Monday, July 31, 2006

Scones, Cream and Jam - a West Country cream tea


The important question of the day is - do you put cream on first and then jam on top; or do you smother your freshly baked scone with zesty fruit preserve and then top with lashings and lashings of thick, thick cream? If you like cream on top then this means that you follow the Cornish method of anointing your scone; and if you put jam uppermost then you are Devonian in your tastes. The folk of Devon and Cornwall both believe their way of dressing scones is correct and best. I feel a taste test coming on.

Scones in the Devonian manner - cream then jam.

Cornish scones - jam then cream.

Scones - a fundamental part of a West Country cream tea. Cream teas - a fundamental part of English fine food and culinary culture. Who can imagine a finer way to spend a lazy afternoon in the English countryside, than with a jam spoon in one hand, and a smooch of cream on your lips...

I have previously looked at the history of the scone, and found it to be of Scottish origin. Traditionally cooked upon a gridle or griddle over a open fire. When enclosed ovens and chemical raising agents were introduced in the 19th century, a new generation of scones was born. The Scots baked these new aerated scones and served them as part of their afternoon and high teas. However, other parts of Britain were not slow to also get baking these new-style scones, and in the West of England they were consumed with local products such as clotted cream and fruit preserves. In Cornwall black treacle is also a favoured topping - served along with clotted cream the combination is known as 'Thunder and Lightning'.

Thunder and Lightning - cream with black treacle.

Scones are a favourite food of mine, but I confess it is a good few years since I have made a batch. I can see that good scone baking is a skill that may come with practice, but every scone-mistress or master has had to start somewhere. To give myself an advantage I am following a recipe from Linda Collister's 'The Baking Book'. In the introduction to her scone recipe she writes, '...over the last 20 years I've tried every recipe I've come across [Now, that's dedication] - ones using soured milk or buttermilk; risen with various combinations of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar, or baking powder; made with cream, or with golden syrup, with or without eggs.' Twenty years of practice must result in a damn fine recipe? Linda uses self-raising flour (so as to avoid a chemical aftertaste), a pinch of salt, golden caster sugar, butter, an egg and a little milk. Her recipe suggests that you make the dough up in a food processor as this brings the dough together quickly, with the miminum of handling.

230g self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
40g golden caster sugar
40g unsalted butter, diced
1 egg, made up to 140ml with milk

Makes 8 scones when using a 6cm fluted cutter
(might appear to be a modest quantity, but when split and topped with cream and jam this will seem like a feast)

1. Preheat oven to 220C/425F/gas 7.
2. Sift flour and salt into a bowl, then tip into food processor.
3. Add the sugar to the food processor and blend briefly to mix the sugar into the flour.
4. Add the diced butter and pulse until the mixture is lump-free and has the look of sand.
5. Mix the egg and milk together, and then pour into the food processor whilst it is running. You need to keep an eye on the mixture, for as soon as it comes together into a soft ball of dough you need to stop the machine. If dough looks too dry add a little more milk.
6. Remove dough and turn onto floured surface. If the dough is sticky work in a little flour (gently does it). Otherwise, knead the dough carefully - just enough to bring it together into a neater ball, and then pat out on your work surface (use your hands). You need to only press the dough to a depth of about 2cm. Use your cutter to cut out circles of dough. Use the trimmings left to form a second ball of dough, pat out again and then cut more circles.
7. Arrange the circles of dough on a prepared baking tray and pop straight into the oven. Keep an eye on them. The scones should take 12-15 minutes, or should be extracted when they have gone golden brown on top. Put onto wire cooling rack as soon as they leave the oven. Cover with clean tea towel to help keep moistness in.

Scones baked and cooled, I headed out to the garden to conduct some scone sampling.
I present the naked scone...


The scones were very light, almost of melt in the mouth crumbliness. This did prove to be a perfect backdrop to the more substantial weight of the cream, and to the more assertive flavour of the jam. I don't think that they were THE ultimate scones, but they were very good (they could have been a little moister I think). As to whether the Devonian or Cornish order of topping was the best, I will have to sit on the fence and say they both work very nicely. However, the black treacle and cream was not for me. You would have to be a real fan of the flavour of treacle to like this as it has such a strong taste.

