How is this rich creamy spread different to heavy cream or crème fraîche?
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scones with jam and clotted cream
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There are few British traditions more sweetly appealing than afternoon tea served in pretty teacups along with a few delightful bites, such as scones with jam and clotted cream, and tiny tea sandwiches. Here, in the United States, we enjoy our scones in the morning with our coffee, and yes, sometimes with tea, too—but we typically don't indulge in that clotted cream. And since we don't often turn to it, many of us don't know what clotted cream is—or how to make it and use it come tea time.

What Is Clotted Cream?

Spooning thickened cream onto halved scones spread with strawberry preserves is not that different from our American iteration of a strawberry shortcake: We're merely talking about dollops of luscious cream and sweetened fruit with a freshly baked biscuit. But clotted cream is, in fact, different than the whipped cream we're used to—it's a unique dairy product.

Also known as Devonshire cream—and Devon or Cornish cream, after the two counties in southwestern England it is believed to have originated in—clotted cream is slowly thickened cream that is neither airy (like whipped cream) nor sweet. While whipped cream is as light as a cloud, and bright white, clotted cream is thick enough to spread, cream-hued, and milk-tasting (its flavor is that of cream—only intensified).

"Clotted cream is essentially concentrated, creamy milk," says Kate Arding, the co-proprietor of cheese and prepared foods shop Talbott and Arding, in Hudson, N.Y. "Therefore, the main characteristics I look for are to be able to taste the quality of the milk—fresh, lactic flavors with an extremely rich, smooth, and dense texture and a clean finish."

Where to Find Clotted Cream

You may have seen clotted cream sold in tiny glass jars online or in specialty food shops with English imports. In the U.K., the most readily available clotted cream is made by a few large producers and sold in similar glass jars. 

Does anyone make artisanal clotted cream? Arding, who is English, says that in the U.K., it is also possible to find small batch or farm producers who sell clotted cream at the "farm gate," or farmstand. She says that clotted cream produced on a small scale tastes different to mass-produced iterations, "mainly because the distribution network requires it to contain stabilizers, which change the nature of the product."

Most of us have never tasted freshly made clotted cream. When asked to tell us how it tastes, Arding says, "Imagine listening to an orchestra playing in surround sound rather than mono. That's the difference."

How to Make Clotted Cream

Making clotted cream is simple, but it requires patience. Cream is heated in a saucepan to 90ºF, and then kept at that temperature for several hours until it begins to coagulate. Then it is heated slowly in the top of a double boiler until it reaches a temperature of 180-200ºF and held at that temperature for about an hour. This is when the magic happens, the fat rises to the top and the surface thickens into a firm layer, after which the cream is chilled in the refrigerator for several hours. Later, the dense, clotted cream is scooped from the top, leaving the liquid behind. The most difficult part in judging when the rich cream has formed a semi-solid layer, says Arding, "is resisting the urge to poke the surface with your finger because it will puncture the crust, and the liquid underneath will come up through the hole and flood the surface" of the clotted cream you have so patiently been making.

If patience and self-control are the most important skills needed, why aren't more people making clotted cream at home? Arding encourages people to try. Her advice is to begin with the freshest cream you can find (but it must not be homogenized). Buying direct from the farmer is ideal. For their shop, Arding and her partner Mona Talbott buy their raw milk and cheeses from Churchtown Dairy in New York's Hudson Valley.

How to Use Clotted Cream

Whether you made the effort to source the freshest cream and try your hand at making clotted cream, or simply bought a jar of it from your favorite importer of British foods, you're likely wondering how to use the spread. According to Arding, there is no need to complicate things. "For clotted cream, simpler is better. The traditional way of serving it with an English scone and a beautifully made fruit-based jam is extremely hard to beat." Another popular way to use clotted cream? Spoon dollops over fresh berries.

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