The original scone was round and flat, usually the size of a medium size plate. It was made with unleavened oats and baked on a griddle (or girdle, in Scotland), then cut into triangle-like quadrants for serving. Today, many would call the large round cake a bannock, and call the quadrants scones. In Scotland, the words are often used interchangeably.
When baking powder became available to the masses, scones began to be the oven-baked, well-leavened items we know today. Modern scones are widely available in British and Irish bakeries, grocery stores, and supermarkets. A 2005 market report estimated the UK scone market to be worth £64m, showing a 9% increase over the previous five years. The increase is partly due to an increasing consumer preference for impulse and convenience foods.
Scones sold commercially are usually round, although some brands are hexagonal as this shape may be tessellated for space efficiency. When prepared at home, they take various shapes including triangles, rounds and squares. Baking scones at home is often closely tied to heritage baking. They tend to be made from family recipes rather than recipe books, since it is often a family member who holds the "best" and most-treasured recipe.
British scones are often lightly sweetened, but may also be savory. They frequently include raisins, currants, cheese or dates.
The griddle scone (or "girdle scone" in Scotland) is a variety of scone which is fried rather than baked. This usage is also common in New Zealand where scones, of all varieties, form an important part of the traditional cuisine.
Other common varieties include the dropped scone, or drop scone, like a pancake, after the method of dropping the batter onto the griddle or frying pan to cook it, and the lemonade scone, which is made with lemonade and cream instead of butter and milk.
Also, there is the fruit scone or fruited scone, which contains currants, sultanas, peel and glace cherries, which is just like a plain round scone with the fruit kneaded into the dough. These tend to be served with clotted cream and jam.
In some countries one may also encounter savory varieties of scone which may contain or be topped with combinations of cheese, onion, bacon, etc.
Scones were chosen as the Republic of Ireland representative for Café Europe during the Austrian Presidency of the European Union in 2006 while the United Kingdom chose shortbread.
In Hungary, a pastry very similar to the British version exists under the name "pogácsa". The name has been adopted by several neighboring nations' languages. (E.g. Pogatsche in German.) Pogácsa is almost always savory and served with varied seasonings and toppings: like dill and cheese.
Pumpkin scones, made by adding mashed cooked pumpkin to the dough mixture, had increased exposure during the period when Florence Bjelke-Petersen was in the public eye. Date scones, which contain chopped dried dates, can also be found in Australia.
Round-shaped British scones can resemble North American biscuits in appearance, but scones rely on cold butter, while biscuits are more often made with animal fat or vegetable shortening. Also, while scones are frequently (but not always) sweet, and served with coffee and tea, biscuits are served more as a bread, often with breakfast.
In recent years, scones under that name have begun to appear in coffee houses. They are universally sweet, often containing fruit such as blueberries or raspberries, or else such flavorings as cinnamon.
In Utah, the bread products locally called "scones" are similar to Native American frybread and are made from a sweet yeast dough, with buttermilk and baking powder and/or soda added, and they are fried rather than baked. They are customarily served with butter and either honey or maple syrup.
Scones are quite popular in Argentina as well as Uruguay. They were brought there by Irish, English and Scottish immigrants and from Welsh immigrants in Patagonia; Britons are the third largest foreign community in Argentina.