I take scones very seriously, and this savory recipe is stunning and ready in an hour. I use cheese and chives for an amazing flavor, but think of this as a master scone recipe dough where you can add other ingredients, like bacon. They rise beautifully and bake to a fantastic golden brown. Wait until you smell the aroma in the kitchen!
Originally posted in 2012, this post has been updated with images and text to serve you better. The recipe remains the same because it's wonderful and I added variations!
I have Irish blood from my mother's side, and scone making has forever been a serious hobby in my family. And though others point that nothing will ever compare to my great grandmother's recipe - fact or fiction we don't know anymore - of course I went and found my own favorites, like the Best Buttermilk Scones recipe (that admit sweet or savory toppings) or the Orange and Cream Sweet Scones recipe.
So the search for the perfect savory scone began. And it took awhile. And many pounds of butter and cheese. But it was a good journey. And rendered this recipe, my favorite. Why? They are balanced, flavorful, easy to make, and have chives which make all the difference between a good savory scone and an amazing one.
Nothing beats these little morsels when it comes to savory scones. Intense, rich, and sometimes on the crumbly or chewy side depending on what cheese you use, you can adjust them to your taste and use other herbs, or add sun dried tomatoes, bits of bacon, green onions. Whatever add ins you use, I highly recommend you make them.
The basic recipe has simple ingredients, and from there you can customize the savory part to your liking. I will post the substitutions you can make at the end of this post and in the Notes section of the recipe card.
- Butter: unsalted butter and the best brand you can afford as the flavor is enhanced by the butter.
- Sour cream and milk: they are the liquid ingredients of the recipe
- Baking powder and flour: they are the dry ingredients in this recipe. Use all purpose flour or a mix of bread and cake flour (depending on the country, that's what you'll find).
- Salt: is necessary to add flavor. I love sea salt or kosher salt, but any type you use is fine.
- Cheese: my favorites are white cheddar and gouda. I used to make these savory scones with parmesan and they are really good, but more salty. Any sharp cheese you like can work, like gruyere, fontina, asiago.
- Chives: they add a unique flavor that is magic together with cheese. So I always use them. Scallions or green onions also work well.
- Pepper, paprika: freshly ground black pepper is a must for me. And smoked paprika whenever I have some around, especially merken, a condiment from Chile that is phenomenal. Ground chili also works if you like a spicy kick.
They include flour, salt, baking powder and butter (this last ingredient is not dry, but is part of what I call the dry mixture and should always be very cold and cut into small pieces).
- By hand: I make scones by hand because it's something I love. The key thing is not to overwork the dough as it will start to melt the cold butter (which should remain that way) and that is not good if we want a nicely risen, soft scone. But I have been making them for decades.
- Pastry cutter: this is another alternative if you don't want to use your hands. You cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter (also called pastry blender) in a large bowl (don't use a small one as it will be more constricting and difficult to work). This way you avoid the messy butter and have little chance of touching it too much with warm hands.
- Food processor: you can use this gadget to make the first part of the flour mixture, just before adding the wet ingredients. The key here is to use on/off quick pulses, just enough to cut the butter and integrate the dry ingredients. You don't want to process the whole thing and make a dough. Not at all! So you might want to try this method if you don't have much success with doughs (they end up being tough because you over work them).
For this recipe they are cold milk and sour cream.
- Milk: use whole milk for best results. The scones will be richer and taste better.
- Sour cream: it has to be used cold, so I like to mix it first with a spatula or fork in the bowl before transferring the whole shaggy dough to the counter and forming the scones. You can also use cream cheese if that's all you have.
- Heavy cream: I have use only cream instead of milk and sour cream with good results. But keep in mind that they will be way richer and dense and lose some of their fluffy texture. I like it when making very small, bite-sized scones.
- Cheese: the way you grate the cheese is important. I recommend a box grater, a large holed microplane (don't use a small holed one because it will be clumpy) or food processor which is my favorite.
- Chives: you can chop them however you want. Green onions can also be used and they add a fabulous flavor also. Chop them small.
- Sun dried tomatoes: this is another ingredient that works really well with cheese and chives or green onions. Make sure they are drained and chopped small. Two tablespoons should be enough.
