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Origin of the Word “Scones”

I love scones. Read almost every blog on this site, can you not tell? They are my favorite part about afternoon tea, and also the part I’m harshest on. But when I think about the power of an amazing scone to make you feel comforted and content with life, I accept my scone obsession and invite everyone to join me.

But how did the name come around? Scone sounds like kind of a funny word, and like many funny words there are debates on its origin and even on how to pronounce it. Does it rhyme with gone as in “skahn” or like own as in “scoan”? Will we ever agree on the pronunciation? Probably not, but it’s interesting to learn that the word for this common British delight may not even be British in origin!

Here are the leading theories on the base of the word scone:

1. The Scottish claim that scones were named after a stone that Scottish kings sat upon once they were crowned. This stone is called the Stone of Destiny, but apparently the word stone was once scone and the Scots confused a rock with a pastry. Maybe back then they overbaked their scones. This is why I say 8 minutes my dear Scots!

Stone of Destiny

Stone of Destiny

2. A derivation of the Gaelic word “sgonn”, which would make the pronunciation of scone rhyme with gone. Sgonn means a shapeless mass or large mouthful. Obviously the Gaelic didn’t have 5 cm scone cutters.

A cut in half shapeless mass or mouthful

A cut in half shapeless mass or mouthful

3. One of the two claims that the Oxford English Dictionary supports is that of the Dutch “schoonbrut”, meaning fine white bread. The first scones were made mostly of oat though, so I wonder why the OED thinks this claim is so likely.

I would call this a fine, white bread

I would call this a fine, white bread

4. The second OED supported theory is that the origin is the German word “sconbrut”, in English meaning a fine, beautiful bread. At least the OED acknowledges that the German sconbrut is so obviously related to the Dutch schoonbrut as to make them nearly identical that supporting these two theories is more like supporting only one.

A fine, beautiful bread with chocolate, almonds, and dried cherries?

A fine, beautiful bread with chocolate, almonds, and dried cherries?

So which answer is the truth? Which root word gave rise to our favorite risen pastry for afternoon tea? We may never really know…and yes insert ominous tone of voice right there for some fun.

True Clotted Cream

I rant quite a lot on this site about tearooms labeling stiffened whipped cream as clotted cream. So I figured I’d better explain what I am looking for when I review something named clotted cream.

th-3Clotted cream is associated primarily with the south-west regions of England; these counties are the origin of the names Cornish Clotted Cream and Devonshire cream (after County Cornwall and County Devon). Though a lot of people use the names interchangeably, they are not technically the same because one has to be produced in Cornwall using Jersey cows and the other has to be produced in Devon using…Devonshire cows? Both are the thick, creamy, almost butterlike spread that wonderfully top a scone. Typically it has 55% milk fat, hence your ability to stick a knife in it and the knife to stand straight up. This stuff is thick!

True clotted cream at a tearoom!

True clotted cream at a tearoom!

Clotted cream is made by indirectly heating full fat cow’s milk (the Cornish say that the Jersey cows produce the creamiest milk and that is what sets Cornish Clotted Cream apart from the rest) using a water bath or steam. Then the heated cream is left in shallow pans to cool slowly; as it cools the cream clots at the top. This literally clotted cream is finally skimmed off the top of the pan and onto the top of scones everywhere.

Photo credit www.thecupcakeproject.com

Photo credit www.thecupcakeproject.com

This ambrosial substance is difficult to find in the US for affordable prices. I always have a jar at my parents’ house for scone taste testing, but it is definitely an indulgence. Most tea houses in the US don’t consider it cost-effective to serve real clotted cream–neither the stuff from Cornwall nor Devon–so they serve mock-clotted cream which is usually just a stiffened and sweetened whipped cream blend and call it Devonshire cream. To be fair to these tearooms and hotels serving scones and afternoon tea, most Americans have never experienced the glories of true clotted cream and so they won’t notice a difference. But once they have, get ready for an onslaught of clotted-cream-addict emails and complaints because there really is no comparison.

Clotted cream imported from England is sold in jars at some specialty grocers or British stores. Seek it out, I promise it is worth the investment.

