Scones Are Overrated
By David Williams (he/him), illustrated by Longheng Tan (he/him)
“Why are we as a nation persisting with these plain, dry lumps, when there are so many better options from which to choose?”
Scones are overrated. There I said it. They are boring, uninspiring, and are a labour to eat. Yet whenever I express my feelings towards scones, I draw gasps of outrage. An ex-flatmate even told me “You’re overrated” when I told him that I thought scones were overrated.
However, for such an average baked good, scones possess an unmatched reputation across Aotearoa. They are a staple in every high street café and home. The most recent edition of our beloved Edmonds Cookery Book features no less than twelve recipes for sweet and savoury scones. Wellington even holds an annual competition to find the best cheese scone from their hundreds of cafés. So where does our obsession with scones come from?
In the 1830s scones were making their way into high society. The Duchess of Bedford was frequently served sandwiches, cakes and… scones, popularising afternoon tea. At this time, New Zealand began to see large waves of British and Irish immigrants. They brought with them their cuisine and caught up amongst their dishes was
the simple scone.
Helen Leach, a University of Otago academic who specialises in food anthropology, analysed thousands of cookbooks and newspapers and “created a spreadsheet of 549 different scone recipes, starting in 1875 with a recipe for Scottish scones in a Dunedin newspaper.”
From here, the scone worked its way into Kiwiana. They are featured on tea towels and in cookbooks up against the much superior pavlova.
However, I am here today to tell you all: enough. No more scones. Choose something better to eat.
Savoury scones are a dry, crumbly mess. They taste like stale loaves of bread. Except these loaves could smash a window. The arduous process of eating a savoury scone forces you to drink more in order to even digest it. This leaves chunks stuck to the top of your mouth like papier mâché, ruining any chance one might have of enjoying it.
Debate’s own editor Rebecca Zhong says of scones that they “have a dry topping of tasty (maybe cheddar) cheese, adding calories but unlike a savoury muffin, no joy.”
As for sweet scones, hand on heart, who would walk into a bakery or café and choose a sweet scone over something like a brownie, a lamington, or a piece of cake? Be honest with yourselves. As food writer Victoria Chandler says, sweet scones “are merely vessels for cream and jam.”
If you do decide to abandon scones once and for all, here are several options from which to choose:
Muffins – both savoury and sweet
Cover your bases with both styles of muffins. The ingredients are largely the same but muffins are smaller, softer, tastier, easier to eat and will not leave the inside of your mouth feeling sticky.
“I don't get small dry crumbs lodged into my throat.” – Rebecca Zhong, 2021.
Australian (yes!) sponge cakes covered in a thick chocolate sauce and coconut shavings. New Zealand raised the game by adding a raspberry flavour.
Bagels – both savoury and sweet
First created in the Jewish community, bagels are now worldwide. Although denser than bread, they provide a satisfying and intentional chew. From salmon to cream cheese to jam to cheese to poppy seed, the possibilities with bagels are endless.
On the god tier of baked goods. They should be a fixture in every café. Enjoy them with cream, mix it up by adding berries and even double down on the chocolate.
Croissants – both savoury and sweet
The French alternative to the British scone, croissants are muuuch softer (but with a flaky shell) and smaller and, unlike the dry crumbly scone, complement cream and jam.
Amazing Italian flat bread baked with rosemary, garlic, salt and olive oil. It puts savoury scones to shame.