Clotted Cream

There’s nothing more Cornish than a good blob of clotted cream on a lovely cream tea. Unless you are from Devon of course, then there’s nothing more Devonian than a good blob of clotted cream on a lovely cream tea.

For those not in the know, clotted cream is a very thick cream with a much higher butterfat content than double (heavy) cream; weighing in at 64% and 48% respectively (for comparison, single cream is 18% fat, and full-fat milk is around 4%).

Clotted cream has a long history in Devon and Cornwall, and it is reckoned that it was first introduced to England by Phoenician settlers around 2000 years ago. Phoenicia was on the eastern Mediterranean coast in, what is now Syria, Lebanon and northern Isreal. The clotting of cream was a way of preserving buffalo milk. By removing the watery liquid, leaving mainly butterfat, the growth of spoilage organisms is retarded. The folk of Devonshire knew of its efficacy in this area; it was said that not even a witch’s breath could turn it sour.

If you have ever tried it, you will know that clotted cream – aka clouted cream or scalded cream in older books – is absolutely delicious and is well worth buying. It is possible to make your own and there is a recipe at the end of the post of you would to try your hand at it.

The best thing about it is the buttery, nutty crust that forms on the top as part of the manufacturing process. It is made by gently heating rich milk or cream in large shallow pans to a temperature of 80 to 90°C, the heat traditionally coming from cinders or charcoal. Once the buttery crust had formed, it was carefully but quickly moved to a cool place and sat upon some slate so make the cooling process as rapid as possible; the cold shocking the thin skimmed milk into sinking quickly and making a layer underneath the thick cream. These days, it’s all done with centrifuges, which is rather less romantic.

Once completely cooled, the clotted cream was lifted away with cold, wet hands and mixed in cold, wet wooden bowls to remove the last of the watery milk. It was then layered up in pots. I found a 1755 home recipe from an Elizabeth Cleland who recommended sprinkling rose water and sugar between the layers – the result must have been delicious!

The left-over skimmed milk, by the way, was taken away and either drank or used to make scones or Devonshire splits.

From the point of view of butterfat extraction, clotted cream is a much more efficient method than basic skimming techniques. The reason it is not the standard technique, I assume, is that double skimming requires no heating or centrifuges, tipping the balance of economy in double cream’s favour. Couple this with the fact that modern refrigeration and pasteurisation is doing the lion’s share of the preserving today means that the process of clotting cream is no longer required for that purpose. We eat it for the sheer love of it (ditto smoked fish and meat).

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management says that there are two types of clotted cream: Devonshire and Dutch. She goes on to explain the difference – Dutch clotted cream is thick enough to stand a spoon up in. Now, in my (humble) opinion, it ain’t clotted cream unless you can stand a spoon up in it, so I can only conclude that English clotted cream – at least from a Victorian Londoner’s point of view – was relatively runny compared to that of today’s

Clotted cream is used to make ice cream, some biscuits and as a topping to the old-fashioned pudding Devonshire junket, a sweetened milk dessert set with rennet, producing curds and whey. It can be used to enrich sauces and soups too but use with caution – things can end up too rich.

Rodda’s is the largest producer of clotted cream and is based in Cornwall. There is much debate between the folk of Devon and Cornwall as to whether the cream should be added before or after the jam. Nick Rodda reckons his grandfather knew why:

We always put our cream on top because we are proud of it, Devonians are slightly ashamed of theirs, so they cover it up with their jam.

I must confess to siding with the Devonians on this one. It’s all down to what you think the buttery cream’s role is. The argument goes something like this:

The Cornish: it is the cream, and you wouldn’t put cream under your fruit salad/trifle/fruit tart etc, now would you?

The Devonians: it is the butter, and you wouldn’t spread butter over the jam on your toast/crumpet/muffin etc, now would you?

Your choice.

Home-Made Clotted Cream

All you need to make your own is some double cream, an oven and patience.

Before…

Preheat your oven to 80°C. Pour around 1 litre of double cream into a wide, shallow ovenproof dish, place it in the oven and leave in there for 12 hours. If you are really patient, leave for 18 hours to achieve a darker, more delicious caramel-flavoured crust.

