Baking is a serious sport in Scotland. It’s not elegant or refined, but we know how to put butter, eggs, sugar, and flour to good use. The climate doesn’t give us a lot to play with—a solid summer’s day might see a high of 16°C in the Highlands—so food is hearty. It’s made to warm our bones and brighten our mood, especially during the long winter, when the days are short, dark, and dreich. Food is rarely complicated. It’s simple and it serves a purpose. When it comes to baking, we’ve figured out how to make modest ingredients taste exceptional. Historically, many baking traditions in Scotland were rooted in celebration. Shortbread would be saved for weddings or Christmas, and on Hogmanay first-footers would bring a black bun. But we saved plenty for ordinary days too. In Scotland we love to spread butter on things, so our everyday bakes are typically vehicles for this. Oatcakes with butter and cheese. Butteries with extra butter. Gingerbread with butter. Scones with butter and jam. Cheese scones with butter. Tattie scones with butter. We have a scone for every occasion, and if I had to name my favourite, it’d be the drop scone.
Drop scones are small pancakes baked quickly on a griddle (known as a girdle in Scotland). They’re usually small enough to be demolished in just a couple of bites. As a child, my mother would hover around as her aunt made drop scones for her and her cousins. They didn’t even wait for them to be cooked on both sides; as soon as bubbles appeared on the surface, the children would lift them off the hot girdle and straight into their mouths. My father’s mother made drop scones for him and his seven siblings too. They’d wait, not only for the warm pancakes, but also hoping to be the lucky one who would get to lick the mixing bowl. When my mother made drop scones for me and my siblings, I spooned great dollops of strawberry jam on them. Even though they are baked very quickly, waiting for Mum to finish the next round was a test of our patience.
Drop scones are typically not as light as the fluffy pancakes you find in American diners. They have a pleasing chew to them, they’re barely sweet, and syrups don’t really soak into them. I like to spread them with salted butter and golden syrup and eat them with my hands. Inevitably, you’ll end up with streams of syrupy butter dripping down your fingers. Just go with it. Golden syrup isn’t easy to find here in Germany (I have seen it at Goldhahn und Sampson here in Berlin), so maple syrup is quite fine too, as is jam. My recipe is somewhere between traditional drop scones and fluffy pancakes. I’ve added a little yoghurt to lighten them up, and I make them a bit bigger than bite-size and eat them for breakfast. Sprinkling them with blueberries (fresh or frozen) before flipping is not traditional, but very tasty.
Makes 7–8 breakfast-size pancakes
150 g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
0.25 tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.25 tsp salt
20 g fine sugar
2 tbsp yoghurt
whole milk—enough so when mixed with the yoghurt it makes 175 ml
butter for frying
Fresh or frozen blueberries
Sift together the plain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt, then add the sugar. Add the yoghurt to a measuring jug and top up with milk so you have a total of 175 ml. Crack the egg into the milk and yoghurt, then whisk together to mix.
Pour the yoghurt, milk, and egg mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk together, stopping as soon as it is fully mixed and there are no lumps.
Heat a frying pan (or a griddle if you have one) on a medium heat. Once it’s hot, run a block of butter over the surface of the pan, leaving a thin coating of melted butter. Drop 1.5 dessert spoons of mixture into the pan (I usually fit three or four pancakes in our 28 cm frying pan) and cook without touching them until bubbles start to appear on the surface. If you’re using them, add the blueberries while the surface is still wet.
Once the surface has lost its glossy shine and bubbles have appeared, flip the pancakes and cook the other side. You’re looking for a nice caramel brown colour on your pancakes, so if they’re a bit light on either side, flip them and give them a few seconds longer.
Once they’re cooked, transfer to a plate (don’t stack too many on top of one another, as they’ll lose some of their springiness if they’re too compressed) and wrap in a clean tea towel to keep them warm. Continue until you’ve used up all of the batter.
Serve warm with plenty of butter and whichever sweet condiments please you most.