14th August 2017

National Afternoon Tea Week - Devonshire or Cornish scones?

The quintessentially British culinary mystery regarding how to serve the perfect cream tea is solved as Ascot Racecourse reveals the scientific formula for the ratio of cream to jam on the humble scone to celebrate its 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.


The formula for scone perfection

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.


Jam first or cream first? It’s Devon vs Cornwall

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 importance of temperature on taste

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!”


Serving the Perfect Devon Cream Tea

> The scone should be cut within 20 minutes of taking it out of the oven

> Cream at room temperature should then applied when the scone is hot to touch (50C) and not before. Note you should be very careful not to burn yourself, you will need to use oven gloves

> Jam at room temperature should then be added

> The Devon cream tea eater should then wait approximately 1 minute before eating to ensure optimum tasting temperature (22 – 35C)


Serving the Perfect Cornish Cream Tea

> The scone should be cut within 3-7 minutes of taking it out of the oven.

> The jam and cream applied immediately whilst the scone is still steaming and very hot to touch (70C - 90C) – note you should be very careful not to burn yourself, you will need to use oven gloves

> The Cornish cream tea eater should then wait approximately 2 minutes before eating to allow the scone to cool to optimum tasting temperature (22 – 35C)



360g wheat flour

22.6g baking powder

57g margarine cut into cubes

57g caster sugar

226ml milk/ water

(This recipe will make approx 10-11 scones at 50g scaling weight)



1)    Pre-heat the oven to 220C and lightly grease your baking tray.

2)    Mix together the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl and then rub in the margarine until the mixture is fine.

3)    Make a well in the dry mixture and add in the sugar. Gradually add the milk/water. If you are making sultana scones, you should also add sultanas into the well at this stage.

4)    Mix until the dough is clear and smooth.

5)    For apple and cinnamon scones, the diced apple should be folded in gently at the end of mixing to ensure its shape is maintained and to avoid it disintegrating.

6)    Take the dough out of the bowl, place it onto a table and use a 5cm cutter dipped in flour to cut the scones.

7)    Place the scones onto the baking tray, glaze them with an egg and bake for 12-15 minutes.

8)    Leave them to cool and enjoy with delicious clotted cream and jam.