Review: Ye Olde Kings Head

Hidden behind the pub is a tearoom

Hidden behind the pub is a tearoom

I always knew about this British pub on a main street in Santa Monica. When I was moving to England, my mom and I ate there a few times to get me used to British cuisine (ironically while I was in England I rarely ate at pubs so it was all for nothing) and I always popped in to the attached shop to survey the British groceries and trinkets. But it was only recently that I discovered that this pub also had a tearoom, and was housing a secret that nearly made me weep for joy.

 

First Impressions and Service

Afternoon tea menu

Afternoon tea menu

The tearoom is hidden behind the main restaurant and the attached pub/bar. I imagine that it would be quite amusing to be enjoying afternoon tea during a rugby match or other high stakes sport, since your teatime would be punctuated with drunken brawls. As for service, maybe it was the day of the week (a weekday) or maybe they just brought British restaurant service to the States (notoriously slow), but it took a very long time to receive anything. We were sitting there for 10 minutes before our tea order was taken, then after ordering it took another 20 minutes or more for the stand to arrive. The waitress was nice and checked up on us a few times, but we definitely felt neglected. The rest of the restaurant wasn’t busy either so there really was no reason to abandon their two tea girls.

 

Décor

IMG_0493Think the quintessential British pub with white tablecloths. The walls are dark wood paneling surrounding red paint, and each little section has a portrait of a famous British king—including my favorite Henry VIII so the décor gained major points with me. Everything is wonderfully authentically British.

I am a Henry VIII fanatic!

I am a Henry VIII fanatic!

The china all matches and was imported from Stoke-on-Trent. The food came with a little Union Jack stuck in the middle. The whole place is small, slightly dark, and very old-fashioned feeling, so basically like a true British pub outfitted into a tearoom. I couldn’t tell you how cramped you would feel or how loud it would be if the place were full; we were the only customers the entire afternoon.

 

Tea Selection

The tea selection is not extensive, only five teas and really only four since the fifth is a decaf version of one of the others. They are pretty much exactly what you would get if you ordered tea in a general British restaurant and not somewhere that specialized in tea: English Breakfast, Decaf English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Green Tea.

China from Stoke-on-Trent

China from Stoke-on-Trent

Most people in England drink one of these four, so it isn’t surprising that Ye Olde Kings Head wouldn’t specialize in an extensive tea menu. But in truth, you are coming here for the British ambiance and experience and not a high quality tea. All the teas are brewed loose leaf, but the tea leaves are left in the pot so the tea gets bitter.

Pour over a strainer

Pour over a strainer

You pour it into your cup over a strainer to catch any extra leaves. Thankfully hot water was brought midway through so the tea was warmed back up and lightened to slightly remove the bitterness. We both went with Earl Grey, and can really say nothing other than it was a standard expected Earl Grey. I really don’t think any Earl Grey is going to seem special after Buckingham Palace Garden Party.

 

Food

We shared the Afternoon Tea for Two service, which is basically a high tea as it comes with meats and quiche in addition to the typical sandwiches, scones, and desserts. All of their afternoon tea options that have sandwiches also have the sausage and quiche, so unless you order simple cream tea, be ready for a heartier meal than normal.

Sandwiches

Savory Course

Savory Course

Unfortunately for me, most of the sandwiches contained mayonnaise so I ended up not being able to eat them. The British obsession with adding mayonnaise to everything was a struggle while I was living there, but it also seems to be a trauma I blocked out of my memory as I definitely was not prepared to taste mayonnaise with my salmon. And all the sandwiches were triple decker, supplying more surface area for mayonnaise.

The egg salad with watercress on white bread and the salmon and cucumber both had mayo and the mayo was a very prevalent, overwhelming taste. You can try those and let me know how you like them. Enjoy mine as well.

The turkey, cream cheese, and cranberry on white bread was the first sandwich out of most tea rooms where the meat was so pureed or so thin that you couldn’t taste it. Here you are able to identify the meat as turkey because there is a real slice!

The final sandwich was an herbed cream cheese (possibly thyme?) and walnuts on wheat bread. It was pretty bland like most of the other sandwiches and savory offerings.

