buttermilk scone

Buttermilk scones with chocolate chips and citrus zest

20 December 2012

I’m a cream scone evangelist (I’ve written about them twice!), but whenever I have extra buttermilk on hand I like to make these classic buttermilk scones. I love buttermilk for baking – it brings great moistness without the heaviness of butter or cream.

The original scones from Scotland were made of unleavened oats and cooked on a griddle. Modern-day scones lightened with baking powder are similar to American biscuits, though scones are often enhanced with sugar or savory additions, such as cheese or herbs. The main difference between a buttermilk biscuit and a buttermilk scone is that animal fat or shortening in a biscuit gives a flakier consistency, while butter makes scones are more crumbly.

Scottish scones were originally wedges, but leavened English scones are more traditionally round. I always use a round cutter when making biscuits – they seem to rise higher that way – but when I make scones I always cut wedges. Somehow it seems like scones get tougher than biscuits with re-rolling leftover dough, and cutting wedges is faster with no waste.

Aside from the melt-in-your-mouth texture, the brilliant thing about cream scones is that mixing them is so easy: dry ingredients plus cream. These buttermilk scones have the extra step of rubbing butter into the dry ingredients. But it only takes an extra minute. Plus another minute to wash hands after.

Start with dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add zest and cubed cold butter. I used orange zest here because I had an orange from my mom’s tree. Orange is pretty, but lemon zest packs a brighter punch. Or maybe next time I’d use double the amount for orange.

Use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour mixture. You can also use a pastry cutter or two knives. But I think mixing by hand is fastest.

Until mixture is like coarse crumbs.

Crack an egg in half and let the whites drop in a bowl.

Mix wet ingredients: buttermilk, egg yolk and vanilla.

Add to dry ingredients (I should have added chocolate chips first).

Mix until just combined.

Divide dough into three rounds. Brush each round with a bit of milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Cut each round into six wedges. I couldn’t find my pastry cutter, so I used a thin metal spatula.

Place scones on baking sheet.

And bake until golden.

My cream scones always have dried cranberries, so my kids – even the chocolate lovers – were let down by the chocolate chips. But my husband was very pleased.

Holiday cooking

For us, Christmas in Ohio is all about brunch. Every Christmas Eve I refrigerate a quadruple batch of my mother-in-law’s egg, cheese and sausage strata at her house and a triple batch of cinnamon rolls at mine. Christmas morning my mother-in-law bakes the strata, I bake the cinnamon rolls, and around noon eight adults and thirteen kids roll into to my in-laws’ place for a giant brunch and the family gift exchange. With fresh fruit and orange juice, it’s an indulgent meal that invariably outshines whatever we make for dinner (usually a roast, potatoes, roasted vegetables and salad – this year I may make roasted cauliflower with parmesan and olives, which if you haven’t tried, you really should).

And somehow it’s never a problem to find room for dessert: our neighbor Libbie’s nutty, chocolatey derby pie and pink peppermint ice cream with my mother-in-law’s dark, thick hot fudge sauce.

Enjoy the holidays, everyone! I’m heading back to reunite with my dream kitchen in Ohio, which is sunny even on a gray winter’s day.

Holiday/brunch recipes

Buttermilk scones
Classic, moist buttermilk scones that work well as a base for any fillings you want to add (nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit). Adapted from Bon Appetit.


  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon if using unsalted butter)
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold butter, diced
  • 1 teaspoon (packed) grated lemon peel
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries or chocolate chips (mini ones are best)
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sugar topping

  • Spoonful of milk or cream
  • Couple of spoonfuls sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into large bowl. Add butter and lemon peel; rub in with fingertips until mixture is like coarse crumbs. Mix in cranberries or chocolate chips.
  3. Stir buttermilk, egg yolk and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients; mix until dough comes together in moist clumps.
  4. Gather dough into a large ball (sprinkle a bit of flour on top if it’s too sticky). Divide into three similarly sized balls. On lightly floured surface, gently flatten each ball into a chubby round (about 5″ diameter). Brush each round lightly with milk (if you don’t have a pastry brush, just dip two fingers in milk and rub lightly over dough) and sprinkle with sugar. Cut each round into 6 wedges. Transfer wedges to prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart.
  5. Bake until scones are golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 18 small scones.


  • Dough can be prepared one day ahead. After forming dough into rounds, wrap and refrigerate. When you are ready, finish with sugar topping, cut and bake as directed.
  • Scones are best eaten fresh. After the first day, you may reheat scones for a few minutes in a low oven or 6-10 seconds in the microwave.

Here’s the link to a printable version.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

gail parkington 24 December 2012 at 5:41 am

Made these scones this morning. What a lovely recipe. Made them with dried cranberries and they are delicious 🙂


cg 27 December 2012 at 10:00 pm

hi gail – wonderful! thank you for sharing back.


afracooking 3 January 2013 at 11:03 am

These look lovely! I can just smell them baking in the oven. Thank you for sharing!


cg 3 January 2013 at 9:28 pm

thank you for commenting! =)


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