/ Food & Drink

What makes the perfect scone?

It’s time for the great British scone debate! Are you a cream first or jam first person? I’ve been asking the office which way round is best.

One of the things I like most about living in England is the great cream tea. In Northern Ireland we love a good scone but we rarely have clotted cream with them.

But this doesn’t mean I haven’t got strong opinions about the age old question of cream or jam first when I discovered the traditional cream tea.

When you ask people it all seems to boil down to what they grew up with. So, on my last day here at Which?, I thought I’d go a bit deeper and try to establish if there was more behind the debate.

A scone odyssey

Someone who has probably eaten more scones than anyone thought possible is Sarah Merker.

In 2013 she started an odyssey – an odyssey of epic scone proportions! She set herself the challenge of sampling a scone from every National Trust property in the UK. To date she has visited 209 properties and even had a book published!

So what does she think about the great debate? I tried to get an answer from her but she just wouldn’t budge. Her view is very much, as long as it’s a well made, fresh scone, it doesn’t matter how you take it – it will be delicious.Β 

Asking the office

I decided to put Sarah’s view to two of the team here at Which?. In the cream first corner we have Kirstie Addis:

I think cream should come first because, firstly, the cream acts like butter – you wouldn’t put the butter on top of your jam!

Secondly, it allows you to pile on both cream and jam without everything sliding off. If you have weighty (clotted) cream and lots of jam underneath, the jam leaks out over the sides making it difficult to eat without getting food everywhere.

If, on the other hand, you have the cream first, the jam is sticky enough to be able to pile it on top.

And for the Jam first corner we have Adam Gillett:

Scones are heavily buttery by themselves so don’t need a spread on top. Most important though, is the relative viscosity of the jam and the cream. Cream is loose compared to jam, so putting it on first risks the jam sliding off.

By spreading the jam on first, it can grip into the coarse surface of the cut scone, and the more easily dollopable cream can then sit on top of it more securely as the surface it would slide against is thicker, giving it better resistance to gravity.

That doesn’t clear it up, so I did an experiment. I made them demonstrate their scone construction skills but then eat each other’s scones. Would this make them change their mind?

Kirstie: Let’s be honest, they are essentially the same. It is the same things on the same thing. But I still prefer cream first.

Adam: Both the textures and flavours are muddled and overly sweet – you just don’t get to enjoy the cream at all. I won’t be changing my mind!

Over to you!

Clearly my little plan didn’t quite settle it either, so I’ll probably just have to accept that this is one issue that will continue to divide the opinion of the British public.

So, what’s your preference? What do you think makes a good scone over all? What’s the best scone you’ve ever had?

Settle the score – cream or jam first?

Scones: cream first or jam first?
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And finally, if you did need some pointers, here are a few tips from a special guest 😊




I like a bit of butter on scones when they are still warm. I don’t make them very often but the secretary of a society always brings scones to enjoy with coffee after our committee meetings.

And mine Abby. Cream and jam in Devon or Cornwall, butter and jam elsewhere. They are easy to make just before needed and the cheese variety go well with cream cheese or savoury dips.

I remember granny producing wonderful food from a kitchen that was tiny for the size of the house. I’m sure there must have been scones.

I wonder if your grannies made scones when they had sour milk to use up?

I do like Adam’s scientific approach featured in your introduction, Abby. His reference to “easily dollopable cream” cream amused me, though it seems that he did not invent the word ‘dollopable’.

I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but I do think it’s important to prove – down to the quantum level – that jam first is correct, not just aesethetically and gustatively but to the extent of a scientific principle.

In the absence (as far as I am aware) of any published scientific studies it’s important to distinguish between highly plausible hypotheses and half-baked ideas.

I’m sure there’s at least a crumb of truth to be found – it’s not purely my own confection. Still, I doubt there’s a crust to be earned in further research – and I have my finger in too many pies to do more than the bread and butter here.