The sausage was made with beef and pork and surrounded in a pastry. As it was beef, I opted against trying it, but Mom did and said it was okay but needed some mustard. And American mustard at that because I’m warning you now, British mustard has a lot of horseradish in it. Definitely will clear your sinuses before you expect it. The quiche had a strong pepper flavor in the pastry; you can actually see the pepper flakes. The eggs inside are bland and don’t hold up to the overly hearty pastry. Unfortunately, their sandwich and savory course here falls into the stereotypical bland British food.

Scones

Scones!!!!

Scones!!!!

Here is the moment you have all been waiting for with bated breath; the scones almost made me cry. These were AUTHENTIC British scones, from texture, to taste, to toppings, to size. They were tender and only slightly crumbly. The predominant flavor is the butter not the sugar as in so many American scones. The mix-ins were golden raisins and sultanas! Literally I was brought back to my happy days in England, when my mom would visit me and we would have cream tea throughout the country in every town we visited.

And then there was the clotted cream.

CLOTTED CREAM!!! This stuff is the real deal.

CLOTTED CREAM!!! This stuff is the real deal.

Real, authentic, magically creamy clotted cream from Devon, England. I can’t even begin to describe to you the taste and mouthfeel experience of a bite of scone with true clotted cream and strawberry jam. Transcendent may be adequate? Heavenly? Pure? Comforting? Every positive adjective you can possibly think of can describe some aspect of this singular bite.  Who cares about the bland sandwiches? Who cares about the overbrewed tea? Everything melts away with this scone.

Desserts

2 eclairs, a chocolate petit four, and a vanilla petit four

2 eclairs, a chocolate petit four, and a vanilla petit four

Only two desserts per person are served (which is totally okay considering for the first time ever Mom and I each ate an entire scone instead of sharing one and bringing leftovers). The chocolate éclair was surprisingly good. The choux was nice and chewy and the vanilla cream light and sweet. The chocolate glaze and powdered sugar were not overpowering either. It was a solid éclair and in the correct portion size (here’s looking at you The Andersens).

A cream ball?

A cream ball?

The petit four was a simple sponge cake with a ball of cream on top of it covered in a sugar frosting. The cake was dense and the cream was pointless and the frosting was pure sugar. The chocolate one was mildly better, but in general the petit fours should go the same way as the sandwiches.

 

Extras

Ye Olde Kings Head ShopAttached to the entire restaurant building is a British store and bakery that sells anything British. Everything is imported from the UK and almost, almost, feels like walking into a mini Tesco, but more based in knickknacks and candy bars. The bakery sells their scones—we now have 11 in our freezer—and other British baked goods such as Eccles cakes, flapjacks, and tiffins. If you’ve been to England, the bakery case is like a peek into memory lane. They also sell clotted cream, real clotted cream, so stock up while you’re here! There is also an adorable selection of British teacups and teapots that are really difficult to resist.

 

Beauties

Beauties

The tea service is by far not the best as a whole, but I will be returning here for one reason alone: the scones. Don’t waste your money on the full shebang of high tea at Ye Olde Kings Head. Come for the scones, stay for the scones, and leave with scones and clotted cream in your bag as well as your belly.

 

Visit Ye Olde Kings Head at 116 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA, 90401. (310) 451-1402. Cost per person for afternoon tea: $17.98.

 

Recipe: Butter-Me-Up Scones

Sometimes plain and simple is just what the doctor ordered. Though I doubt any doctor would encourage consuming massive quantities of these buttery goodness morsels, therapists definitely would. What could be a better mood elevator than one of these crunchy, fluffy, creamy, butter scones topped with a sweet red fruit preserve and thick clotted cream?

Answer: Nothing. Duh.

Most scones I make have heavy whipping cream as their liquid base, but these scones use butter and sour cream to give them that slightly salty tang that sets them apart. Their tops get a little brown and crunchy (which can be enhanced with an optional egg wash that I chose to forego) and just beg for a topping. They may be simple, but I prefer to call them classic. They rise quite a bit, like a solid scone should, and have a pretty amazingly light crumb interior.

These are great scones to taste test jams and curds on because their flavor is not overwhelming but rather complementary to anything you put on it. The slight amount of salt will really enhance any spread’s sweetness, all the more reason to try some lemon curd on these wonders!

