I existed for the last 20 years of my life as an innocent tea party addict, who gleefully made "Mock Devonshire Cream" for every great event by combining sour cream with cream and sugar and vanilla, and whipping the concoction to create a thick, slightly sour, delicious topping for scones. Then I went to England.
And I met clotted cream. (Cue picture from the archives.)
Clotted cream, oh my sweet, darling clotted cream. Where were you all my life? (Excuse me while I go compose a love song to clotted cream.) Mock Devonshire Cream may be an appopriate substitute for creme fraiche, but it has nothing on clotted cream. And so, with the sweet, carmelized, airy taste of clotted cream still melting in our memories, Mama came to me one day with a passel of internet recipes and a question. "Do you want to make clotted cream?"
The first try...not so good. I baked the cream at 180 degrees F for six hours...and twelve hours...and eighteen hours, and by that time, I had evaporated milk more than anything. Then I tried the stovetop method, and just as I was about to get discouraged, I got wise and began to peruse only UK sites. They, after all, know their clotted cream. The method is now perfected, my friends, and I hope you will try your hand at this luscious nectar.
Start out with unpasteurized, unhomogenized fresh cream (some people have had success using cream that was pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized, so it is worth a try if you don't have a source for straight-from-the-udder cream).
You'll need five cups.
Now, pour it into a heavy-duty large saucepan or casserole dish--the cream should be no more than three inches deep. Cook this uncovered on the stove on the lowest heat setting, and do not, under any circumstances, allow the cream to boil. Or simmer. (This picture was taken after four hours of cooking.)
You are, however, looking for a thick skin to develop on the top, and small bubbles to form on the edges. Once this has happened (I cooked mine for six hours), take it off the heat, cover it, and let it cool down for four to six hours, preferably in a cool but not cold place (that is, a cellar, cool pantry, or garage). Carefully spoon off the crust and skin on the top and heap into a dish. My five cups of cream yielded about 3/4 cup of clotted cream (the amount in the dish shown in the first picture). Let this solidify in the refrigerator for another six to twelve hours, and then enjoy your clotted cream! You can use the remaining unclotted cream in your baking or cooking.
I had cream tea the Cornish way--jam first, then cream on a scone or biscuit and accompanied by a cup of Yorkshire black tea. The Devons swear by cream first, then jam. Clotted cream also goes by clouted cream (a clout is a thin fabric, and clouted cream refers to the crust that forms on the cream when it has clotted), clabbered cream, or Devonshire cream. My version turned out neither as sweet nor as smooth as the English clotted cream, but I blame this on the cow and not the cook.
"Its orient tinge, like spring-time morn,Or baby-buttercups newly-born;Its balmy perfume, delicate pulp,One longs to swallow it all at a gulp,Sure man had ne'er such gifts or themeAs your melt-in-mouthy Devonshire cream."A eulogy on a can of cream sent from a lady in Exeter.—William Barry Peacock, Manchester, 1853
And do you know the origin of clotted cream according to legend? Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who lived amongst the branches of a Dartmoor oak, dreaming of the pisky [A Westcountry pixie] prince she loved. She longed for the day of her wedding, which by tradition, required a bath in cream. Sadly, there was an evil woman who took up residence at the foot of the princess's tree; she conspired to have the princess marry her crude miner son. Knowing of the required cream bath, the old hag soured the couple's milk and made their wedding impossible. The pisky was not to be thwarted, however; he made an extraordinary cream treated with both fire and water that resisted the woman's devices. At last, the princess was able to bathe in the cream and marry her prince. The couple passed on their secret to the moor maidens, and everyone lived happily ever after with the secret of clotted cream safely entrusted to them.