Cream Tea Take Two: Tea-Based Cocktails and Clotted Cream

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I mentioned in an earlier post that my mother and I attempted to make clotted cream for our biennial tea party last month. Finding a legitimate yet manageable recipe for clotted cream can be tricky. Most have you heating cream slowly in a wide, shallow pan, often over a double boiler, until a crust forms on top, then chilling. Some have you starting with raw, unhomogenized milk. Some involve whipping cream with mascarpone and sometimes even sugar, but Momma and I were either too snobby or too ambitious to go in for such whipped up imitations. The real deal versions, the ones that contain only rich, tasty cream, take a long time, what with the gentle heating and the chilling and setting. We did not have a long time, with me arriving the afternoon before the tea party (with much to do), nor did we have access to the raw, full-fat, cream-on-top Jersey cow milk that I am sometimes lucky enough to get my  hands on. My mom and I heated regular heavy cream gently until she needed the stove for other tea-related endeavours, and we tried to let it set, and, when that did not work, tried straining through coffee filters (Alton Brown’s suggestion), but again ran out of time. Ultimately, I scooped out the thickened parts, whipped the rest of it, and folded it all together. It tasted good, and there were no upturned noses at our offer of thick cream on scones, but my Gran would have been apalled to hear it called clotted cream. I vowed to try again and to get it right before the next tea party.

This time around, I came much closer. Not close enough that I don’t need to try again, but closer. For those unfamiliar with clotted cream, it is also known as Devonshire cream (to girls like me, that is, with roots in Devon — the Cornish make it, too, and claim it for their own), and it is thick and smooth and barely golden, and it is wonderful with scones and jam. You can buy it in gourmet stores in the U.S. for six bucks or so for a tiny jar, and the texture is nice, but it’s surely been pasteurized to all hell, and it’s just not the same. Purists may tell you that proper clotted cream cannot be replicated here under any circumstances, because the milk in the U.S. is not the same. That’s all fine and good, but, while mass-produced dairy here is definitely nowhere near what it is across the pond, and while our cows have not been eating good, vitamin-rich English grass, we’ve got some pretty good grass here in the states, and there are some awesome farmers out there feeding it to some healthy cows who then produce some fantastic milk. Nay-saying purists me damned — I think we can make clotted cream stateside. I am happy to keep trying, and I am always happy to host a tea party.

I decided to keep things manageable for myself this time and only provide cream tea fare: scones, clotted cream, and jam.  I also offered up tea-based cocktails. I told guests that they should not bring anything unless there was something they were itching to make, and I was amazed at the lavender shortbreads, adorable open-faced tea sandwiches, brownies, fresh dark cherries and lime blossom tea that appeared on my counter. It was a far better spread than I would have dared dream.

To make the clotted cream, I poured raw, unhomogenized milk into the ceramic pot that sits in my slow cooker. I let it sit in the fridge overnight so the cream could separate, and I supplemented with a little bit of heavy cream. Then I took it out and heated it for a couple of hours on the “warm” setting. To my great delight, the nubbly golden crust typical of real clotted cream formed on the top. The cream got a little thick. I skimmed it off the top, put it in a baking pan to cool, and popped it in the fridge. The now-skimmed milk went back into its bottle for drinking and general milk use. I checked on the cream before bed, and I was happy to note that it clung to the edges of the pan and appeared thick and just about right for clotted cream. Alas, I checked it again in the morning and found the thick parts thick and perfect, the thin parts still thin. Again, I turned to coffee filters. Again, it took forever to strain and was still runny by tea party time. Rather than whipping the runny parts of the cream, I decided to pour it into a jar and shake it, hoping that the thicker, crustier parts would maintain their shape and texture. Here is the weird part: I shook it up in two batches. One thickened up to a consistency similar to that of very thick whipped cream. The other batch separated, after very little shaking, into a runny white liquid and a ball of thick yellow cream. I gather this is how butter is made, with the runny leftover liquid being traditional buttermilk, but the more solid part was far more creamy than buttery, and, when folded into the other batch of cream, it was lovely. The final product had a pale gold color and clotted creamy texture and was very close to what I’d hoped for. Next time around, I will try to cut out the extra steps of straining and shaking by using fresh cream. Still raw, still from Jersey cows. We will see how that goes. I will post a recipe then, or whenever I have a more reasonable number of steps and a less whipped final result.

The cocktails, on the other hand, worked out great this time around. I made an herbal tea sangria with licorice-mint and red zinger tea, a little hibiscus liqueur that I made a few months ago, and white wine. The more popular drink, arguably the better of the two, was an Earl Grey based drink that I called the Grey Lady. Make a pitcher for your next afternoon cocktail party, or serve anytime if you’re not an insomniac who shies away from caffeine in the evening hours.

Recipe: The Grey Lady

You will need:

  • 6 Earl Grey tea bags
  • 1/4 to 1 cup sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • rhubarb infused gin
  • gin
  • water

Steep tea bags and zest of grapefruit and lemon in 4 cups boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags, add sugar to taste, pour into pitcher, and let cool. Juice the lemon and grapefruit and add to cooled tea. I added a good bit of rhubarb gin, well over a cup, and then added regular gin until it tasted right. If you have rhubarb booze on hand, gin-based or otherwise, I suggest you use it. If you do not, regular gin will suffice, though you may want to increase your citrus a bit. I wound up using roughly 1.5 parts rhubarb gin and 1 part regular gin to 4 parts tea, and it went over well. Mix it up and serve over ice.

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