The smell of scones wafted through the kitchen. I ate three before I even touched my tea. They were sweet and crumbly, and succulent with melting butter. She talked on merrily again, to me, to the dog - I wasn't sure which. I wasn't really listening. I was looking out of the window behind her. The sun was bursting through the clouds and lighting the hillside. A perfect rainbow arched through the sky.
The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo, Strange Meeting
My first introduction to Michael Morpurgo was the National Theatre's War Horse, which I saw soon after I moved to London. I'm someone who doesn't generally get emotional about animals (I know... feel free to judge), but I was in bits as the puppet horses galloped across stage. There's something about Morpurgo's stories - almost always about the relationship between young soldiers and their animals - that I find very affecting. At the prompting of my friend Bryony, I recently read her favourite of his books: The Butterfly Lion. It's a beautiful story about Bertie, a young man who rescues a white lion cub from the circus. The story is told by Bertie's widow Millie to a young boy, Michael, over hot buttered scones and tea.
Scones are the quintessential English afternoon tea treat, not least because (if you have everything to hand, which I often seem to) you can whip up a batch in around 30mins, when unexpected guests drop round for a cuppa. They are also best consumed immediately after baking - unlike a cake, they don't need to rest in the tin or be left to cool down before icing. In fact, they're so wonderfully good when eaten hot that if you have any left over, make sure you reheat them in the oven for five minutes before eating them the next day. These scones are made with the cream already in the dough, so are best served simply with butter and jam.
25mL double cream
25g caster sugar
400g plain flour (I, as always, used spelt - I assumed the scones wouldn't rise as well, but they did beautifully, and taste lovely and nutty, so use some yourself if you fancy)
4tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bi-carb of soda
50g softened butter
1 beaten egg (for glazing)
5cm fluted circular cutter
1. Preheat the oven to 210C. Line the roasting tin with greaseproof paper and set aside.
2. Mix the buttermilk, cream and sugar together in the jug until the sugar is dissolved. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bi-carb into the mixing bowl, and rub in the butter as quickly as possible.
3. Mix the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, using a metal knife to stir, in order to avoid overmixing. As soon as the mixture has come together, tip out onto a floured bench, bring into a mound and sprinkle with flour. Push down lightly with the rolling pin until the mixture is around 4cm high. Dip the cutter in flour and push it down firmly into the dough without twisting. If the cut scone comes up, push it gently out of the cutter and into the roasting tin; if not, wait until you've cut out all the scones and peel the excess dough back. Reshape the dough with as little kneading as possible and continue cutting out scones until all the dough is used.
4. Place all the scones in the roasting tin, leaving at least 2cm between each one for them to spread (though most of their rise will be upwards). Lightly beat the egg and use the pastry brush to cover the top of each scone with a light layer.
5. Bake for 12-15mins, removing the tray from the oven when the scones are risen and golden on top. Eat immediately, split in half and spread with butter and raspberry jam.