Butter-Me-Up Scones

Butter-Me-Up Scones

Butter-Me-Up Crunchy Butter Scones

Ingredients

  • 200 g all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 70 g unsalted butter, softened and cubed
  • 50 g ultrafine baking sugar
  • 50 g sour cream
  • 70-90 mL whole milk

Preheat oven to 220°C (450°F). Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs in texture (this may take awhile). Add in sugar and sour cream, then the milk–enough to form a dough. Knead until almost smooth.
Place on a floured surface and pat down to desired thickness (1 cm). Use a biscuit cutter to cut out scones of desired width (5 cm). Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Bake for about 8 minutes, until browned on the edges.
Serve with strawberry jam or lemon curd. Or eat plain 😉

The Levels of Tea Service

Afternoon tea has become the catch-all term for any type of tea service. Linguists will say that technically afternoon tea is just any cup of tea you drink after 12:00 pm, but where’s the fun in that stuffy answer?

When you visit a tearoom, there are usually three “levels” of tea service available. The tea drink itself is always a feature; the levels refer to the nibbles served alongside your hot beverage. You can order a cream tea, an afternoon tea, or a high tea. Each one has a different amount and style of sweets or savories, and for authenticity, make sure you know what to expect when you order which one of the three.

Cream Tea

This is considered the lowest tier (no pun intended) of tea service, consisting only of scones, cream, and jam or other spreads…hence the name “cream tea”.  It’s the perfect little repast from the hustle and bustle of the work day. A cream tea is substantial enough to curb your midday hunger, but not so filling that you’ll spoil your dinner.

Cream tea service at Blenheim Palace, Oxford, England

Cream tea service at Blenheim Palace, Oxford, England

One of my favorite things to do while I lived in England was to visit a tearoom in every city, town, or village I visited and partake in a cream tea.

Afternoon Tea

Ah, the umbrella term Americans use to describe all three levels of tea service. Afternoon tea–the true, traditional afternoon tea service–consists of finger sandwiches or light savories, scones and cream/jam/curd/etc, and small treats or cakes. This is the service that most American tearooms and hotels offer to guests. Because there is just a higher quantity of food and there is the finger sandwich course, afternoon tea can replace a full meal (I usually schedule mine as a late lunch) or tide you over until a really late dinner.

Afternoon tea at the Cavendish London Hotel

Afternoon tea at the Cavendish London Hotel

A typical variation of afternoon tea is the celebration or champagne tea. It’s exactly what it sounds like: afternoon tea served with a glass of champagne in addition to your tea beverage. A great excuse to drink before 5:00 pm!

High Tea

High tea is definitely a full meal. Traditionally served at the end of a working class day, high tea has more substantial food such as meat pies, vegetables, quiche, and heavy baked goods possible in addition to the scone and dessert courses. But nowadays high tea is more of a multi-course afternoon tea with the addition of heavier foods rather than the family meal it used to be. What used to be exclusive to the working class of Britain has been taken over and changed into a more elite social gathering. High tea was not meant to be a dainty, china plated affair; it was the meal served to replenish after a long hard day of manual labor.

High tea service

High tea service

So whatever your level of hunger, sophistication, or craving for sweets, there is a tea meal service for you. Just make sure you order the right service for your appetite’s size!

Review: High Tea Cottage

IMG_0448A back alley side street is the last place I’d think to look for a tearoom, but there one is in the heart of Thousand Oaks. Tiny, unobtrusive, and impossible to find unless you know exactly where you are going, this is not a tearoom you find by being a walk-in customer. High Tea Cottage is a tearoom find for the tea connoisseur, or at least the Yelp! tearoom stalker.

 High Tea Cottage

First Impressions and Service

High Tea Cottage is run by a British couple and is available only through reservations. I had to call multiple days before we could get in to try the place, but when we arrived there were plenty of empty tables and they sat us early. But since the husband is the only one managing the tea side of the menu and the wife takes care of all the food and additional service, they definitely could not handle a high volume of guests. I believe in addition to the wife, there is one chef in the kitchen who used to run the restaurant at The Peninsula.

