The quintessentially British culinary mystery regarding how to serve the perfect cream tea is solved today as we reveal the scientific formula for the ratio of cream to jam on the humble scone to celebrate the forthcoming Festival of Food and Wine Race Weekend.
The scone has been an indulgent afternoon treat for hundreds of years, but the method of assembling it has been the source of a century-long dispute. Now, Food Scientist, Dr Stuart Farrimond, has calculated the perfect formula for cutting, assembling and consuming the classic cream tea and his findings could help to settle a national culinary debate. Afternoon tea will be served at Ascot during a two-day culinary celebration that runs alongside racing from the 4th – 5th September.
According to Dr Farrimond’s research, a cream tea should be constructed with a weight ratio of 4:3:3, which means that a 40g scone should be served with 30g of cream and 30g of jam. This is because this ratio achieves the ‘hedonic breakpoint’, the optimal sweetness for appreciating the flavours, meaning that the the richness of the cream dilutes the sweetness of the jam, to achieve a mixture that, when combined with the scone, results in each mouthful being around 28% sugar. This ratio means that the ideal cream tea will be 4cm in height, with the scone reaching 2cm in height, topped with denser layers of jam and cream that are a centimetre each.
The West Country, much like the humble scone, has always been split when it comes to the cream tea. Cornish loyalists believe that the jam should go on first, with the cream following on top. Advocates of Devon-style cream teas insist that the cream should go directly on the scone, with the jam topping it off. Dr Farrimond’s research shows that the Devonshire method (cream first) is practically easier, as it is more conducive to the loading of the respective toppings. This is because even on a warm scone, the jam is not viscous enough to support the easy spreading of the cream on top.
The tasting panel* that Dr Farrimond used for the experiment confirmed this more pragmatic approach, with 57% expressing a preference for the Devon-style method. Although, one observation that Dr Farrimond made was that Devon-style cream teas tend to have a higher calorie count, if the 4:3:3 ratio is not strictly adhered to. This is because the relative ease with which toppings can be applied with the Devon approach lends itself to subconsciously encourage the eater to use more of each.
The rigorous testing also examined what the ideal temperature of the scones should be when the clotted cream and jam are added. Dr Farrimond concluded that the clotted cream and jam should always be served at room temperature to prevent unnecessary cooling of the scone when applied. The scone should then be assembled at different temperatures according to the style of cream tea. For Devon-style cream teas (cream first) the scone should be served at around 50 degrees centigrade, which means the cream partly liquefies. Cornish cream teas should be served at hotter temperature, around 70-90 degrees, because the jam acts as a layer of insulation and so this additional heat is required to achieve partially liquefied cream.
Temperature plays a key role in our perception of food. Hot foods emit odour-containing molecules that heighten our anticipation. For baked products this is especially true and the smell of freshly baked scones is particularly enticing. Many people mistakenly believe that food also tastes better when served hot, although this is often not true: taste buds work very inefficiently at high temperatures. The optimum temperature for tasting food is between approximately 22 degrees centigrade and 35 degrees centigrade; the scone and topping should therefore be left to cool for a short period and eaten when it is between 22 degrees centigrade (slightly warmer than room temperature) and 35 degrees centigrade (warm to the touch).
Commenting on his experiments Dr Stuart Farrimond said: “There has been surprisingly little research conducted into this hugely popular afternoon indulgence. My hope is that the findings will help to demystify the humble cream tea and allow scone-lovers to know how to enjoy this delicacy even more – regardless of whether they do it cream first or jam first!”
Speaking about the results of the experiment, Head of Catering, Ascot Racecourse, Karen Cmela, adds: “Cream teas are quintessentially British and an integral part of our racedays here at Ascot. We’ve noticed that our guests all have different methods and approaches to how they take their cream tea, so we commissioned Dr Farrimond ahead of the Festival of Food and Wine Race Weekend to look into the science behind the perfect cream tea, whether you prefer a Devon Cream Tea or a Cornish Cream Tea.”
Ascot’s Festival of Food and Wine Race Weekend takes place over Friday 4th – Saturday 5th September 2015. The two day culinary celebration runs alongside racing and forms part of the final days of the Flat season at Ascot Racecourse. Tickets for the Festival of Food and Wine Race Weekend can be purchased online. Prices start from just £15 for Grandstand Admission and £20 for Premier Admission if booked in advance. Gates open at 11am.
Fine Dining and Private Boxes start from £150 + VAT per person. A special James Martin Demo Package is also available for £50, including a reserved seat for his demonstration, Premier Admission and a gift bag. Accompanied children under 18 years of age gain free entry at all Ascot race meetings.
To book tickets or for further information, please call 0844 346 3000 orclick here