The difference between cream tea in Devonshire and Cornwall comes down to how its served. Both versions serve the same items: tea, scones, jam, and clotted cream. In Devon, the scones are split in two and topped with cream followed by jam. In Cornwall, the split scones are topped with jam and then cream.”i

Devonshire? Devon, surely, or should it be Cornwallshire? I don’t think the trans-atlantics have any right to pontificate on an important English matter such as this. In my experience cream teas generally arrive in components for us to use our diy skills and construct the cream tea of our choice in whatever order we choose – and they forget the butter. The Welsh seem to have it right – “Welsh cream tea
Featured snippet from the web
For the ultimate Welsh afternoon tea experience, head to the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre in Conwy. … Highlights include their Welsh Cakes made using the dairy’s homemade buttermilk, and warm-baked scones served with Bodnant’s handmade salted butter, clotted cream and Pant Glas jam. Divine!”
What is in no doubt is that it should be clotted cream, not a white whipped-up confection.

You ought to contribute the morning jokes, Adam. πŸ™‚


Devonshire, like Dorsetshire and Somersetshire, are original, but now little used, names for the two counties. Using them these days seems a bit pedantic and anachronistic. Although Cornwall is a shire county, I don’t think it was ever called Cornwallshire.

There has been no discussion of the best ‘jam’ to use in a perfect scone. I prefer raspberry conserve but I have not yet tried Marmite so I might have to revise my opinion. I agree that clotted cream is correct.

All ingredients – so far as practical – should be local to the point of service if consumed at a tea shop.

What is the best tea outdoors on a hot and sunny afternoon like today? To some extent it depends on the harness of the water. Locally, it was hailstones.

Hailstone water for tea sounds like another trend in the offing, like iceberg water – @ Β£84.99 (inc vat!) for a 750ml bottle (not a vat).
Here are the notes to discuss over dinner – or would you dare boil it for a cream tea cuppa?

Technically, Devonshire is the correct name as it’s derived from the medieval Latin Devonia β€˜Devonshire’. Devon is simply an abbreviation in common use. Cornwallshire has never existed.

Indeed, i was not making a technical submission about Devonshire nor suggesting Cornwall was….oh, never mind πŸ™‚ We have a Duke of Devonshire – lives in Derbyshire and “ The Devonshire Association is dedicated to the study and exchange of information and ideas on all matters concerning the county of Devon“. According to Wiki, “Devon gets its name from the Dumnonii, a name that the invading Romans gave to the Celtic tribe in that area. … The name Dumnonii means “a person who lives in a deep valley”, and it comes from the hills and valleys of the area. The Roman army stayed in Devon for about 25 years. Their base was in the city of Exeter.”

A link to check out:

wavechange wrote: “You ought to contribute the morning jokes, Adam. πŸ™‚”
Ian wrote: “Hmph.”

I had intended to write: “You ought to contribute TO the morning jokes…”

One short word can make such a difference. Humble apologies, Ian.


Actually, I was in full agreement with you; often some of the add-on comments are funnier than the jokes. It’s astonishing how difficult it is to find three new jokes per day.

Since your jokes are often themed, maybe it would be interesting to find some examples of humour resulting from an unintentional in a sentence.

Getting back to our subject, I wonder if anyone has had a scone in Scone.

More importantly, jam and cream should be on a plain scone not a fruit one. And jam first.

Like Sarah M, I don’t think the oder matters all that much.

I’d say quality and freshness were more important.

A fishcake comes close.

A freshly baked plain scone, cool enough to put butter on, followed by decent strawberry jam, then a large blob of Cornish clotted cream and, if in season, a quartered fresh strawberry on top.

Perhaps you could start a Cream o’Tea cafe with all the various versions on offer (with real tea made from decent leaves in a pot).

Abby – You have failed to identify the ‘special guest’ in the video.

Hi Abby – It’s great to see you back.