Which would you choose?...

Gratuitous clotted cream image - one million calories a look.

47 comments:

Sam said...

Absolutely no doubt in my mind, no argument at all, I always follow the Cornish method. *Sigh*, now, if only I could get hold of some of that cream.

valentina said...

I am most definitely a jam person. Treacle is just too sweet for my liking.Having said that I have not tried it on scones. PErhaps I should give a go just for the record. Another lovely post - really inspiring.Thank you.

Julia said...

Hi Anna,
Just came across your blog; very nice! I love all those real British delicacies...
Am just back from Brighton, and am now absolutely addicted to scones; every morning I would get them from the little village bakery, fresh from the oven. So delicious dry and tasty! Unfortunately you can’t get good scones here in Holland.
I’m not a real jam person so just some good clotted cream is perfect in my opinion.
Tomorrow I planned to make my own scones, I’ll post them on my blog, hope you'll check them out...!

The Old Foodie said...

I'm with Sam - the Cornish method. I did't even realise there WAS any other method. A traditional favourite here in OZ are pumpkin scones - and my blogging friend Miss Eagle included a recipe for them in "The Great Aussie Scone Fest" in May - see it at Food from Oz"

Monkey Gland said...

Being forever contrary is in my nature as I plump for the Devonian method of scone construction.

Natalia said...

I'm definitely a Devonite (but I don't think that's a word...) The cream has to melt down into the warm scone, not just sit on top. Oooh, it's been too, too long since I've had a homemade scone. I must fix that!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your scones look very appealing and beautiful!

Personally, I prefer my scones with jam, but as I've not tried them yet with treacle, I can't really say if they would not please me... It's something I'll have to try one day.

Pille said...

Anna - thanks for the informative post! I baked my first ever batch of scones back in June, and (just checked the photo to refresh my memory), I enjoyed them Cornish style:)
Also, I had heard of scones a la thunder&lightning, but had no idea what it meant. Now I do!

Jeanne said...

I think cream teas and clotted cream are reason enough to trek to Cornwall! We used to have fresh scones for breakfast every Sunday morning when I was a child. Yours look fabulous - love the idea of treacle on cream on scone. And I definitely fall into the Cornwall camp - jam before cream!!

Anonymous said...

Ah scones, a favorite here among our guests at the Fish Creek House Bed and Breakfast across the pond in Montana.

Will definitely have to give these a whirl... Looks fabulous. Thanks

jenjen said...

I think I do the devonian method, only because the jam doesn't spread as well once the cream is there. But either I would happily eat!
I still am yet to find any clotted cream here in Sydney, I am dying to have a taste.

anna said...

I thought that I should get down off the fence and make a decision about whether I was a Devonian or Cornish consumer of scones. To perk my workmates up on a Monday morning I brought some scones, cream and jam into the office, so that I could also get a broader view of the subject. My testers took the task very seriously let me tell you, and were keen to volunteer for any future taste tests.

The result from my four pollsters was very democratic. Two of us went the Cornish way, and two the Devonian. On this second consideration I put myself in the Cornish camp, as I liked biting through the layer of cream to reveal the taste of the jam beneath. Yum yum.

jas said...

Definitely the Devon method, I do live here after all!
For me it's just a merest smearing of the clotted cream as I'm not so keen on any sort of cream. For WH it has to be more cream then jam, just a tiny spoonful on the top. And he's a born and bred Devonian too.

Now did you know that Devon and Cornish clotted cream is different too?? There's a conundrum for you!!

anna said...

Hi Jas,

Do you mean I need to do another taste test using both Cornish and Devonshire clotted cream? Sounds like a good suggestion...

I didn't know of a difference between the two counties cream - is it down to type of cow/grass/method of preparation? I'm intrigued.

jas said...

