A Note on Drop Scones

ihopThis spring, during a trip to Long Island, I managed to fullfil one of my lifetime travel ambitions.

Yes, I would like to one day look at the dusty pyramids of Egypt. Yes, I hope that I will eventually stand in some remote part of Alaska and stare, mesmerized, at the Northern Lights. But for me, this time round, it was all about a house. Or rather, an International House. Of Pancakes.

That's right: my inner list titled 'experiences I would dearly like to have during my life' included breakfast in a branch of IHOP. You see, I am a collector. Not of stamps, or coins, or copies of old NASA magazines, but of breakfasting experiences. I love the first meal of the day. I love how it is at once a meal and a ritual. I love that it gives us a chance, before the spell of sleep is forgotten, to sit and savour some of the most delicious and yet pleasingly simple foods available. I love to think about what all this means.

For eight years I have run a website, The London Review of Breakfasts, whose sole purpose is to take breakfast more seriously than anyone else – comically seriously, some have alleged. It contains accounts not just of my breakfasts, but the breakfasts of others; dispatches from cafes, diners and restaurants sent from places like London (where I'm from), the USA (breakfast-serving joints anywhere from California to Ohio), Malawi, Denmark, Mongolia, Haiti…


breakfastbibleThis website has given rise to a book, The Breakfast Bible, which collects together most of the classic breakfasts the world has collectively settled upon over the centuries, and the best ways to make them.

It goes without saying that one such delight is the pancake – the fluffy, thick variety, preferably served en masse, in a stack, accompanied by brittle, streaky bacon. This, the all-important 'P' in 'IHOP', is rather different to what we call a pancake in Britain and the rest of Europe, where the word refers to something flat (hence the old saying 'as flat as a pancake'), with the circumference of a whole pan and a texture similar to the surface of the moon. The 'cake is filled and then rolled up: the galette of Brittany, the pannkakoor of Sweden. It is delicious, but it is not for breakfast. When America adds baking powder it causes the pancake to rise delectably, sure, but it also creates an alchemy that turns the lunch, dinner or dessert pancake of the Old World into the breakfast pancake of the New. Which is when I become interested.

Pancake versus pancake: the hazards of breakfast language are bewildering. The pitfalls facing the breakfasting traveler go beyond anything you'll find in the work of Ella 'tom-ay-to! tom-ah-to!' Fitzgerald. An American cookie is a British biscuit; an American biscuit is a British scone. And, weirdly, to return to the subject at hand, a small American pancake – a silver dollar pancake – is a British drop scone, which in some parts of the UK is in fact known as a Scotch pancake (or, in Australia, a pikelet but come on, a pikelet is surely a flatter, misshapen version of a crumpet?).

american-pancakesI have debated drop scones with those who eat them and they tend to boldly claim, with the kind of offhand certainty found in politicians and IT professionals, that they are not for breakfast but for afternoon tea. I have asked them the difference between drop scones and pancakes. They become evasive, unable to give a straight answer. So why, I have demanded, are they not for breakfast? The discredited witness leaves the stand.

My research tells me that while pancakes will sometimes use buttermilk or soured cream in the mix, drop scones tend not to. It also tells me that were you to serve a stack of drop scones at a roadside diner in Wyoming and call them pancakes, nobody would challenge you or feel upset (same goes for a platter of silver dollar pancakes at a tea party in Kensington). And it tells me that while it is acceptable to reheat a drop scone in the toaster hours or days after it was initially cooked, this is not something you'd do with a pancake.

Back in Long Island, somewhere to the side of the Jericho Turnpike, I considered these matters over my IHOP Pick-a-Pancake Combo. Whatever you call them, I thought, these discs created from a simple and time-honored combo of flour, dairy, egg and sugar make a fantastic breakfast, a wonderful snack. Perhaps it's time for an International House of Drop Scones.

IHODS – get a stack of our world-famous drop scones… all day, every day. They'd sell like hotcakes.


The Breakfast Bible's Drop Scones

Makes around 10

2 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
3.5 tbsp granulated sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
2.5 tbsp butter, melted then cooled

Sift the flour into a large bowl and then stir in the baking powder, salt and sugar. Create a well in the centre, break in the eggs and lightly whisk the mixture. Keep whisking as you slowly pour in the milk and then the melted butter. Mix until you have a thick batter.

Lightly rub a large, heavy based frying pan with butter, then place it over a medium to high heat. When it's hot, ladle a little more than a tablespoon's worth of the batter into the pan. Do this for as many drop scones as you have space for. When the tops of the drop scones are covered in bubbles, flip them over and cook the other side for around a minute. Serve or set aside in a warm place until serving time.


Seb Emina is author of The Breakfast Bible, published by Bloomsbury and writes for the blog, The London Review of Breakfasts.