…after

Carefully remove from the oven, cover with kitchen foil and pop straight into the fridge to cool quickly and undisturbed.

Once fully chilled, lift the clotted cream from the dish and layer up in pots. I filled three good-sized ramekins with mine. The amount of skimmed milk at the bottom will vary depending upon how long you left the cream in the oven for.

The cream keeps for 7 days in the fridge.

References:

Clotted Cream, RS Chavan, A Kumar & S Bhatt, 2016, In Encyclopedia of Food and Health

The Complete Housewife, Elizabeth Cleland, 1755

How do you take your cream tea?, BBC Cornwall website, 2010 http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cornwall/low/people_and_places/newsid_8694000/8694384.stm

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Isabella Beeton, 1861

My Devonshire Book, Henry Harris, 1907

William’s Practical Butter Book, Xerxes Addison Willard, 1875

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13 Comments

Filed under baking, Britain, cooking, Desserts, food, General, history, Preserving, Puddings, Recipes, Teatime

13 responses to “Clotted Cream

  1. Neil, I, too, am Devonian on this issue! I always make my own clotted cream. I’ve made it both covered and uncovered. The cream cooked uncovered developed a buttery yellow “crust.” The cream that was cooked covered developed a softer top layer and had a smoother texture. I prefer the cream cooked covered. I have a photo on my clotted cream post that shows a pot of finished cream cooked both ways.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone on this – it’s obviously doing the job of the butter, right? I wanted to do it as close to the original way as possible, having never had it with a proper crust (as original as one can with an electric oven , anyway!). Add a link to your post – folk read the comment section!

  2. Skandar

    In actual fact I find few things more delicious than butter spread on top of marmalade on toast. But I’m still a jam on top guy when it comes to scones.

  3. Excellent!
    I’m of the opinion that cream goes on top of fruit, but I did grow up in Cornwall and not that far from Rodda’s St. Erth dairy (now in Redruth).
    Clotted Cream is amazing in mashed potato – we had a lot left over after Christmas once, with a very short expiration date.

  4. kathryn

    I’m wondering how it would go in a dehydrator – mine says it goes up to 80C. Hmm. Not until I’ve finished all the autumn fruit drying that’s for sure. When we had a Jersey cow I used to put the pan on the closed lids of the range and that worked well. Growing up in Leeds in the fifties I never heard of cream on scones at all until I got a job in Kent. And even then it didn’t seem right. Mind you that was butter then jam then whipped cream, which doesn’t fulfil the same function at all. Didn’t meet clotted cream until Newquay in 1966. No prizes for which way up the locals taught me. That was a great summer – we were in a pub in Germany for the final – had to keep a low profile

  5. I’ll have to try this, clotted cream is barely available in Australia, and hideously expensive if you can find it! Our most common cream (that I would use for this) is called thickened or whipping cream, and is 35% fat – is that a type you get in the UK?

    • Kathryn

      Not Neil but UK cream grades are approximately Single Cream 18%, Whipping Cream 35%, Double Cream 48%, clotted cream 55% but the best ones are sometimes over this. At Christmas something called extra thick cream turns up which is heat treated double cream, intended to be spooned lushly over holiday desserts. Here in Ireland we have Cream, at 38%, Double Cream at 48%, Light Cream at 26%, Whipped Cream at 18% (that’s the pre-whipped stuff), Cooking Cream at 18%, and a nauseating substance called Dessert Cream at 34%, which has added thickeners and sweeteners. An insult to the name of cream in my grumpy old lady book. And of course if you use US recipes you need to get into the complexities of heavy cream which has a definition that seems to vary from state to state in my experience. Though just swapping for double seems to work. I found quite a lot of US whipping cream seemed to contain thickeners to help it hold a peak at lower butterfat, which was fine for whipping but messed with my head in custards or savoury cream sauces.

      • thanks so much Kathryn! I think I’ll try with whipping cream, as though we have double cream I think it might be what you call extra thick as it often sold as ‘dollop’ cream for desserts, and is very much that texture, but unfortunately with a price to match…

    • Nothing to add to Kathryn’s reply there, except that you can use whipping cream to make clotted cream just fine! Let me know how you get on

  6. Pingback: Cornish Splits (& More on Cream Teas) | British Food: A History

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