friday off work, because I’m such a total geek. Can’t wait!

    Thanks for this recipe, Elise! I’ll be having it for breakfast on Friday. :)

    Happy Royal Wedding, everybody!

  4. Lynn Landry

    What I can’t get past is trying to imagine the Queen making the scones for the President. Were they sitting in a kitchen, he in silk pajamas with a Presidential seal, she in a bathrobe? Where was her purse? Or, did she merely have the help do it?

    Still, the recipe sounds great and I can’t wait to try them.

  5. Paul

    Elise, I love the early morning imagery of Ike and H.R. Majesty clad in their robes and slippers, communing in the kitchen at Balmoral Castle [“the Queen prepared drop scones for the President, using a family recipe”],while Liz tended stove-side and Ike sipped his coffee recounting Normandy and late night drinking forays with Winston.

    Nice thought but likely a staff of 60 participated.

    I have a similar recipe called Canadian pancakes. Nice high cakes but, yes, a bit of heavy on the chemical leavening. They sound pretty much the same and I think I got the recipe here. Are they?
    CP

    Hi Paul – don’t think you got them here. These have so much leavening in them and rise much higher than what I’m used to with American pancakes. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen such high pancakes actually. ~Elise

  6. Catherine

    Scotch pancakes are another, more common name for these. If you don’t have all the leavening then you can use self raising flour.

  7. sam

    These are one of the things I miss from the UK the most. My mum always has several packs waiting for me when I return to visit her. You buy them like crumpets or muffins and toast them and then serve with butter and jam. Heavenly. I had often wondered about making them but never got around to looking up a recipe. Thanks for sharing – now I can try. Also – they are so commonly known as Scotch Pancakes (that’s what they are called on the packet) I didn’t even know they had the alternate name of drop scones. I think of drop scones as being similar but with raisins or currants in them.

    Hi Sam, so they come already made and packaged? So interesting. They do seem to be quite a bit sturdier than their American cousins. ~Elise

  8. Georgia Pellegrini

    How interesting… I was confused at first expecting scones but you taught me something today Elise, love it!

  9. Linda Grothe

    These are called Piklets. They are about 3″X3″ maybe a tad larger but not much serve with jam and whipped cream for afternoon tea. A great treat for kids when they get home from school.

  10. Deborah

    Dropped scones are also pikelets in Wales! They are nice with nutmeg mixed in the batter.

    I am curious as to how the Americans came about shaping regular scones in a triangular shape? When we visited the States we were amused that lots of coffee shops and bakeries made triangular ‘scones’ and proudly sold them as ‘British’. Our traditional scones in England are round, and will either be plain, fruited or cheesy. My family like to halve them then layer each half with butter, clotted cream and jams (strawberry, red currant, apricot, etc.). They are not as hard and crusty as the thick, triangular ‘scones’ we had in America, which were served dry and hard.

    Here is a fun article that shows just how picky we cooks can be about making the perfect ROUND scone:http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/apr/22/how-to-make-perfect-scones

    We like ours light and high, and prefer them a bit large. Yum!

    Thanks for this post. Knowing how the royals use their chefs and kitchen staff, it does seem unusual and out of character that the Queen would actually bake something herself, even at a barbeque up in Balmoral. But I do believe her lovely gesture of sharing this family recipe with Mr Eisenhower.

  11. June

    Elise, I watched the film “The Queen” last night and I cannot imagine her making drop scones. Anyway, in Australia this recipe is called
    pikelets and I often just use self-raising flour instead of plain and forget the bi-carb soda and cream of tartar. Also I often use buttermilk instead of plain milk. They are yummy with jam and cream , or as my Dad likes them made larger and plastered with lemon juice and sugar.

    I loved the little foray into history and although I am a Republican I will be watching “The Wedding.” They do seem a lovely young couple. God bless them, I am sure they will need it.

  12. christian gehman

    waal, of course, adding the dry ingredients to the wet would result in a slightly lumpy batter — the aim of all pancake recipes. The main point with pancake batter is to refrain from stirring too much — that develps the gluten. A few lumps are essential. Same principle with muffins. Thanks for this, and the lovely photo of the Queen with Ike and the guard.

  13. Cindy

    I have tried SO hard to imagine the queen cooking anything and the picture just won’t appear in my head. I mean, for Pete’s sake, her son does not even put toothpaste on his own toothbrush !!
    But these scones look really good and its great you have a recipe from the queen of all people.
    Awesome !!

  14. heidi leon

    What a beautiful piece of information you gave us today Elise, I still cannot decide (or process in my mind) which one is the most interesting, either the history of the scones (as in the Queen) or the differences between American and Scottish scones/pancakes or the info abt teacups and butter.

    Amazing piece. Chapeau.

    ps. also old enough, and yes, will be baking some scones tomorrow to celebrate Wills and Kate! :)

  15. Jess T

    Ironically, this is very similar to my family recipe for pancakes! Sometimes I’ll up the milk amount till the batter is quite thin and make larger ones you can roll up with brown sugar. Yum!