On some of the scones I have eaten in my time I wish I had not wasted good cream and conserve. Some were calling for action under the trade descriptions act for being more like rock cakes. I am more concerned to find a decent scone than worry about the order of the toppings. If the scone melts in the mouth then the indulgence is superlative. Home-made, fresh and warm are certainly the best, served on a decorated porcelain plate accessorised with a silver spoon. But then I’ve always been a lumberjack: on Wednesdays I go shopping and have buttered scones for tea.

Trade Descriptions Act, John? I thought it was the Sale of Scones Act that was relevant here.

Don’t denigrate rock cakes :-(. Visit the Torre Abbey cafe in Torquay and sample one of theirs with a pot of tea.

Of course! Silly me.

Game of Scones anyone?

Thanks for that recommendation, Malcolm.

There is something about the name of rock cakes that puts me off buying them. It’s all cupcakes in the teashops around here.

Steer clear of the granite ones.

National Trust also sell jam, as can be seen from the video. When you are a young lad it’s quite in order to feel food as well as taste it.

My shopping treat used to be warm buttered teacakes with honey and cinnamon. Much nicer than scones.

Let’s be honest here shall we?

What you put on first is whatever you like the most . . . .

It’s called the piggy preference.

I think you might be on to something there! I put cream first πŸ™‚

It has just occurred to me that we have not discussed the vital question of whether the clotted cream in the perfect scone should be made from the milk of the Red Ruby Devon cow. Other breeds are also available, including the South Devon. Jerseys and Guernseys are noted for their high cream content and superb rich flavour. I am sure that there will also be advocates of the beautiful Gloucester breed. Can clotted cream be too rich?

[According to the government’s Cattle Tracing Service there are nearly 200 cattle breed classifications in the UK but many of them are for cross breeds and for non-indigenous minority herds.]

I had not thought about getting advice from Roddas, but here is what they say (sorry, breed of supplier not mentioned). https://www.roddas.co.uk/cream-teas/ They omit to mention butter in the scone, which I happen to like. However this Devon site https://www.devonheaven.co.uk/blogs/news/our-guide-to-clotted-cream tells us it is best from Guensey and Jersey cows.

Pancakes? Various fillings from savoury to sweet work well but, on Pancake Day, I only like sugar and fresh lemon juice.

I would agree that Guernsey and Jersey cows milk makes the best clotted cream. Some Devonians might favour the county breeds but the numbers are probably so small that the milk is very expensive; it won’t have the high fat and protein content of the Channel Island breeds either.

Malcolm – do you prefer salted or unsalted butter? English, Irish, New Zealand, Danish or French?

I don’t really have a preference but normally buy M&S British salted butter. Oh, and their own clotted cream when I fancy something with (their) scone, and (their) strawberry conserve.

Have you thought about buying the company? πŸ™‚

I remember when John pulled my leg for mentioning a favourite brand of electric shaver, and that was years ago.

This Conversation asks the question “What makes the perfect scone?” and I am afraid I have to disagree with Malcolm because I don’t think M&S do . . . . at least, not the ones I have tried and tasted from the bakery in the Norwich store. They are incredibly dense, quite salty and make me feel bloated only half way through. Generous dollops of cream and jam, or vice versa, don’t quite compensate.

I am not a great fan of M&S jam either; as with many of their food products, in order to be a little bit more distinctive I feel they tend to over-egg the pudding.

I always go jam as I find it easier to put the cream on top.

Scones? Tea? in August? It’s Afternoon Tea Week from August 10-16, so we’ve brought this conversation back out front.

Let’s put the feline among the Columbidae – is it scon or scown? I prefer the latter since the o is rounded after the e at the end. I have been binging on apple fritters recently but a batch of scones is always a real treat – cheese or sweet. Cream is a luxury, and somewhat high in saturated fats, so that’s for high days and holidays, usually a good preserve is adequate for other teatime indulgences. Where, o where has the bread and butter, ham, pickles, cakes and scones gone to at five o clock? This was a main family meal and supper was just a snack before bedtime. We learned to be polite and to talk to each other and the table cloth was always neatly under the china cups and the teapot. This of, course had a strainer for the leaves and milk in a floral jug. Mother poured for everyone and there was milk or squash available for the little ones. These were the days of eggs at breakfast time and cereal in strange new packets with free plastic figures hidden inside. The fortunate children, that we were, accepting these things and growing up in an exciting new post war world.