Devonshire clotted cream is made by scalding the milk and then leaving it tostand for several hours and removing the cream/crust which forms on the top. cornish clotted cream is made by separating the cream from the milk, then heating it and allowing it to cool slowly. Gives a slightly different result.

Of course unpasteurised milk is best if you want to be really controversial!

Faerie Rebecca said...

Oh goodness, you're killing me! Must. Go. Make. Scones. I'll take the Devon-style scone, please, with a lovely pot of Earl Grey.

I found Devon clotted cream for US$5 a jar at Cost Plus/World Market here in the States. I have tried making it myself, but it's almost impossible to do without raw, unpasteurized cream, which is beyond difficult to get here.

Thanks for the evening drool!

ferg said...

Hello Anna,
I have just spent a happy half hour browsing your site and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was on a search for marmalade recipes and came across your wonderful info. Have also just read up on scones. A friend retires soon and I shall go in early for the morning tea
to fix the scones which another person will have baked. I shall do the jam first and then whipped cream method because I will be expected to do about a hundred. In Oz, we do much smaller ones too.
I hav a once-a-month market stall here in Oz in a town called Bacchus Marsh. Yes, indeed an oxymoron if ever there was one. I shall keep in touch.
Cheers Gillian

claude said...

You raised a capital question! I like clotted cream first and then the jam, but recently, I observed that other people did otherwise. Not being an Englishwoman, I was wondering which was right ;)

Jamie said...

Just stumbling on your blog. I am definitely into the Devon method. Yum! Either way it's definitely yummy.

Monaz said...

Snap! (uncanny that you also chose to photograph yours outside on the grass too - I guess we all connect eating these things with basking in the Summer sun) I use the distinctly Devonian method. It's the only, only way.

Wish you'd written this before I wrote my article - then I would have been able to educatedly distinguish between the two methods. Thanks for enlightening me!

alexa said...

Being neither Cornish nor Devonian, I go by practicality: I find that spreading the cream directly onto a warm scone, the cream sticks and tears up the surface of the scone a little. Spreading jam first and then dolloping cream on top is a tad tidier. Of course, that said, I'm quite happy eating them both ways :)

Linz said...

I adore scones. I bake those with buttermilk in it - they turn out light and moist. By the way, I'm Singaporean and I love it the Cornish way - the sensuousness of whipped cream (lots) against the roof of my mouth is simply heavenly.

anna said...

Wow! Scones with cream and jam do seem a popular food. I hope I have inspired a few people to head ovenwards and bake a batch. Does anyone out there NOT like them?

james said...

I have read on Wikipedia, and more believably, in this article on traditional Cornish food that Thunder and Lightning can also be served with Golden Syrup too. Not having tried black treacle I can't say if it's less rich. Maple syrup is too runny on scones but with the clotted cream it does remind you of a maple and pecan pie.

It's also worth knowing that for a true Cornish cream tea, you would use splits - soft sweet yeasty rolls that I think are traditionally served with the two halves together. I haven't given it much thought but perhaps due to the softer bread, the Cornish method of applying the jam first has a reason. In a sandwich form though, it makes it ambiguous!

Today I tried making splits. My only gripe was really in the rising of the finished product. I left the dough to double in size and had a further 30 minutes rising after I divided it into buns, but they came out fairly flat. What are your experiences with making cornish splits?

I can't say I'm aligned to one particular order of jam and cream, they each have practical pros and cons. I grew up in Cornwall and presently live in Devon. My approach is to never use the cornish method until I'm actually in the county itself.

anna said...

Hi James,

I'm afraid I have not tried making splits, so I can't offer any advice on rising. I have often run into problems with yeast based doughs, so am probably not the best person to advise you on such matters. I would like to give them a go - maybe next summer...

Anonymous said...

An American from the Deep South, I am familiar with scones, or more particularly, with their unsweetened cousins, biscuits. (Not to be confused with what we call cookies)To serve Devon, or Cornwall clotted cream would desecrate a good southern biscuit (and be a waste of the cream really, I prefer it on saffron buns)a bit of plain cream, fresh butter, and cane syrup poured over a hot biscuit is ambrosia.

