Reach your daily saturated fat quota with homemade clotted cream

Illustration for article titled Reach your daily saturated fat quota with homemade clotted cream
Photo: A.E. Dwyer, Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Welcome to Biscuit Week, a special time set aside to cherish the most buttery and beloved of all quick breads.

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Americans don’t particularly like the word “clot” in their food, and understandably so. It’s primarily used in regard to our physiology, often negatively. So clotted cream sounds like the worst of the dairy world: “I’ll just have the clots, please.” Yeeeesh.

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Luckily, clotted cream is usually paired with those anxiety-reducing words “scone” and “jam.” I started making scones years before I discovered the expensive pocket-sized little jars of clotted cream sold at faraway British grocery stores, but afterward my life was transformed. Clotted cream is luxuriously thick and buttery with a mild nuttiness. No wonder it’s good. It is, quite literally, all the fat, coaxed slowly out of the cream and skimmed off for your slathering pleasure. But what do you do if you can’t find it or if there aren’t any British tea shops nearby? You make it yourself.

Clotted cream making is time-consuming (think two days) and produces a small yield. But it’s worth the trouble. You’ll need a high quality non-ultra pasteurized cream to start with: the heating process in pasteurization kills off the microorganisms that aid in the “clotting” or coagulation. The clotting process is akin to making yogurt. First you heat it to proper temperature, then keep it at that constant temperature to ferment it.

The first time I made it, I got it wrong. I bought the fancy, expensive, non-ultra pasteurized cream for $8 and patiently let it cook for twelve hours, and then chilled it for another eight hours, then chilled it some more. It tasted right, but the texture was an embarrassment: gritty and liquidy in places, with hard yellow chunks. Would it serve as hardscrabble clotted cream in a peasant cottage? Sure. But not on my watch. Not when I was so looking forward to having my own vat of silky clotted cream to use with abandon.

I had used a flimsy metal 8x8-inch pan, and that was a mistake. It didn’t have the consistent heat retention necessary. Frustratingly, I had read accounts of people’s grandmas making clotted cream in in the far corners of their wood-burning ovens. There’s no way that maintains a consistent temperature, and yet they had delicious clotted cream, and I didn’t. That’s some druid-level magic right there.

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I got antsy. And I was reading too much Cook’s Illustrated, so I naturally looked to the America’s Test Kitchen team to fix my life. I followed a supremely easy no-cook clotted cream recipe from The Science of Good Cooking. You just mix heavy cream and buttermilk and let it sit on the counter. It seemed too good to be true! And it was!

The America’s Test Kitchen version was easy, sure—a lazy man’s version of clotted cream, if that lazy man wanted to eat sour cream on his scones instead of legitimate clotted cream. Its texture was too slack, and the buttermilk tang too prominent. It missed the whole point of pure, creamy dairy luxury.

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I went back to rustic and slow, and started again. This time, I used a heavy stoneware casserole dish with a two-inch depth of fancy cream (yet another $8) and left it in a 180-degree oven for 12 hours. Then I chilled it for 12 hours and chilled it again to firm up even further. It was perfect. I paired it with homemade cream scones, and my slightly tart strawberry compote.

It cost me more than $24 to arrive at this perfect clotted cream, but it was worth every penny and calorie. Would I make homemade clotted cream again? In a heartbeat—provided I have a heartbeat left, since I consumed more cream than a barnyard cat this week.

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Illustration for article titled Reach your daily saturated fat quota with homemade clotted cream
Photo: Nirad (iStock)
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Clotted Cream

Makes about 1 cup

  • 1 quart of high quality full-fat heavy cream, not ultra-pasteurized (I used Kalona SuperNatural brand from Whole Foods)
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Heat your oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour your cream into a heavy ceramic or glass baking dish. Any dish 8x8 inches or larger works, as long as your cream comes 2-3 inches up the sides.

Bake the cream undisturbed for 12 hours, until the top looks smooth and dry. It may be yellowish or lightly toasted looking at the end. This is okay. The finished cream needn’t be pure white: a yellow or deep ecru is perfectly fine.

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Remove the baking dish from the oven, cool, and then chill it in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Make sure you wrap it well in plastic to prevent food smells from seeping into the cream.

Scrape off the top layer of thickened cream, separating it from the remaining watery whey below. You can stir the thickened cream vigorously if it seems a bit liquidy. It will thicken further with more chilling, between one and four hours. Do not put it in the freezer at this stage to speed up the process, as ice crystals will form.

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(The whey can be used in scones in place of milk, buttermilk, or cream. Or you can drink it straight and feel like Miss Muffet).

Spread the clotted cream on freshly made scones or biscuits, with a dollop of sweet-tart compote or jam. Leftover clotted cream will keep for up to 10 days in the fridge, or you can freeze it.

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DISCUSSION

ltlftb2018
LTLFTB2018

We did a trip around Great Britain back in the fall of 2018, and my British friends all told me that if I wanted a proper cream tea, I needed to go to Devon or Cornwall. Cornwall was a little too far to go with the skeleton of our trip, but Exeter made a nice pit stop.

After some research, we hit up Tea on the Green, which is right across the Green for Exeter Cathedral. The scones were amazing and made in-house, the clotted cream was sourced from a Cornwall creamery, and the preserves were from a Devon company that focused on hand-made preserves and jam.

It turns out we did our scones “wrong” (but not really). A Devon cream tea usually involves cold scones, which means you spread the clotted cream on the scone, and then the preserves on top of the cream. A Cornish cream tea means the scones are warm, so you spread the preserves on first, then the clotted cream. The owner of the restaurant was kind enough to chat with us - it was a slow, rainy, middle-of-the-weekday so it wasn’t too busy - and he said there isn’t so much a wrong way to eat it, it’s just when a scone is warm, it will melt the clotted cream a little bit. So you put the preserves down first to keep an insulating barrier down to keep the clotted cream from losing structural integrity. They were actually serving their scones warm Cornish-style, so we should have put the preserves down first, but he said it really didn’t matter because it still all tasted great. I mean, doesn’t this look horrible?

I will say that the clotted cream we had there was the best we had - the owner claimed it was because of all the rain in that part of England made particularly good grass for the cows that produced the cream, so the lush cream made for great clotted cream. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know this was the best scone and clotted cream I had going around Great Britain for a month, so there must be something to it.

(I actually highly recommend Exeter - gorgeous Cathedral, lots of deeply historic nooks and crannies, the city provides a boatload of free tours, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum is there. Along with amazing food - we didn’t have a bad meal while we were there, though we did stay in the boutique hotel attached to a gastropub, so that helped. ;) Oh, and Oddfellows - just go there for your Sunday roast experience.)