- Bacon: make sure it's cut into small bites and crisp before adding it. Two or three tablespoons is a good amount to add.
Forming the dough
A clean, smooth work surface is essential for the last step of this recipe, forming the shaggy dough into a nice rectangle, smooth enough to cut. The key here is not overworking it. I know I repeat this a lot, but it's important that it stays as cold as possible.
- Forming the scones: I use a round, smooth cookie cutter, usually 2-inch in diameter (image below). But you can make triangles (make a disc with the dough and cut wedges) or squares.
- Parchment paper: I usually don't use one, but you can. I find that they don't stick to my baking sheets.
- Topping: you can brush the tops with melted butter or use an egg wash (which is a mixture of egg with water/milk) before baking them. It will add a shiny golden crust and works great for traditional scone recipes, but I find that it's too much for this recipe. Also, on top of the butter or egg wash, you can sprinkle with some extra grated parmesan cheese for an over-the-top scone.
3 secrets to making great scones
- Very cold ingredients. I’m not kidding when I say frozen butter, at least very cold. And don’t take the cream half an hour before you start mixing the scones. Butter, cream, milk, they belong in the fridge until you need to scatter and pour them.
- Don't work the dough much. It should come together but still have floury patches. You don’t need to work it until it’s smooth, like a pie dough for instance. It is an uneven dough, with dry spots sometimes, and that’s good for flakiness later.
- A rather high oven. They need that extra heat (and baking powder) to rise however they can in spite of all that butter and cream. And if by any chance you forgot to turn the oven on before you start with the mixing, please don’t leave the baking sheet with the cut scones waiting on the counter. Put them in the fridge or freezer the ten or fifteen minutes it takes for the oven to reach its temperature.
As with most baking recipes, practicing rules. Practice, practice, practice! None of us was born making amazing pastries, I know I wasn't. I still remember my first tough pieces of pie dough, ughhh, and be glad you didn't have to taste my first potato gnocchi! So yes, practice makes perfect. There's no way around it. Especially for recipes like scones.
Frequently asked questions
Eat them with eggs for breakfast or brunch, with a green salad for a light lunch, or with a hearty stew or soup on cold days. My favorite is also to eat them plain, warm from the oven because they're irresistible.
Don't over work the dough, preheat the oven, and don't forget the baking powder! Read the whole recipe first, follow instructions in the recipe and the Notes in the recipe card and you will find all the secrets to making great scones.
You most probably worked the dough too much and it was not cold when it went into the oven. This is a crucial step. You can read the 3 secrets to great scones above in the post.
They can rise too quickly and then collapse, and have a funny taste, almost bitter. Follow the recipe (this and others) and you should be fine. And check that the baking powder is fresh as it will be more active.
Baking powder, no doubt. Though you can achieve some results with baking soda, they will probably not be great as the acidic balance will be off and it will not rise properly and have a metallic taste. Personally, I don't recommend making scones if you don't have baking powder.
How to store scones
- Room temperature: I highly recommend eating them warm from the oven. If there are leftovers, store them in an airtight container for a day (two at the most). And always warm them before eating, for about 10 minutes at medium temperature (350°F/180°C). It makes all the difference in flavor and they will get some of that tenderness and richness back.
- Freezer: one of the most wonderful things is that they can be frozen raw, already formed. So you can make a big batch, cut them, put them on trays and freeze them. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag, container or use plastic wrap, so the tray doesn't occupy freezer space. As they are frozen solid, they can be piled together. This way, you can bake them to order! Directly from the freezer into the hot oven following the recipe. They might need to bake for a few more minutes.
Though this is a savory scone recipe, they are great for an high afternoon tea, similar to a brunch but happening late afternoon and replacing dinner. I know it's a staple at our weekend brunch and, sometimes, even for breakfast.
- Sandwiches: you can make small sandwiches with some cold meats or slices of tomato and basil or arugula.
- Warm with soft cheese: I like to split them and add a small dollop of a soft cheese, such as goat or even cream cheese.
Related recipes you might like:
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- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
- ¼ cup sour cream, cold
- ¼ cup whole milk, cold
- 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Black pepper (to taste)
- Scant 1 cup grated cheese (I also use the food processor until I get tiny bits)
- ¼ cup chopped chives
- Preheat oven at 375ºF / 190ºC.
