Granny’s Scottish Scone Recipe is foolproof!

Here is a foolproof authentic Scottish scone recipe, handed down through generations of Johanna’s Highland forebears. To make the best scones you need cold hands – or is that a Scottish baking myth? Johanna’s granny made her scones with sour milk but buttermilk will work. And vanilla essence is a modern and faintly exotic addition! 

An authentic Scottish scone recipe

Scottish scone recipe - one of granny's
Scottish scones – made to Granny’s recipe.

Johanna’s Granny made the best scones

Johanna's Granny
Johanna’s Granny – from whom the Scottish scone recipe was handed down. Her maiden name was Flora Macdonald. Pictured at Arisaig in the mid 1920s.
Kate Macdonald feeding hens
Kate Macdonald (nee Gillies – born on Isle of Skye) – Johanna’s great-grandmother – feeding her hens in the kitchen garden of her home, Arisaig Hotel – mid 1930s.

Scone Recipe below, but first here’s a suggestion:

Book a Vintage Bus Tour with Afternoon Tea and Scones (of course!)

Enjoy afternoon tea with warm scones as you go around the Scottish capital in a vintage bus tour of Edinburgh. You can also indulge in optional gin cocktails while admiring the beautiful sites of the Scotland’s capital city. Perfect! Click below to find out more and to make a booking.

Granny’s Scottish Scone Recipe

My granny, Johanna writes, was called Flora Macdonald (1904 – 1991). This recipe came from her mother Catherine (Kate) Gillies who was from Snizort on the Isle of Skye – born in 1879.

Before that, I reckon this recipe and method came from her mother, Flora Gillies, a crofter’s wife – who also lived on the Isle of Skye.

Easy Scottish Scone Recipe

Serving Size: 6-8 Scones

Time: 25 mins :


  • 16oz (450 g) self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3oz (80g) caster sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3.5 oz (100g) cold butter or margarine – chopped into small pieces
  • Milk, use whatever kind you have in the fridge. About 10fl oz / 284 mls Granny would use milk she had allowed to go sour – and her scones were always so light and soft – but I haven’t tried this.
  • Buttermilk works well – I use a standard carton (284 mls / about 10 fluid oz). Or use ordinary milk mixed with a small amount of lemon juice. wAE


  1. Turn the oven up to 220 C / 390 F (as long as it is hot!). Pre-heat a baking tray. (I like Tala bakeware – made from carbon steel that conducts the heat and gives great results.)
  2. Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl.
  3. Rub in the butter or margarine into the flour – until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Use a light touch.
  4. Or use a food processor. Blitz it! But not for too long – it’s quick but you don’t want to overwork the mixture. I have a Magimix food processor – it’s very good and will last for years.
  5. Gradually add the milk mixture – mix with a knife or a metal spoon as this means you don’t overwork the mixture. Do not make the mixture too wet. That’s why it is a good idea not to add all the milk at once.
  6. Remember! – Not too wet, not too dry…
  7. You will get a feel for when the dough has the right amount of milk. Not too wet, not too dry! Add more milk if you need to. It should all come together in a softish ball.
  8. Flatten the ball very gently with your hands on a floured surface. I usually have the ball of dough at least 1.5 inches (4 cm) thick. Too thin and your scones are thin! Remove the hot tray from oven and sprinkle with a little flour.
  9. Cut out your scones – be gentle, don’t over work the scones and don’t twist your cutter – just press down firmly and shake the scone out – and if the cutter gets sticky, dip it in the flour bag.
  10. Sprinkle the hot baking tray and the scones with flour ( this is another secret of light scones!) Bake for about 10/12 minutes, depending on your oven. I place the tray in the middle of my oven. You will know your oven and its foibles!

Granny had cold hands – this surely helped! (Her pastry was light as a feather too!)

Awfully fancy scones
What? Sometimes scones are a blank canvas for flights of fancies, as here in a wee dog-friendly cafe in Berwick-upon Tweed (England). Feta? Olives? What would Johanna’s granny said about them in scones?

These scones are nicest eaten the same day.

My Granny’s scones were wonderful – it may have been the sour milk or the knife or her cold hands!

I recall that her scones were always soft and tasty even two or three days later. Scones freeze well too of course. So its worth making a big batch for future scone-emergencies!

I have never quite managed to reproduce that texture. But they toast well – if a day or two old. Try them with marmalade or Scottish heather honey for breakfast!

However, while Granny might have been a great baker, she never entertained the Kaiser and other toffs with her scones. But Mrs MacNab near Balmoral Castle did. Read all about her after the commercial break here:

Eat Scones and Cruise the Forth Estuary!

Mrs MacNab’s Scones – A Traditional Scottish Recipe

As you have read above, lightness, coolness and quickness in the dough-making seems to be key in all of the many scone recipes. Mrs MacNab was a farmer’s wife near Ballater in Aberdeenshire.

That town, of course, is near Balmoral Castle, the royal family’s holiday hideaway in Scotland ever since Queen Victoria had it built.

So great was the reputation of Mrs MacNab’s scones that distinguished guests at Balmoral, including King Frederick of Prussia, used to pop in for tea regularly (or so the story goes.)

This Frederick was really Kaiser Frederick III – the one who married Queen Vikki’s eldest daughter, called after her mother.

I like to imagine Mrs MacNab, passing the scones, desperate for a conversational gambit, saying in her fine Aberdeenshire accent ‘An foo’s yer mither-in-laa?’ (How is your mother-in-law.) To which Kaiser Fred would reply. ‘Ach, still ze queen…’

Home baked scones - yum
More home-baked scones – yum. Looks like some treacle ones lurking there as well.

Anyway, if you want to attract German nobility with one of the famous recipes from Scotland, this is how you should start:

Mix 16 oz / 454 g flour with a teaspoon of salt, a small tsp of bicarbonate of soda and 2 small tsp of cream of tartar.

Rub in 2 oz / 55g butter. Stir in a beaten egg and a half-pint / 284ml buttermilk.

On a floured board, knead by hand as lightly as possible.

Tear into big enough pieces of dough to enable you to cut them into ‘scone-size’ quarters, having pricked them with a fork.

(This is our interpretation of the original instructions.) But, basically, handle the mixture as little as possible.

It seems that both Mrs MacNab and Johanna’s granny had really cold hands. (So that’s where Johanna got her own cold hands from…trust me.)

Finally, bake in a very hot oven for 10-15 minutes.

Please note: these notes are not given with a guarantee that German nobility will turn up. But you friends will love the baking…

Fancy a shortbread, anyone? Part of the Scottish high tea quite often…