  16. laura @ glutton for nourishment

    fascinating stuff! i come from a very british family and had never heard of drop scones before – i was assuming, like you were, that they were similar to drop biscuits. i love the history, and while it is unlikely that the queen made them herself i like to think maybe she did, just for kicks.

  17. Deborah

    Hmmm….this is all so interesting. My first experience with “scones” was actually cornbread! (Hunh?!) … at a beautiful little tea house one the California Central Coast. Then I encountered basically a biscuit, then the hard, dry triangular items some have previously mentioned. And now…pancakes! I’m just so confused. :D

    You’re not alone! What the Brits call scones we usually call biscuits. What they call biscuits we call cookies. “Drop scones” mean pancakes but apparently mostly in Scotland. ~Elise

  18. Katie

    Elise- I really enjoyed reading this recipe! There’s the wedding fun, of course, and the prospect of eating something tasty, but I really liked the bit about measuring ingredients. That makes perfect sense: when figuring out how much coffee and water to use for a morning batch, I’ve noticed and read that a “cup of coffee” is fewer ounces (5-6oz) than a standard cup (8 oz). No wonder we all get the jitters drinking from our travel mugs! So of course a tea cup would be less, too. I love how older recipes are much more forgiving (or vague) than their modern counterparts and I imagine kitchens to be much simpler, too (fewer gadgets, right?). I love this kind of stuff- thank you!

    Katie

  19. Elise

    Here’s a curious tidbit. Did you know that Queen Elizabeth served as a driver and auto mechanic during WWII? (Source) I don’t doubt that she could whip up a batch of pancakes (or scones).

  20. Mary

    Well, I SO loved your post, I also love drop scones, my mum made them all the time when I was a child. Delicious, your’s look perfect!
    Mary

  21. Catherine

    I agree with Bronwyn on pikelets. Used to make them with mum growing up in the land of the kiwi. We made tiny ones from the leftover batter to feed the cats….think I’ll make them to serve with whipped cream and raspberry jam this weekend. Thanks for the food memories and this is the best food blog!!!!

  22. Debra

    Thank you! My Highland Dancing teacher’s mother would make these for us as a special treat — I have never been able to find a recipe for them in the 40 years since.

  23. Alex

    What is golden syrup?

    From the Wikipedia: golden syrup. ~Elise

  24. Julia

    Another little trick that you can use to create leavening with the baking soda is pour some lemon juice, vinegar (or some even use boiling water) on the soda before adding it to the batter. You will see it bubble and fizz on the spoon when all of it has bubbled, it’s ready. That way you don’t get the taste of either soda or acid in the finished product.

    I would think if the fizz has all fizzed, the leavening power would be mostly gone, wouldn’t it? You could use buttermilk instead of milk to get the acid, or add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to the milk and let it sit for a minute before adding to the batter. ~Elise

  25. Claude Bahout

    I can’t wait to try this recipe tomorrow; it’s likely to keep the wedding spirit alive!
    I must admit I had never imagined the Queen having a hand at cooking.Nice info.
    On an other hand, Elise, I can’t figure out why you write :”European butter has a much higher fat content than standard American butter”.
    Do you mean American butter is not only made of cream? Are other ingredients added? In France, such a product could not be labelled butter.
    Thanks for your nice and interesting blog.

    Hi Claude, Here’s a link that explains it European butter versus American butter. ~Elise

  26. Bill

    Tried these for breakfast this morning (day after the wedding); they turned out very well and retained their light, high characteristics all the way through the batter being cooked. I used the baking powder, since I didn’t have cream of tartar and used 2% milk instead of whole. Delicious and guests were impressed. Thank you!

  27. Jim Price

    I prepared these “scones” for my May Queen this beautiful, but cold May Day. They were magnificent! The cream of tartar and European butter made the difference. This recipe was declared “a keeper”.

  28. Anthony

    Hi Elise, these sound very good! You mention the Queen made suggestions for using treacle instead of caster sugar. Do you know what those suggestions might have been? We keep golden syrup on hand – and I believe that it is a form of treacle – so I was wondering how we might use it instead.

    Your guess is as good as mine. ~Elise

  29. Claude Bahout

    Hello Elise,
    Actually this recipe that is so simple went well, these “royal” pancakes are tasty.Thanks.
    From the website link you gave, I understand that what is called butter in US is not the one sold in France, which composition is very precise and defined by law: cream and lactic ferments.
    I’ve learned something!

  30. Julia

    Elise, actually, though it sounds counterintuitive, but no, fizz doesn’t mean that leavening power is gone, it gets activated. Where I grew up we didn’t have baking powder, and everyone I know from there used this method and it is often still used. Unless one uses buttermilk or sour cream in the recipe, because they provide the same acidic environment for the baking soda.
    I’ll be making these drop scones today for when my son gets home from school. They look good, just the way he likes his pancakes :)

  31. commonplaceiris

    I’m from England and we used to make drop scones/scotch pancakes for tea on Sunday (when we’d have a roast at lunch time so just eat a light meal in the evening). I’ll have to give this recipe a try sometime.