- Have ready oven trays or cookie sheets.
- I use the processor at the beginning, but you can do it by hand.
- Put flour, salt, cheese and baking powder in the bowl of the food processor or a large bowl.
- Pulse a few times to mix or mix with spoon or spatula.
- Scatter cold diced butter and pulse until it is the size of peas.
- By hand start mixing the butter into the flour with the palms of your hands. It wil take a bit since the butter is cold.
- If using the processor transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
- Add pepper and chives. Mix a bit.
- Mix together sour cream and milk in a small bowl and add to the flour mixture.
- Mix with a fork until most of the dry ingredients are mixed. There will be dry patches, that is fine.
- Now, you can give it a few turns inside the bowl with your hand or do it on the counter.
- The dough should come together just barely, be careful not to overwork it as it will soften the butter too much and that will prevent the scones from rising properly. It should have some dry spots. It doesn’t need to come together like pie dough.
- Give it a few folds onto itself and pat it about 1 ½ to 2 inches thick.
- Using a round cutter dipped in flour, cut circles. See Notes below for comment on cutter size. Continue dipping in flour to prevent sticking every time you cut a scone.
- Put them on the baking sheets spacing a bit, and put them in the freezer for 5 minutes.
- Make sure the oven is at the right temperature and bake them for about 15 minutes, until puffed and no longer creamy inside. You might need to open one and check.
- The bottoms will be golden but the rest of the scone not so much.
- Let them cool until warm and enjoy.
Add ins and substitutions:
Cheese: gouda and white cheddar are my favorites, but I used to make them with Parmesan and also Fontina and Gruyere work very well. Semi-hard cheeses with a sharp flavor are the best.
Herbs: you can add a tablespoon of oregano, thyme or even chopped basil.
Spices: a touch of smoked paprika works really well. Also chili powder or ground jalapeños can add a nice kick.
Sour cream: you can use cream cheese.
Milk: both the milk and sour cream can be substituted for Greek yogurt or buttermilk. They will be more tender and moister. Also heavy cream can be subbed, and they will be denser and richer.
3 secrets for great scones:
Very cold ingredients. I’m not kidding when I say frozen butter, at least very cold. And don’t take the cream half an hour before you start mixing the scones. Butter, cream, milk, they belong in the fridge until you need to scatter and pour them.
Don't work the dough. It should come together but still have floury patches. You don’t need to work it until it’s smooth, like a pie dough for instance. It is an uneven dough, with dry spots sometimes, and that’s good for flakiness later.
A rather high oven. They need that extra heat (and baking powder) to rise however they can in spite of all that butter and cream. And if by any chance you forgot to turn the oven on before you start with the mixing, please don’t leave the baking sheet with the cut scones waiting on the counter. Put them in the fridge or freezer the ten or fifteen minutes it takes for the oven to reach its temperature.
How to store scones:
I highly recommend eating them warm from the oven. If there are leftovers, store them in an airtight container for a day (two at the most). And always warm them before eating, for about 10 minutes at medium temperature (350°F/180°C). It makes all the difference in flavor and they will get some of that tenderness and richness back.
Freezer: one of the most wonderful things is that they can be frozen raw, already formed. So you can make a big batch, cut them, put them on trays and freeze them. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag, container or use plastic wrap, so the tray doesn't occupy freezer space. As they are frozen solid, they can be piled together. This way, you can bake them to order! Directly from the freezer into the hot oven following the recipe. They might need to bake for a few more minutes.
Yield: depending on the size of the cutter you use will be the amount of scones you get. I like to use small and medium ones, from 2 to 3 inches in diameter. But you can use any size really, or cut triangles with a kitchen knife also, like we do with the Blueberry Scones.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Bakery
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: International
- Serving Size: 1/25
- Calories: 62
- Sugar: 0.2 g
- Sodium: 169.3 mg
- Fat: 3.9 g
- Carbohydrates: 5.2 g
- Protein: 1.9 g
- Cholesterol: 10.6 mg
Keywords: savory scones
Inspired by Pastries from La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton