There are a handful of foods in this delicious world of ours that are legend worthy. Classic dishes that are cherished far and wide, yet so deeply associated with a location that our minds instantly envision that place with just a mention of the name. We swoon, reminiscing about that perfect day in that perfect place where we first had a taste. And if you are anything like me, you will obsess for months, or even years on end, trying to recreate that perfect dish at home.
Clotted cream is one of those foods for me. I had heard of clotted cream and knew it to be adored by many, both in its home country of England and abroad. But here in the US (at least in my area), clotted cream is almost unknown. I was lucky enough once to sample a spoonful from one of those exceptionally expensive jars that are occasionally available on specialty food shelves during the holidays - it was good, but not divine. And how could it be, really? Preserved, packaged, and shipped halfway around the world to sit on a shelf for weeks - no, this was not the stuff of legends.
But then, I visited England. It was afternoon tea at the British Museum in London, and I spied a tiny glass jar of creamy-looking goodness next to an equally tiny jar of jam. I smiled and looked at my hubby with that sparkle in my eye that only shows up when I am about to have an epic food experience (did I mention I am a bit of a food nerd?)
Sipping my Earl Grey, I slathered a spoonful of the wonderfully gooey cream on a freshly baked scone, and tentatively took a bite. Cue the heavenly music! I had found it! THIS was the clotted cream of legend! Creamy, thick, luxurious, kissed with a hint of natural sweetness and fresh with a slightly nutty flavor. It's what you might imagine to be the perfect, beautiful child of freshly whipped cream and grass-fed butter.
When I returned home to my clotted cream bereft Pacific Northwest, I promptly began researching how to make it in my own kitchen. Two years later, and I think I've finally found the perfect method!
I've tried the oven method so popular across the internet. It's good but leaves too much of a hard, chunky crust for my taste. I've also tried the stovetop method that requires skimming the top layer of clotted cream off the liquid every so often for hours on end. Again good, but I seem to get inconsistent results, and who wants to stand at the stove all day long, anyway.
Finally, I started researching the historic methods and discovered an old article published in the Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 1: May 1917 to March 1918. (You know you are a food nerd when your research leads you to a dairy science journal from 100 years ago!) The article is by Wilfrid Sadler, of the Dairy and Bacteriological Laboratories, at Macdonald College in Quebec, Canada. Mr. Sadler set out to convince dairies in Canada and the US that making clotted cream would be good business. So sad for us here that he was unsuccessful in his attempt!
In his proposal, Mr. Sadler was extremely thorough in his research of traditional clotted cream production. He even went so far as to scientifically test different preparation methods, explaining each in great detail. However, due to widespread, and perhaps unfortunate, changes in the way milk is produced, most of us won't be able to follow his methods precisely. Even so, thanks to his fascinating exposition, I was able to uncover a method of making clotted cream that will work with modern diary products in a modern kitchen. Thank you, Mr. Wilfrid Sadler!
By the way, his article is really quite interesting (at least if you're a food nerd like me). If you would like to give it a read, you can find a copy online HERE in Google Books.
About the recipe
My version of clotted cream is thick, spreadable, and deliciously gooey - just like that tiny little heavenly jar I savored at the British Museum; it has a hint of that wonderfully crinkly, craggly skin that many people look for in authentic clotted cream; and the color is a lovely white, with just the tiniest hint of pale yellow.
After heating the clotted cream, you can expect it to develop a wrinkly, pale yellow skin. Not very pretty, but exactly what you want. At this point, everything will still be very thin and liquidy, making you think the clotted cream has failed to form. But don't worry! All is well, and the clotted cream will form after a night's rest in the fridge.
By the way, this recipe comes straight out of my new cookbook, Taste Of The Place, authentic recipes from real kitchens around the globe! If you would like to learn more about the book, hop over to Tasteoftheplace.com/buythecookbook.
The most important ingredient in clotted cream...
Cream, of course!
The outcome of your clotted cream will be entirely dependent on the quality of the cream, specifically the heavy cream, that you start with. Really, really truly. Choose the wrong heavy cream, and you simply won't get any clotted cream for your efforts.
If you are lucky enough to have a dairy cow or have access to unpasteurized, raw heavy cream - perfect! I am not so lucky. If you are like me, look for heavy cream (sometimes called heavy whipping cream), with at least 35% butterfat, NOT ultra-pasteurized (pasteurized is OK), with no stabilizers.
Unfortunately, that means many of the organic brands of heavy whipping cream are out. For some mystifying reason, all too often they ultra-pasteurize their cream and stabilize it with oddball gums and the like. No good for making clotted cream.
The best choices in my area are the Trader Joe's brand Heavy Whipping Cream (they carry several lines, so look for one that is pasteurized only, NOT ultra-pasteurized), and the Straus Family Creamery Organic Whipping Cream. If you happen to live in Central Oregon, Eberhard's Dairy Heavy Whipping Cream is perfect.
To make clotted cream, you will need a couple of things -
A double boiler, or better yet a saucepan and a wide bowl. I like to use a medium to large metal mixing bowl set on top of a medium saucepan. Just be sure to use a wide enough bowl that your heavy cream has a lot of surface area while it is heating.
A thermometer. I feel like a probe thermometer works better than a candy thermometer because candy thermometers generally require 2 inches of liquid to work. Depending on the size of your bowl, you may have as little as 1/2 inch of liquid while making clotted cream, so you need a thermometer that can read from just the very tip. I just got myself a fancy-schmancy probe thermometer that will alert me when the heavy cream reaches the perfect temperature. I can't wait to give it a try, and I'll let you know when I do. 🙂 The only bad is that I have to jury-rig it with a metal, clamp-style paper clip to attach to the side of my bowl. Ah well, I don't mind a bit of finagling here and there. 😉
Update on my new thermometer: I LOVE it! Not only does it work like a charm for making clotted cream, but it works perfectly for roasting meats in the oven, or monitoring a temp while cooking. It even has a magnet on the back, so I can put the probe in something in the oven (like a piece of fish or a roast), run the wire out the door (it's a flexible wire designed for this purpose), and stick the thermometer on the fridge while it does its job. Perfect!
What to do with clotted cream
Other than eat it by the spoonful? Spread it on scones, of course (grab my recipe HERE)! Clotted cream and British-style scones go hand in hand. Few things are as lovely or luxurious as a traditional cream tea on a lazy afternoon, enjoying a simple pot of tea, accompanied by scones, jam, and clotted cream. Divine!Print