The Great British scone debate

On the 6th February 2022, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, ascending to the throne seventy years ago. Her Platinum Jubilee celebrations will not take place until the first two weeks of June, as the Queen does not wish to celebrate her reign on the same day on which her father passed away. I am just about capable of remembering the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and the street parties full of British themed finger foods were one of the highlights as a child. The most quintessential British party snack? A scone. 

Scones are a divisive snack in more than one respect. I feel confident in saying that the majority of the time scones are present, a heated debate is not far behind. The correct pronunciation is contested, and while I personally ascribe to the ‘scon’ (as opposed to ‘sc-own’) approach, I feel less passionate about this debate than an alternative, much more important one. Whether the jam or clotted cream should be applied first. 

Location plays an important part in which side of this debate one finds themselves on. In Devon, the cream, as a dairy substance resembling butter, is spread directly onto the scone. The Devonians believe this makes some intuitive sense. In contrast, the Cornish believe that the jam must be applied first and then the clotted cream, as the jam mutes the flavour of the cream if spread on top. While there is some undeniable logic to the dairy claim, I believe there is a stronger argument that the Devonians can appeal to, provided one is not eating the scones straight out of the oven. The structure of the scone is significantly improved when the Devon approach is adopted: Clotted Cream is a more solid substance, capable of supporting the weight of the jam on top of it. In comparison, the jam is less stable of a base, finding itself pushed out the sides of the scone if too much clotted cream is spread on top. Nigella Lawson agrees with this argument, stating that as clotted cream is heavier, a cream-first approach avoids the dragging of the jam when spreading. This is a particular concern if, like me, you enjoy a hefty scoop of both jam and cream on your scones.

However, both approaches can suffer if the scone is too hot when these toppings are spread. The cream may melt and ruin the structure, and the jam will be more likely to slip out the scone if it finds its consistently changed by the heat. Thankfully, scones at street parties are usually closer to room temperature than the ones we may bake and eat for ourselves. Geography plays a further, national role in individual’s scone preferences. Wales Online found that four out of five people from the North prefer their scones jam-first, whereas it is a closer call in the South with “one third of people opt to layer cream before their jam”. I will proudly admit to being one of these Southerners. Wales Online further attempt to settle the debate, reporting the results of a survey of 2000 people, 76% of which preferred the jam-first approach. I must admit I thought the contest would have a closer outcome, and I am stubbornly choosing to believe that this result is simply due to the use of a biased sample. 

Unfortunately, I think my hopes for a cream-first jubilee celebration are unlikely to manifest. A former chef who worked for the Royal Family, Darren McGrady, tweeted that The Queen always has her scones jam-first, and chooses to have them made this way for all royal tea parties. 

Thankfully, scones are an incredibly delicious, simple and easy bake. A standard recipe I refer to when making my own scones comes from Jane Hornby on BBC Good Food


  • 350g Self Raising Flour 
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 85g cubed Butter 
  • 3 tbsp Caster Sugar
  • 175ml Milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 beaten egg, for glazing
  • jam and clotted cream, to serve


  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200 fan. 
  2. Add the self raising flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and stir to mix.
  3. Add the butter, cut into small cubes, and rub into the mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  4. Stir in the caster sugar.
  5. Pour the milk into a jug and microwave until warm, but not hot. Add the vanilla extract and if you wish, then a squeeze of lemon juice. Set Aside.
  6. Line a baking paper with greaseproof parchment and put in the oven. 
  7. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ones. Combine quickly using a cutlery knife. If the dough looks quite wet at first, this is normal. It will become drier when tipped out the bowl. 
  8. Spread some flour out onto your work surface and onto your hands, then tip the dough out. Fold the dough over a few times until it is a little drier.
  9. Pat the dough into a round that is about 4cm thick. Take a 5cm cutter (smooth edged will lead to a better shape and rise but is not necessary) and dip into some flour before cutting out four scones. Then pat the remaining dough together again to get another four. 
  10. Arrange the scones onto the hot baking tray and brush the tops with the beaten egg. Bake for ten minutes until risen and golden on the top. 
  11. I recommend waiting a little while after the scones leave the oven before serving, to avoid the aforementioned melting issue. Then serve however you like, jam-first or cream-first! 


Featured Image: Yasuhiro Chatani on Flickr with License

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