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West Country Scones with Strawberry Butter

Servings: 10 scones
These are the lightest little scones you'll ever come across. But what is strawberry butter, you're wondering? The answer is that, traditionally, country people used to use up surplus summer fruits by making fruit cheeses. Damsons, for instance, can be cooked long and slow until they are concentrated into a thick, cheese-like consistency. Fruit butters are similar, but not quite so thick. This version, made with strawberries, has all the concentrated flavor and aroma of the fruit, perfect for piling on to scones with generous amounts of clotted cream. Don't forget that scones don't keep well, so, in the unlikely event of there being any left, pop them in the freezer. The strawberry butter, however, can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

2-3 tablespoons buttermilk, plus a little extra for brushing
8 oz. (225 g) self-raising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
pinch of salt
3 oz. (75 g) butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 oz. (40 g) superfine or caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten

For the Strawberry Butter:
1 lb (450 g) strawberries
6 oz (175 g) granulated sugar

To Serve:
Clotted cream
You will also need a lightly greased baking sheet dusted with flour, and a 2-inch (5 cm) biscuit cutter.

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

To Make the Strawberry Butter:
Purée the strawberries in a food processor; push them through a fine sieve, pressing with a wooden spoon so that as much juice as possible gets through. You should get about 15 fluid oz. (425 mL). Place the purée in a medium saucepan with the sugar and heat very gently until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat so the mixture boils rapidly for 8-10 minutes and keep stirring from time to time so it doesn't catch on the base. When it's ready, the mixture should have reduced by one third and a wooden spoon drawn across the base of the pan should leave a trail for 1-2 seconds only, but be careful not to overcook it, or you will get glue. Then pour it into a serving dish and leave to one side to cool and set for at least an hour.

For the Scones:
Begin by sifting the flour and salt into a bowl, rub the butter lightly into the mixture until it looks like bread crumbs; then add the sugar. Beat the egg and 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk together and start to add this to the rest, mixing the dough with a palette knife. When it begins to come together, finish off with your hands. It should be soft but not sticky (if the dough seems too dry, add a little more buttermilk, a teaspoon at a time).

When you have formed the dough into a ball, place it on to a lightly floured surface and roll it into a circle at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick and be very careful not to roll it any thinner; the secret of well-risen scones is to start off with a thickness of no less than an inch. Cut out the scones by placing the cutter on the dough and giving it a sharp tap; don't twist it, just lift it up and push the dough out. Continue until you are left with the trimmings, then bring these back together to roll out again until you can cut out the last scone.

Place the scones on the baking sheet, brush them lightly with the buttermilk and dust with a little flour. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until they are well risen and golden brown, then remove them to a wire rack to cool. Serve the scones thickly spread with strawberry butter and lots of clotted cream.

Makes 10 scones.

Date: April 28, 2004