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.