Miss Eagle said...

Last year, my blog, Food from Oz, had a scone fest. I'll be posting about this post there - especially treacle.

I don't know where I fit with what I like on a scone since I put butter on my scone, then jam, and then cream. Isn't that ever so fattily wicked! But scrumptious!

And thank you, Old Foodie, for mentioning my Food from Oz on your comment. I would commend Old Foodie's blogs to readers. She is fast becoming more than the Old Foodie but the Guru of food. Her history of food is a must: a reference work among blogs.

fatboy_buddha said...

looks del.icio.us...thanks for the recipe

The real penguin said...

i prefer penguins (not to eat) I like Yorkshire food better

kambuku wa mkazi said...

How did you even manage to get to the garden with such scrumptious scones. I would have gone through them before getting there. Wonderful blog
Kambuku wa mkazi

Anonymous said...

nice

Anonymous said...

nice

Vick said...

My Dad cuts the scone into 3 so he has a bigger surface area to smother with jam and cream. Cream is obviously the main purpose of the scone - it is an excellent conduit for huge dollops of the wonderful stuff. I like my Dad's method. Nothing upsets him more than not being able to pile all the cream and jam alloted to him onto his scone. And, for the record, being in Cornwall, there is no question - it is jam first, with heapings of gorgeous snowy white cream on top, none of your messy Devonshire nonsense which makes a mess of the most divine substance known to mankind....

anna said...

Vick. Your Dad is a genius. Cutting scones into three for maximum jam and cream loading. What a brilliant idea!

Jennifer A. Wickes said...

Anna, I love scones. And even in America, I have had several of my recipes published. Unfortunately, for the British, they have to have all of their fat and flavor put inside the scone or most Americans won't look twice at them! But I do adore a true scone! Thanks!

Kieran said...

Big scone fan here...

I choose jam 1st then cream on top.
But if i am using butter, then it's butter 1st, then jam.

I once went on a scone tasting holiday with my father, and found the best scone i have ever had, which was a home made scone sold in a garden centre's cafe, up in the lake district. it was lush. we both gave it 10 out of 10.

Adam Balic said...

Anna you might be interested to know that the first recipe for a modern scone (chemical raising agent)I can fine in the UK is called an "American Potash Cake". Amazing to thing how quickly chemical raising agents transformed British baking in the early 19th century.

Annabel said...

No way, I'm from Devon and I've always put the cream on top - it just feels better that way :) I like the idea of the Earl Grey tea with it too. Yum.

Devon Directory

marjolein said...

marjolein from holland,
We have a teagarden and make all oure cake,s and appelpies home made.In holland evreybody love,s an English high tea so we also make scones with jam and whipped cream.But we make them with milk and selfrising floure,butter and saltBut we ad some cinnamon to it and we put them 30 minut,s in the oven 180c When they are ready they are a bit crusty and when you put the jam and the whipped cream on top they are delicious

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Anonymous said...

Although Tavistock Devon, born & bred, I ran a tearoom for 17 yrs (USA) we have a saying, when asked 'how to do it, that 'nothing crowns the glory of clotted cream' - meaning jam first, it creates a barrier between the warm scone and the cream and of course one never puts the two halfs together.
Barbara

Highcliffe House said...

I've never really had a preference, I tend to improvise every time, but having tested it both ways I prefer the jam on the bottom as my tongue tastes it first and then the cream follows. However the idea of cutting the scone into 3 pieces sounds like an amazing idea which I will definitely try in the near future, it's the big mac of the scone world!

Keith (Lostwithiel Cornwall) said...

It has to be done the Cornish way, clotted cream on top. That way you can add more cream!!

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R.I.P Rowan Atkinson said...

I am most definitely a jam person. Treacle is just too sweet for my liking.Having said that I have not tried it on scones. PErhaps I should give a go just for the record. Another lovely post - really inspiring.Thank you.

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