Thanks Vynor, I remember teas like that, not least at my gran’s house.

When we have family get together a form of high tea, rather than a β€œdinner”, is a very nice way of both avoiding the chef spending most of their time in the kitchen and also catering for all tastes, particularly if children are present.They usually take place at weekends and a little earlier than dinner time. Salad, quiche, meats, roll mops, hard boiled eggs, scones clotted cream jam and strawberries, cake……… almost any combination of goodies to select from.

Is high tea still a tradition in parts of the UK?

Vynor, you forgot the afters of fresh/tinned/bottled fruit and jelly, trifle or instant whip.πŸ™„ And we always had to have something savoury like cheese, Marmite or meat/fish paste on our first piece of bread and butter/marge before we could tuck into the honey or home-made jam. If I go back home, tea has shifted to 6 o’clock and tea leaves are now tea bags, but the table still has to be laid with a tablecloth and the best china. Instant whip has changed to Angel Delight but their eating habits haven’t changed very much eating dinner and tea whereas we eat lunch and dinner. Judging by the shortages of tinned fruit, jelly and Angel Delight over the past few months, there must be many other folk with similar eating habits.

Scones – pronounced scownes were usually a summer mid-afternoon treat in the garden that I can no longer digest with cream. Scones were always home-made and sometimes the clotted cream would be too and we then had cooled boiled milk on our cereal for days.

I can’t remember the last time I ate a scone, but if I did, it would be topped with butter and blackcurrant jam.

We usually had tinned fruit on a Sunday and this was accompanied by evaporated milk. Occasionally the Nestle variety came in a tin and it was known to dip a secretive thumb in when no one was looking. No one seemed to get poisoned as a result. Blancmange was also available – scarce today, and there was milk jelly and junket which I disliked.

This year, the first time for many years, I have grown alpine strawberry plants (from seed). They are producing red and straw-coloured berries now, about half the size of a raspberry and with quite an intense strawberry flavour. I think they would sit admirably on top of, and enhance, a cream scone. If only I had scones and clotted cream.

We probably rely far too much on bought cakes. I remember my Mum baking scones, a lovely smell when they came out of the oven and delicious with butter when still warm. Be good to promote home cooking, wouldn’t it, rather than being electronically entertained? I wonder just how much use Masterchef is in the home kitchen.

We sometimes find tiny presumably wild strawberries in the garden.

I have tried cooking a few dishes from Aussie Masterchef masterclasses cooked by the professionals who explain each step of the dish. The contestants drool over the results, but unfortunately, my efforts have not produced anything to drool over and have needed considerable tweaking to make them enjoyable. I followed the recipes exactly, replayed the recordings if necessary but came to the conclusion the contestants had to drool whether the dish was good or not.

Bought cakes were a treat when we were kids as they were nearly all home-made, a job I learned at a very early age.

Personally, I prefer a scone cut vertically and with a separate pot of jam and cream at the ready, apply the jam and cream alternatively according to your own preference with each separate piece you cut off. The scone will last much longer and it adds a little scientific enjoyment to the whole scone eating ritual πŸ™‚

Greg Harris says:
7 November 2020

I think you need to go to the Queen to break the tie.

It really depends on the scone, if really fresh and inviting, demands the jam first to scrunch itself between the folds of the scone and topped by the cream. If not too inviting them the cream should go first as it is more liquid and might make the un-inviting scone more inviting, and topped by the jam, so it is eatable.

My favourites are those which I make using wholemeal bread flour and pre-soaked raisins or sultanas. Lovely with just butter spread on them, especially if still warm. Yum yum! No need for jam.

As a Devonian like many others from this part I grew up eating my scones the same way as my mother, grandmother and great grandmother, all true Devon maids. Being a dairy county the old way was butter, jam and then cream, nothing beats its.