Is there any British culinary conundrum more controversial than the cream tea? Well hopefully that’s about to change, with any controversy around the West Country’s most famous treat now finally solved.
We’re not just talking about the tired: “Which is better? Cornish or Devon style?” Oh no. As part of their Festival of Food and Wine Race Weekend, Ascot Racecourse has teamed up with food scientist Dr Stuart Farrimond and “Queen of Couture Cakes” Mich Turner to calculate the formula for the perfect English cream tea – height, weight, temperature, the lot.
What’s the perfect cream tea balance?
According to Dr Farrimond, the scone-cream-jam ratio needs to be 4:3:3. That’s referring to the weight, with 40g of scone requiring 30g of cream and 30g of jam.
Why this ratio? Because it mean the cream tea achieves something called the “hedonic breakpoint”. This is the optimal sweetness for appreciating the flavours, with the richness of the cream diluting the sweetness of the jam.
When combined, this should result in each mouthful being around 28% sugar.
If you can’t be bothered weighing your three components every time you get your spread on, it should come to a height of 4cm. That’s 2cm of the lighter scone, and 1cm each of the heavier jam and cream.
Which order should the jam and cream be – Cornish or Devon style?
Here’s the question on everyone’s lips (if you live west of Taunton, at least). Cornish loyalists insist a cream tea should be made jam first, followed by the clotted cream. In Devon, they reckon the cream needs to go on first.
Dr Farrimond favours the Devonshire method (cream first), largely for ease of spreading. This is because – even on a warm scone – jam is just not viscous enough to support the easy spreading of the cream on top.
The “tasting panel” Farrimond used for the experiment narrowly confirmed his hypothesis, with 57% preferring the Devon style. Although there could be drawbacks on your waistline – the relative ease of spreading cream and jam in the Devon manner encourages people to pile more on.
At what temperature should you prepare your scone?
First things first, make sure your jam and cream are at room temperature. This prevents unnecessary cooling of the scone when applied.
However, the assembly of the cream tea should take place at different temperatures depending on which style you choose. (And although science is in favour of the Devon style, we realise that isn’t going to stop any Cornish cream tea fanatics changing their ways.)
For a Devonshire cream tea, the cream should be applied while the scone is at 50C (or, less technically, “hot to the touch”). This means the cream partly liquefies.
The optimum temperature for tasting any food is between approximately 22C and 35C. Although hot foods emit odour-containing molecules which we can smell and heighten our anticipation, taste buds work very inefficiently at high temperatures. So wait for it to cool!
For a Cornish cream tea, the spreading should be done while the scone is a little hotter – between 70 and 90 degrees. Because the jam acts as a layer of insulation, the temperature needs to be higher to achieve the ideal liquefying effect on the cream.
And there you have it. Everything you need to achieve the optimum cream tea, no matter which county you happen to be enjoying it in. Of course, you may be missing one key ingredient at the moment – a nice summer’s day.
The perfect cream tea formula to be exhibited as part of Afternoon Tea at The Festival of Food and Wine Race Weekend at Ascot Racecourse from September 4 to 5. Mich Turner will be headlining the live Cookery Theatre on Friday September 4.