The Devonshire Cream and Jam cart

The Devonshire Cream and Jam cart

I was excited that the owners were from England, as I am obsessed with England and really miss the country, so I usually relish the opportunity to talk to British people, but the husband made us both feel rather awkward and unwelcome, not the sort of person I’m going to enter into conversation with. His wife, on the other hand, was lovely and we spoke for quite some time after our meal. Whereas anything related to the tea side we felt downright nervous to speak, with the food/merchandise transactions handled by the wife we felt like we were welcomed into someone’s home. But if I had to pluck up the courage to ask half of the service team for a simple fork (literally was afraid of the husband’s facial expression should I ask for an extra utensil), there is a bit of a problem. Again, though, the wife was a pleasure to interact with and I’m looking forward to future conversations with her.

 

Décor

The Sitting Room

The Sitting Room

The two rooms we could see, the “parlors,” were decorated like someone’s home. Nothing was over the top and gaudy, just simple, elegant, and what I would expect from a parlor in a typical British household. Some pink but not so much that you feel like you are in a dollhouse, white cabinets and shelves with assorted tea kettles and knickknacks, numerous small tables spaced well enough apart. There was one really cute table with two armchairs facing a window that seemed like it would be the most pleasant seat in the restaurant, also the one that would make you feel most like you were in a sitting room.

Matching china!

Matching china!

The china all matched, which is a departure from most tearooms. The obsessive-compulsive side of me was well satisfied.

 

Tea Selection

Yet another tearoom with an overwhelming selection, and many of them sounded delicious. To help with your selection, the husband brings over a tea cart with small jars of all the teas for you to smell and choose.

Tea cart, a brilliant idea with a chilly reception

Tea cart, a brilliant idea with a chilly reception

But he warns you rather strongly that after smelling sevenish teas there is no more point to smelling them since your nose won’t differentiate anymore. I was paranoid of smelling too many teas after that. We started with the usual Earl Grey selection and smelled all four of their Earl Greys before settling on the best tea I’ve ever had: Buckingham Palace Garden Party. A lighter black tea, Buckingham Palace Garden Party is an Earl Grey with a hint of Jasmine and cornflower. We bought some to take home and have been enjoying it daily ever since.

Our second tea choice was a vanilla chai, definitely not a stellar choice. I was rudely instructed not to add milk to my tea as that would eliminate the chai flavor. Sorry, but I like a small splash of milk in my chai, though I chose to forgo that rather than get scolded.  In the end I wish I’d stuck with Mom’s Buckingham tea.

 

So this is a tea cozy

So this is a tea cozy

The tea was left in the pot to overbrew, like almost every place it seems like, but at least the tea was kept warm throughout our meal because they wrapped the teapots in flowery tea cozies. And now I know what a tea cozy is, hereby enhancing my Harry Potter references (insert images of Dobby the House Elf dancing naked wearing a tea cozy, I dare you).

 

Food

High Tea Cottage offers a wide selection of set afternoon tea service menus designed around regions that partake in the afternoon tea tradition. There is an American, French, British, Traditional, and Australian tea service each with their own assorted selections as well as smaller options and a choose-your-own course menu. We opted for the Traditional Service (finger sandwiches, two scones with spreads, desserts, tea) and split it for an extra charge. The extra charge gets you an extra set of finger sandwiches, but the additional pot of tea is separate.

Sandwiches

With no choice as to sandwich selection (though I believe if you are vegetarian they won’t serve you the ham or chicken sandwich), what you are served is what you eat, luckily it wasn’t always a bad thing.

 

Cucumber and butter, chicken salad, egg salad, ham and butter, apricot chutney

Cucumber and butter, chicken salad, egg salad, ham and butter, apricot chutney

The requisite egg (curried egg here) on half white half wheat bread had mayo. I know it’s standard for egg salad, but I still won’t touch it. Mom said it was nothing special, just tasted like curry powder.

Their chicken sandwich was a cranberry walnut chicken salad (mayonnaise and all) on wheat bread that was actually pleasant. Cranberries, nuts, and chicken is a fairly mild combination of flavors that I doubt anyone without a nut allergy can object to. A standard tea sandwich, and it was done nicely here.

Ham and butter as well as cucumber and butter (cucumber with butter as opposed to cream cheese is a very British swap) were both on white bread and nothing to write home about. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to stand out either. The cucumbers were fresh thin slices instead of the marinated cucumbers we’ve been seeing lately.

