“I’ve brought but the two cups, for I thought perhaps Mrs. Randall would care to join me in the kitchen. I’ve a bit of –“ I didn’t wait for the conclusion of her invitation, but leapt to my feet with alacrity. I could hear the theories breaking out again behind me as we pushed through the swinging door that led to the manse’s kitchen.
The tea was green, hot and fragrant, with bits of leaf swirling through the liquid.
“Mmm,” I said, setting the cup down. “It’s been a long time since I tasted Oolong.”
Mrs. Graham nodded, beaming at my pleasure in her refreshments. She had clearly gone to some trouble, laying out handmade lace mats beneath the eggshell cups and providing thick clotted cream with the scones.
Diana Gabaldon, Outlander (Chapter 1 – A New Beginning)
How much does Mrs. Graham know? As the caller at Craigh na Dun and fortune teller at the town fair, she undoubtedly believes in at least a few spirits beyond those she communes with in church on Sunday.
One thing’s for sure – she’ll never tell – practical, Presbyterian lips like hers weren’t made to crack easily.
I like to think she would have gladly shared her scone recipe with us though. As traditional as the woman herself, and made hearty with oats and tender with butter, their slight sweetness is the perfect foil to the tang of the clotted cream.
Clotted cream is thick, with a texture much like whipped butter. It has a sweet, slightly nutty flavour and an astronomical fat content (anywhere from 55% to 64% and up)…just a few of the reasons why so many of us love it so.
Its exact origin is uncertain, and very much up for debate, but clotted cream’s production is commonly associated with the dairy farms of Southwest England, particularly Cornwall and Devon. Evidence shows that monks were making it at Tavistock Abbey, Devon, in the early 1300s.
Ancient Britons may have clotted cream to lengthen its shelf life. More recently, prior to industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, dairy farmers clotted their milk because it resulted in a higher yield of cream.
Fresh cow’s milk was set to stand in a shallow pan in a cool place for several hours to allow the cream to rise to the surface. It was then heated, and finally, cooled slowly. During this time, the cream content rose to the surface to form ‘clots’ or ‘clouts’.
Cream separators in modern dairies have eliminated the requirement for clotting in modern dairies, but clotted cream remains popular in the UK and abroad, especially Commonwealth countries. It is a traditional part of a formal tea, and usually accompanies scones and strawberry preserves.
Mrs. Graham would have bought hers down at the corner shop, or had it delivered by the milkman, I suppose. I could go into the big city and pick some up at a specialty British grocery, but without even knowing the price, I can tell you making it at home saved me a whole lot of money.
Plus, it’s a fun test of your food safety comfort levels! I know that the clotted cream recipe is going to make some of you very uncomfortable. That’s OK. I can direct you to recipes that have you heat the cream for an hour, then refrigerate for 24. In my experience, they don’t work half as well as the method I lay out below. You’ll still get clotted cream, you just won’t get much, and it will be a little runnier than I like.
On the other hand, my method, which I learned in culinary school from my slightly crusty, French chef instructor, has that cream in that oven for a very, very long time (my batches almost always take 12 hours). But, provided the cream you start with is fresh, I HAVE NEVER HAD ANYONE GET SICK USING THIS RECIPE. I have made it many times for a lot of people, in both large batches for post-wedding breakfasts, and small batches for a quiet picnic of scones and tea midway through a hike.
That’s it for today’s food safety discussion on this (mostly) 18th C food blog. Whichever method appeals to you, I hope you’ll try making the clotted cream to go along with these delicious scones. Have a little fun doing something new in the kitchen!
I’ve gone on a little longer than I intended with this post. A few more quick notes before I go:
- As with Fiona’s Cinnamon Scones, you can freeze the unbaked scones for a fresh breakfast without all the assembly work. Freeze the cut, unbaked scones on a baking pan. Transfer the frozen-solid scones to a freezer bag or sealed container and return to the freezer. To serve, brush the frozen scones with melted butter and bake on a parchment-lined baking pan at 375° F for 25-30 minutes.
- Ultra-pasteurized whipping cream will not work for the clotted cream. It contains added stabilizers that prevent the cream from clotting.
- How else can you use it? It’s wonderful stirred into a risotto or mashed potatoes, just before serving. It adds a lovely thick, luscious tang to a batch of vanilla (or even red velvet) ice cream. And if you’re a bacon lover, clotted cream is fantastic on a BLT.
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipes.)
Slightly sweet scones with a dense, yet buttery texture.
Yield: 8 scones
- All-Purpose Flour – 2½ Cups
- Rolled Oats – 1½ Cups
- Sugar – ½ Cup
- Baking Powder – 1 Tble
- Kosher Salt – 1 tsp
- Butter, frozen – 1 Cup
- Half and Half Cream – 1 Cup
- Melted Butter – 2 Tble
Move rack to middle position and heat oven to 350° F.
Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Grate frozen butter into the flour mixture and stir to distribute evenly.
Make a well in centre of bowl and pour half-and-half in while mixing with a large spoon. Use your hands to bring dough together into a rough ball. Pour onto a lightly floured counter and knead lightly until well combined. Do not over knead.
Lightly flour top and bottom of dough if it is sticky, and pat it into a circle 1” thick. Cut into 8 wedges and evenly space the scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with melted butter.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top and bottom. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes.
To Serve: Slightly warm with clotted cream (recipe below) or butter and jam.
To Store: In a covered container for 3 to 4 days. Freeze for up to 2 weeks.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)
- Buttermilk instead of cream will give you a lower fat, slightly tangy scone
Optional Additions: ½ cup raisins or dried cranberries, ½ cup shredded cheddar
The traditional accompaniment for scones served with afternoon tea.
Yield: 1 cup
Move the rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 180° F.
Pour cream into a heavy, medium-sized oven proof saucepan, cover, and set in oven for 8-12 hours, until there is a thick, yellowish skin on top of the cream.
Remove pan to counter and cool completely, then refrigerate overnight.
Use a spoon to carefully skim firm clotted cream from surface. Stir until smooth, creamy and texture of whipped butter. Use remaining whey in bottom of pot for baking or discard.
To Serve: Alongside freshly baked scones with an optional pot of jam.
To Store: Will keep covered in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
- Ultra-Pasteurized cream will not work in this recipe.
- The greater the surface area of the cream, the faster/better it will clot. Choose a pan that holds the cream 1-3” deep.
- Use the freshest cream you can find. It clots better, and will last longer.