What is English “clotted” cream?

Reader Mark asks:

Any chance you’d be able to expand on what clotted cream is, and why it doesn’t seem to be something that can be purchased in the US? Is it practical to make at home? Just doesn’t seem one can have a proper scone w/out some clotted cream to go with it.

I would be delighted, Mark! Most people think they call it “clotted” cream because that’s the way your arteries look when a Devon creamy tea is over. I’m not saying that isn’t true, but it’s not technically correct. “Clotted” cream is made via a process that’s unique to Devon, Cornwall and a few regions of southern Asia and the Middle East (where the end product is known as Malai or Kaymak). But how exactly does it work?

Well all know that milk, given time, will separate into cream and whole milk (or so). Yet some particularly rich creams, given time, can further separate into heavy clots and liquid. You’ve probably seen this in action in cartons of whipping cream, where semi-firm blobs will sometimes come plopping out of the container (it’s not spoiled, it’s just “clotted”). Homogenization interferes with clotting, however, which is why we only see these cream lumps incidentally.

Actively encouraging the clots is a simple and time consuming process that’s fascinating to watch (I saw it done once at a farm in Devon, and the results nearly made a West Country farmer out of me). First, a few gallons of fresh, unpasteurized milk are poured into shallow copper pans. Then the pans are floated over cauldrons of boiling water until they reach a temperature of 190 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point they’re removed from the heat and allowed to cool very slowly. This process has the effect of both speeding the rise of fat globules to the surface and melting them together, so when they cool they form a thick layer on top of the milk that’s skimmed off before the process is repeated.

Depending on how long the pans are left out to cool, a certain amount of bacterial action occurs, and this has the effect of rendering the cream slightly tangy. Combine that with the nutty flavors that heating process brings out, not to mention the richness produced by an astounding 65% milk fat content (heavy whipping cream is 30%) and the result is Elysium on a scone. These rough edges are of course what make true Devon or Cornish cream impossible to come by in the States, in the same way that real French cheeses are both geographically and legally out of our reach.

But airfares are cheap nowadays, and there’s nothing like the fresh air of the West Country to put the pink back in your cheeks. Remember as you’re making reservations: two seats will be required for the return journey.

18 thoughts on “What is English “clotted” cream?”

  1. Hi Joe
    About clotted cream, I had the chance to met an English grandmother many years ago and she gave me her recipe to make clotted cream at home. When she moved in Quebec over 60 years ago she mist that english gourmet sin. Here’s her recipe I make this at least 2- 3 times a years for special occasion and specially with rhubarb and strawberry jam.
    Preheat oven at 200F. Pour 1 cup of 35% bio cream in a ceramic ramequin or small pyrex mold, cover with foil and let cook for 4 hours without strirring. after the cooking time, refrigerate for 4 hours still without stirring. after it rest in the fridge, you will see a crust mix the crust and the cream well and then pour in a Mason Jar. Try not to use on 1 scone only lololllllll. Keep for a week in the fridge. Enjoy!
    And Joe, thanks for your reply about my crazy croissant’s week end, I was deply touch.
    Merci beaucoup et bonne journée

    1. Wonderful, Louise, thank you for this. I confess I’ve never investigated making clotted cream at home. I’ll have to try it!

      – Joe

  2. Clotted cream and Devonshire cream have always confused me. It seems there are 2 popular home methods for making these, one involving straining (per Alton Brown) and the other involving baking (like the recipe above). According to my British friend, straining it gives the best texture, and baking gives it a grainy texture. However, they are both called clotted or Devon cream! Can you clarify it better for me?

    1. Hey Leah!

      I’ve only seen the method done in Devon where it’s heated in a pan (which would be similar to the baking method). But it’s funny you should mention “grainy” texture, as that’s what people in Cornwall complain about when people compare their clotted cream to Devon’s. Perhaps the Cornish employ a straining method of some sort that I’m not aware of. I’m sure the Cornish would rather die than call theirs “Devon” cream. But to be clear, “clotted” cream is the term that’s most commonly used. “Devon” cream would denote the same thing, just produced in Devon.

      – Joe

  3. Just a quick comment from an Englishwoman. Joe – in your piece, you write “Clotted, or Double Cream”. Double cream is different to Clotted cream. Double cream is what you refer to in the US as Heavy cream and therefore very different to clotted.
    All this talk of clotted cream is making me hungry for a Devon Cream Tea…..

    On a different tack altogether (sorry!), I tried a Stilton Scone in a Deli my friend runs in Market Harborough, fresh out of the oven with salted butter. Divine doesn’t come close! I’m going to try them myself and will share recipe if they work out!


    1. A very welcome comment, Joy! Shame on me, you’d think I never lived in Devon.

      PLease do share that recipe…I promise I won’t tell a soul! 😉

      – Joe

  4. I found clotted cream at World Market. I came home, yelling to my husband “I’ve got clotted cream — I’ve got to make scones RIGHT NOW!” He, as usual, thought me to be insane.

    1. I’ll bet that’s where she found it, since Cost Plus is one of Mrs. Pastry’s go-to spots for chocolate and candy. Thanks Lisa!

      – Joe

  5. I make clotted cream, or a close approximation of it, by cooking heavy cream in a low oven overnight and draining off the remaining liquid. It tastes sooo good.

    1. Joanna, I may just have to do that on my return. It never occurred to me to try it at home!

      – Joe

  6. I’ve always had this unfortunate reservation about clotted cream – the fact that they aren’t sweetened. Just as unsweetened whipped cream doesn’t taste much, clotted cream on its own doesn’t taste as good as it would have been if it’s been slightly sweetened – although this only happens in my imagination since it’s never sweetened! You may say that since you eat it with jam, it doesn’t need to be sweentened, but I want to savour the unctuous goodness of the stuff on its own. Maybe I can beat it with some icing sugar to lend it some sweetness? I’ll smuggle some back here next time I fly to England…

    1. Ha! Hey Henry! Yes you can beat in a little icing sugar to add sweetness without graininess. Not a bad idea, really, since I now have a small bowl of clotted cream left in the fridge and my cholesterol count is in the normal range. It may be time to take action.

      – Joe

  7. lived in England for a couple of years and grew to love the clotted cream. So sad we can’t have something like that here in the states

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