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This just in! Important research from mathematicians at the university of Sheffield (in particular, category theorist Eugenia Cheng) has determined the correct proportions of jam and cream to use when creating a jam and cream scone. As the Aperiodical’s cake correspondent, my duty is to report these significant results. Highly scientific findings include:

  • Clotted cream is superior to whipped cream, since the recommended ratios of scone:jam:cream are 2:1:1 by weight, and since whipped cream is less dense, you need more of it to get the same weight, resulting in structural instability.
  • There should be a 5mm rim around the edge of the scone free of jam, and then a 5mm rim of jam which is free of cream; this is so the construction is more stable, as the diameter reduces with height (although it does cause issues when your scone has diameter 2cm, as Jacob Aaron points out on Twitter, in which case you need a 0mm diameter column of cream, infinitely tall).
  • The height of the cream should not exceed the height of the scone (this directly excludes the case above, although let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see that?). The height of the average human mouth in a relaxed state is given as 2.8cm, so the total scone should not exceed this, for health and safety reasons.

Other findings related to this work have included the fact that if a clotted cream company asks a mathematician to write up the results of a weekend’s scone-baking and cream-clotting in the form of a paper with equations, somehow the Daily Mail will write it up and falsely claim that the research was “commissioned” by said clotted cream company, when in fact no money (or even clotted cream) changed hands, and the company just asked nicely. Oh and also, according to the Daily Mail, the “boffins’ baffling maths” includes a “statistical formula”. I’m not seeing any statistics in there, but you know what category theory is like.

The research has also sparked off a brief row in the comments section of the aforementioned Daily Mail article, since it’s the opinion of roughly half of people that the cream should be below the jam in relation to the scone, and clearly everyone who disagrees is wrong. This is, presumably, assuming you don’t just eat the whole delicious mess too fast to even notice. Thankfully, the discussion hasn’t yet turned to pronunciation of the word ‘scone’, presumably since that’s recently been cleared up.

The nice thing about this is, the equations are all pretty sensible, and the work has clearly been done by someone who was enjoying applying maths to a fun situation. It’s a shame the same doesn’t apply to “research” done by people who are getting paid to produce the ‘perfect formula’ for a transparent PR press release.

Further Reading

On the perfect quantity of cream for a scone, by Dr Eugenia Cheng. (PDF)

“Mathematician’s formula that adds up to a perfect cream tea”, at the Daily Mail.

Tweets from Dr Cheng clarifying the work was done without payment, and that she was merely asked to come up with equations.

Images from Dr Cheng’s twitter feed: a convergent sequence of scones, and live cream-clotting taking place.



4 Responses to “Cream(t)”

  1. Colin Beveridge Colin Beveridge

    My first reaction was ‘oh God, here we go again,” but it’s a pretty decent mathematical joke.

    Also notable, the paper explaining the work was available before the articles in the national press. Are you watching, Weinstein and du Sautoy? That’s the way things are done.


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