For me, the stand out finger sandwich was the apricot chutney, swiss, and butter on half white half wheat bread. It was a pleasant change of sandwich flavors and the tang of the apricot chutney blended nicely with the slight sourness of the swiss and the creaminess of the butter. I wish there had been another one of these instead of the egg, but again that’s based on my egg/mayonnaise phobias.

Scones

Raisin scones

Raisin scones

The two raisin scones tasted like a revelation compared to the cookie/pound cake scones we’ve been tasting. These scones tasted like…scones! A novel concept in the tearooms of America it would seem, but the sweetness in these reasonable sized scones came solely from the raisins and not an excess of sugar being added to the dough. Mom doesn’t like raisins, but we both agreed that these scones have been the best thusfar. Again, they were not too sweet, but even better was the texture. There was a slightly dense, tender crumb, with the scone holding together nicely for topping with cream and jam. They didn’t puff up at all, which is a characteristic I usually associate with British scones, but I’ll overlook that for the flavor.

 

Devonshire Cream, Homemade Lemon Curd, Homemade Blackberry Jam

Devonshire Cream, Homemade Lemon Curd, Homemade Blackberry Jam

Devonshire cream was automatic, but we were given the option of two from lemon curd, blackberry jam, raspberry jam, and apricot jam. We chose blackberry jam and lemon curd, and both were excellent choices. The cream was more of the correct consistency instead of the sweetened whipped cream that passes for Devon cream elsewhere. It also wasn’t overly sweet, sugar being something the British don’t seem to require in the same quantities that Americans do. The lemon curd was a subtle balance between sweet and tart, and the jam tasted like the fruit it was made from. The combination of scone, cream, and jam/curd was perfection.

Desserts

Assorted homemade and imported desserts

Assorted homemade and imported desserts

Here was where I was afraid to ask for a second fork. It should’ve made sense to bring an extra dessert utensil knowing we were sharing the service, but apparently not. The first two desserts were from Switzerland: two mini tarts. Both tart shells tasted like nothing more than saltine crackers and butter, and when I say mini I mean mini. One bite mini. One was “filled” with a thimble of caramel and topped with cream and a blueberry; the other was “filled” with strawberry jam, cream, and topped with a strawberry and chocolate leaf. They were too small to even be of notice.

Now, I am a cream-puff girl. I know it sounds odd after my ranting about the Napoleon at The Andersen’s, but a well-done bite-sized cream puff is a pleasure in my book. Mom isn’t a fan of cream puffs, so I was more than willing to take the entire brunt of the taste testing on this dessert. And it turns out, I wouldn’t have wanted to share anyway. It may have been the best cream puff I’ve ever had. Soft and chewy choux pastry with a lightly sweetened vanilla cream rolled in powdered sugar. The only improvement would’ve been if it had been chilled, but I’m weird in that I’ll eat frozen cream puffs.

The best dessert was a slice of chocolate cake that was lighter than air. Midway through the slice was a layer of the most delicate raspberry vanilla mousse.  One slice of that cake was definitely not enough, though with how excellent it was I doubt that an entire cake of it would be enough.

 

Extras

High Tea Cottage extrasAll of their teas are sold loose-leaf in the entrance to the tearoom, as well as an assortment of china teapots and teacups with beautiful floral designs. I believe all the china is imported from England, but I know for a fact that some of them are. If you ask, you can also buy scones to take home with you, and as they had just finished baking a batch of pomegranate scones, we snatched those right up out of the oven for car ride enjoyment. A few days later, I discovered that the pomegranate scones are even better than the raisin.

 

If you can tolerate the chilly reception from the husband and the hushed noise level, High Tea Cottage is a gem. It’s authentic British with a menu that will keep you coping back to try the other country-inspired tea menus. The tea selection is fantastic, but I know I will always choose the Buckingham Palace Gardens. I’ll be back here to review the other tea menus for sure, and I definitely won’t leave without a chat with the wife and a couple of scones to go.

 

Visit High Tea Cottage at 21938 Constanso Street, Woodland Hills, CA, 91362; (818) 887-2117. Cost per afternoon tea service: $22.00 for Traditional Tea Time for one with $10.00 split fee. Reservations required, closed Tuesday.

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