Nigella Lawson says in How to be a Domestic Goddess that these are the best scones she’s ever eaten, and I totally agree. The secret lies in all the cream of tartar. You can make them with fruit but I only ever make them with cheese because, in my opinion, that’s how they’re best.
3-1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
4-1/2 tsp. cream of tartar (yes, that’s right)
¼ c. cold unsalted butter, grated on large holes of grater (that’s the best way to incorporate it)
2 Tbsp vegetable shortening, in small blobs
1-1/3 c. milk
(½ - ¾ c. or more grated sharp cheddar cheese and ¼ tsp. cayenne – optional)
1 large egg or egg yolk, beaten for egg wash
2-1/2 in. crinkle edged round cutter, or a jelly glass
1 baking pan, lightly greased
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Grate in the cold butter and add the shortening. Use your hands to mix the dry ingredients and the fats until the mixture is like coarse sand. Add the milk all at once and combine briefly with a wooden spoon. Add the grated cheese and cayenne or fruit (see below). Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it very briefly and gently to make sure everything’s mixed in.
Roll it out to about 1 to 1-1/4 in. thickness. Dip your cutter into some flour or use the jelly jar to cut out rounds. Place the rounds fairly close together on the greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg wash. Put the scones in the oven and bake them for about 10 minutes, until they have golden tops and have risen considerably.
These are best freshly baked, still warm from the oven, with or without clotted cream and jam but definitely with butter. Nigella says her favourite way to serve these scones (though probably not in their cheese version) is with clotted cream and molasses, in which case they are apparently called Thunder and Lightning. Haven’t tried that one.
To fruitify these scones, don’t do the cheese and instead use 3 oz. raisins or golden raisins or dried sour cherries , in which case you might apparently want to also add the grated zest of half an orange. But go with the cheese version first so you can taste these in all their glory.