    To me pikelets and drop scones are not the same at all but I think this varies regionally and my perception is largely based on the commercial versions. I’d say pikelets are more akin to a crumpet probably made with a thinner batter/not cooked in rings. Like a crumpet you’d pour the batter and cook until bubbles break on the surface and the top is mostly dry before flipping to retain the holes. Drop scones, as discussed already are just little pancakes which are a good deal thicker than your usual UK pancake (and so more like a regular US pancake).

    Also fwiw, I usually think of treacle as being more like molasses. Technically treacle is anything from golden syrup through molasses that’s refined from sugar cane I believe but the lighter coloured stuff is more usually referred to as syrup and the darker as treacle in my experience. In my family we most often spread butter and golden syrup on top of our drop scones before eating, maybe I’ll try one with some molasses next time.

  32. Belinda & Toni

    We have just tried these Drop Scones and they are absolutely delicious. Not too sweet, so perfect with jam or maple syrup. They were very easy to make. Thank you for a great recipe which has become a family favourite.

  33. debra

    Looking at the pictures they remind me of welsh tea cakes
    http://www.dianasdesserts.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipes.recipeListing/filter/dianas/recipeID/1588/Recipe.cfm

    When I was a kid we use to drive to Montrose PA for their 4th of July festival and they would have these for sale.

    Yes, very similar. ~Elise

  34. rebecca h.

    They’re called Pikelets in Australia and New Zealand, and they’re still one of my favorites. An Irish friend told me they call them drop cakes in her county.

    My mum made them most often for a late night supper if we kids were staying up late for a special reason, or for Sunday breakfast.

    If you can get golden syrup, it’s perfect with them.

    Also, they are Fantastic cold the next day with butter or thick cream and jam, or butter and vegemite!

    I can’t think of pikelets without thinking of my mum’s other childhood standards – pumpkin scones and stewed apples with custard. Good memories!

  35. liz

    We call these pikelets in Australia, and they’re a huge favourite!

  36. Robyn MacKay

    I found the recipe good, with 2 essential adjustments (New Zealand measures)

    - reduce the sugar down to 1, or at most 2 tablespoons. Otherwise they are MUCH too sweet, especially if you want to put jam on top later!
    – increase the milk to around 2 cups (500 ml), to a consistency a bit thinner than for a pancake but not as thin as a crepe. You may need to add a touch more milk as you’re cooking, since the batter thickens on standing.

    As the pikelets are cooked, put each batch on a cooling rack, covered above and below with a teatowel to keep them moist, but to also let the steam out so they won’t be soggy.

    And if you’re cooking with kids, it’s fun to make shapes such as letters of the alphabet, or an aeroplane, etc, with the batter. The only problem then is to stop them eating too much and getting a tummy ache!

  37. Mel

    I loved that this recipe is technically a two for one! I get the Scottish pancakes recipe and your version that turns these pancakes into scones. Just add slices of strawberries and a little honey butter and these are going to be fabulous!

  38. Trcaey

    Nice recipe, but as I live just beside Balmoral, in Deeside, Scotland-I am 45yrs old & we just don’t call these “dropped scones”, they are just pancakes-plain & simple thesedays. Maybe a few decades back they were called dropped-scones but certainly not for a very long time.

    Nice that someone from another country see’s fit to introduce us to this recipe, bit too much blarney added though!
    Nice recipe, very heavy mixture though & definetly impossible to “spread”, needs more milk if you want the pancakes to be evenly spread & bit more presentable for the table. Taste’s nice.

    Yes, “drop scones” are also known as “Scotch pancakes”. If you do a search on the UK version of Google, you’ll find more information, and photos for drop scones. ~Elise

  39. Anna

    I live in Scotland and these here are simply known as pancakes. My Mother however was English and she called them “dropped scones” (because they were dropped onto the girdle from the pointy tip of a tablespoon which helped them form a natural circular shape.) I have a Welsh friend who calls them “singing hinnies” as they have a thicker mixture and the addition of a handful currants which “sing” as they cook on the heat. All basically the same mixture which has travelled with families as they roam the globe and swap and learn from each other. Whatever you call them, try them, and enjoy. Regards to you all on both sides of the puddle -it is getting smaller-have a go – they’re easy and so tasty warm with butter and honey.

  40. corina

    In Australia we call them pikelets now days we do not use the baking soda* or cream of tartar as we just use self raising flour
    we make then about the size of the bottom of a glass and smother them in butter for afternoon tea YUMMO

  41. Samantha Body

    Amazing! Just like I had when I was a kid. Thank you for the recipe!!!

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