Everybody loves a good cream tea – but is there a secret to its centrepiece, the perfect cream scone? Martin Fone, author of 'Fifty Curious Questions', investigates.

I must confess I am partial to a Devon cream tea, the highlight of which, of course, is the cream scone.

But there are so many dilemmas associated with this treat. How do you pronounce scone? Is it scone, as in own, or scone, as in on? My preference is for scone as in own. How much cream and how much jam should you put on the scone? Should you use only clotted cream? Should you put the jam on first and then the cream or the other way round? How do you keep them from crumbling into pieces when you take the first mouthful?

Relax, dear reader, because help is at hand thanks to some research carried out by Dr Eugenia Cheng, a mathematician at the University of Sheffield. Her research broke the cream tea down into three key elements; scones, cream, and jam. The key to a perfect scone is to follow the weight ratio of 2:1:1 – in other words, a 70 gram scone needs 35 grams of jam and 35 grams of cream.

clotted cream recipes

Cheng’s research – unsurprisingly, as it was sponsored by Rodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream – concludes that clotted cream is better than whipped cream. This is because more whipped cream is required to cover the same area than clotted cream.

The ideal thickness of the scone should be 2.8 centimetres to allow it to fit into the mouth easily, and the jam should be put on first before the cream. Putting the cream on first causes the jam to run off the scone, causing an unholy mess.

The key to successful construction of the perfect scone is to ensure that the cream is the same thickness as the scone, otherwise the cream will topple off, and you need to ensure that there is a rim of five millimetres between the scone and the jam and a further rim of five millimetres between the jam and the cream. Compliance with these instructions will ensure that you have the perfect scone, which will neither collapse nor drip.

Frustratingly, Cheng does not address the question of how the word scone should be pronounced.

The pursuit of perfection is all well and good, but some naysayers opine that one of the joys of eating a cream scone is the mess you get into. I suppose it is, as is often the case, a question of paying your money and taking your choice.

But at least we now know!

Martin Fone is author of ‘Fifty Curious Questions’, from which this piece is an excerpt – find out more about his book or you can order a copy via Amazon.