First, let me assuage your fears. This is not a Brexit post, that bitter feud being a recent event. This post addresses actually 2 related and longstanding disputes of a food nature.
Visitors to England, especially those from America, expect a High Tea, as if everyone in English homes hauls out their china, 6 types of cake and displays them on tiered cake dishes on a daily basis.
Yes, you can be pandered to in this manner, but those experiences are fewer than you think, and more geared towards tourists willing to pay huge sums of money for the opportunity to be ostentatious.
Afternoon tea (as opposed to “Tea,” which is the evening meal in many parts of the country), can be nothing more than what Americans would term a Coffee Break, with a pause, a beverage and then back to whatever was needing to be done. More languid observations would include a biscuit [American: cookie], a small cake bought from Tesco or other supermarket or even a quick dash into a small café for same.
Prized amongst those café dashes is the Cream Tea, which refers not to extra fat in the tea itself, but rather to the inclusion of clotted cream to go with warm scones and jam.
“Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realized what it was.
“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Which brings us to conflict #1. Where does clotted cream come from? Some things, according to EU rules, need to come from one place. You can’t call sparkling wine “Champagne” unless it originates from that region in France. Stilton cheese must come from Stilton. Glouchestershire, Leicestershire and Wenslydale all must originate in their namesakes. Somehow Cheddar managed to sneak out and have illegitimate children all over the globe, including this writer’s basement. Clotted cream has no designation, no place of origin.
If you ask a denizen of Devon, they will tell you that clotted cream can only be produced by Jersey cows on Devon soil, which is unique in its composition, yielding the finest scone slather known to man. Similarly, the Cornish (spitting distance from the Devonians) claim theirs is the best. Devonians will point out that the facilities in Cornwall to produce clotted cream primarily import their milk from Devonian farmers, and on it goes. I do know that if you walk into a Devonian supermarket, no one is ramming you with their shopping trolley [American: cart] if you select one of the containers of Cornish Clotted Cream. Either way it will be made from raw Jersey cream, and it’s delicious.
Having settled that issue (yes, they haven’t settled it either so who am I to make a definitive statement?), we move on to the actual consumption.
Conflict #2: In which order does one apply jam and cream to the scone? Who gives a flying fig, would be my answer. It all gets mixed together as soon as it passes your lips anyway, but believe me, this is a BIG deal to many. My brother in law is of the opinion it is cream then jam, while his wife opines adamantly he is incorrect. It’s really amusing to watch them bicker and attempt to cajole you to their way of thinking.
If I had to take a stance, I would say clotted cream more resembles butter than whipped cream, so my inclination would be to put it on the scone first. However should you find yourself with warring Windsor subjects, might I suggest an appeasement to both parties: split the scone and put jam first on half and clotted cream first on the other. You’ve offended no one and still be able to enjoy a lovely Cream Tea.
Returning from your holiday and longing for Cream Teas, you have a dilemma. You can buy “Clotted Cream” in a jar. As soon as you open it you will realize it is not the same thing you enjoyed while watching the constant English drizzle moisten the gardens by Buckfast Abbey. Instead, it is a more custardy blob of cream with a shelf life of several months, whereas real clotted cream should be eaten or discarded within the week.
So what is a closet Anglophile to do for their clotted cream? Make it yourself. It is spectacularly easy. The hardest part is getting the cream. Ideally you have grass fed Jersey milk. I am lucky in that regard because we have a dairy which provides us with this. Most American milk comes from Holsteins which have high output, but lower fat content. Keep looking. Jersey or Guernsey will give you the highest fat content. Grass fed, although you may not be able to avoid silage (dried grasses) in the winter. Raw is optimal (you won’t die), although if you just can’t bring yourself to use it, pasteurized will make a moderately successful substitute.
Having secured your cream, you want to put it in a shallow, wide container and heat it over very low heat. I have seen recommendations for putting it in a crockpot on low for 8 hours. I have not tried this, but can tell you that too high a heat will cook your cream rather than clot it.
“Dad was at his desk when I opened the door, doing what all British people do when they’re freaked out: drinking tea.”
― Rachel Hawkins, Demonglass
I have an electric chafing dish which I use to make mine. Pouring the cream into the largest container, I set the heat on very low and let it sit for about 6 hours before checking. The result is akin to the “skin” atop a cooked pudding [British: custard] which did not have plastic adhered to the surface while it cooled.
Using a slotted spoon, skim the “skin” off the top and put it into a clean container. It will be somewhat liquidy; don’t worry. Put the container in the refrigerator and continue gradually heating the rest of the cream. You will probably be able to get at least one more skimming, possibly two, before the remaining liquid is much whiter and more resembling skim milk than cream. After each skimming, you’ll notice that the cooled previous “skins” have become much firmer. This somewhere between butter and soft ice cream is the desired texture. You’re doing great! The milky liquid can be used as milk, or in baking; there is no need to throw it away.
“As far as her mom was concerned, tea fixed everything. Have a cold? Have some tea. Broken bones? There’s a tea for that too. Somewhere in her mother’s pantry, Laurel suspected, was a box of tea that said, ‘In case of Armageddon, steep three to five minutes’.”
― Aprilynne Pike, Illusions
As almost an afterthought, you probably want some scones to put that clotted cream on. For this we turn to the Emperess of English Enticements, Delia Smith, or as Dawn French referred to her in The Vicar of Dibley, “Saint Delia!”
- 3 Tbl (40g) spreadable butter
- 2 1/2 cups (225g) all purpose flour* or self-raising flour
- 1 1/2 level tablespoons white (golden caster) sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup (110ml) milk, plus a little more (if needed)
- a little extra flour
If using all purpose flour sieve the following into the flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 425F, 220C, Gas mark 7.
- Begin by rubbing the butter into the sieved flour quickly, using your fingertips, then stir in the sugar followed by a pinch of salt.
- Now, using a knife, mix in the milk little by little, and when it’s all in, flour your hands and knead the mixture to a soft dough (you may find you need just a drop more milk if it feels at all dry). Place the dough on a floured pastry board and with a rolling pin (also floured) lightly roll it out to a thickness of about 3cm. (This thickness is vital. The reason scones don’t rise enough is because they are rolled too thin.)
- Then take the pastry cutter and tap it sharply so that it goes straight through the dough – do not twist or the scones will turn out a strange shape! When you have cut as many as you can, knead the remaining dough together again and repeat. Then place the scones on the baking sheet, dust each one with flour and bake near the top of the oven for 12–15 minutes.
- When they’re done they will have risen and turned a golden brown. Then transfer them to a wire rack and eat as soon as they are cool enough, spread with butter, jam and clotted cream.
Please note her Holiness puts butter on the bottom and cream on the top. This throws a whole spanner [American: wrench] in the works, doesn’t it?