Along the stunning southwestern coast of England lives one of the world’s greatest tea traditions: cream tea; the countryside’s simple, more rustic answer to afternoon tea.
Ditching the sandwiches and perfectly styled pastries and heading straight for the scones, clotted cream and jam, cream tea’s perfection lies in its simplicity and the balanced combination of fat cutting, tannic tea, thick double cream, buttery scones and tangy jam.
A typical cream tea consists of two scones, double cream, jam and a pot of gutty black tea. It is commonly taken on Sunday afternoons–after Sunday roast with potatoes, vegetables and Yorkshire pudding! Another tribute to the British love of tea, it evolved because of the climate in Cornwall which is ideal for making really amazing cream.
Cornwall has a subtropical microclimate that makes it possible to grow grapes, tea, sunflowers and other crops that would usually only be found farther south– and to have some of the best, uncrowded summer beaches in Europe! Wet and warm weather means green grass all year round and fat, grass-fed cows with especially rich cream.
Devon, the county just northeast of Cornwall, claims to have the richest cream in England as well. The two counties also argue about another very important cream tea detail: jam first or cream first.
In Cornwall, the jam is always spread on the scone first, then the cream. In Devon, it is the other way around. The subject of cream tea, I have found, rarely is discussed without this detail being mentioned.
I have had plenty of scones, cream, jam and obviously British black tea in my life and I like them all, but I wasn’t expecting to be overly impressed by cream tea. I went into it rather dutifully, but was surprised by the harmony of everything together .
I was actually so impressed that I am now on a scone making spree to discover the best recipe for my new Sunday afternoon family tradition- cream tea! I begged the recipe from The Cornish Bakery without luck (so American of me!). So here is one adapted from Roddas, a Cornish company which looks to be the biggest double cream producer in England.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
Combine in a bowl:
4 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
Rub 1/2 cup butter into the dry mixture
Add 1 cup of milk and mix until just blended.
Lightly knead the dough and roll it onto a lightly floured surface about 1 inch thick. Cut it into 2 inch rounds and place on a lined baking sheet.
Brush the tops of the scones with a beaten egg and bake for 15 minutes, being careful not to over-bake.
Serve with a pots of clotted cream, jam and black English tea like Firepot Breakfast.