Category Archives: Ingredients

Resources for your tea making, selection and enjoyment

Caroline Hope shares her tea sources

This is a list of resources that I normally share with anyone who comes along to any of my tea workshops, tastings, courses or demonstrations. You may find them helpful in your tea journey:

Places to buy good quality tea:

Screenshot 2015-11-23 14.23.53Probably the most well known tea merchant in London, Fortnum and Mason  have an excellent selection of high quality teas from a Puerh block of tea costing £3,000 down to the humble breakfast blend. All taste is catered for here. There is excellent advice from the staff about brewing techniques for each tea that is practical and not too faddy. They are happy to show you the different high grade leaves before you buy. I would recommend them for the special teas more than the every day ones.

Mariage Freres at SelfridgesMariage Freres at Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, London). This French company now have a concession in the basement in Selfridges. I found the tea buying experience quite different as all the staff are French and have very clear views on how all the teas should be brewed i.e. using water heated to 95 degrees for all their black teas which I found quite surprising. It is worth remembering that each nation has a different palate and how they enjoy their tea though. I did buy some excellent first flush Darjeeling here and again there is an opportunity to see and smell the leaves before you buy.

Newby Teas LondonNewby Teas (offices located at 105 St John Street, London EC1M 4AS;  Telephone 020 7251 8989). I worked for this company for some time and my appreciation of tea really came about during my time here. Excellent quality tea and very importantly the packaging of the tea is treated with equal respect. All their loose leaf tea is supplied in vacuum packed foil bags so it does not really age. It is possible to buy their loose leaf teas by mail order. A small selection of high quality loose leaf silken pyramid bags can be found in Waitrose. Really excellent superior ‘every day’ Darjeeling (first and second flush blend), and similar quality Assam, English Breakfast and Earl Grey. Excellent website for purchasing tea.

Postcard TeasPostcard Teas located  on Dering Street, (off Bond Street) London W1S 1AG (Tel: 020 7629 3654). Owned by an English husband and Japanese wife team, the focus in the shop is on very high quality delicate teas, early season Darjeelings, Chinese and Japanese teas. This shop has a far more oriental feel.

Rare Tea Company
The Rare Tea Company (tel: 020 7681 0115) have a small selection of very fine, mainly Chinese teas. Sold mainly by mail order and top end supermarkets. Henrietta Lovell owns the company – she calls herself the Tea Lady.

 

Canton Tea CompanyCanton Tea Company (tel: 0844 4176363) – another company specialising in high quality rare teas – many from China and Japan.

 

Twinings tea Twinings (on 216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP) is the most ‘English’ of tea companies, their history can be recorded back to the early 18th century. They have a tiny little shop just off the Strand with a large selection of teas that are of a far higher quality than those found on the standard supermarket shelf. The quality varies from a selection of top end teas to a wide range of cheaper teabags – the shop is charming and has many teas to choose from.

Algerian Coffee ShopThe Algerian Coffee Store (address: 52 Old Compton St, London, W1D 4PB, tel: 020 7437 2480). This company has been strongly recommended to me by a student on a tea tasting course I gave at City Lit. It is always worth remembering that Coffee Houses traditionally sold tea along with a variety of other products including tea – however always known as coffee houses.

Remember you can also follow me

I have a Facebook Page and am on Twitter – so please do join me there and ask me any questions you may have. I blog about all sorts of subjects related to baking, preparing and hosting an Afternoon Tea as well as preparing the perfect cup of tea  – so make sure you subscribe to get my new posts in your inbox.

Resources for your baking

I share my top sources
This is a list of resources that I normally share with anyone who comes along to any of my baking courses, workshops or demonstrations. You may find them helpful in your baking journey:

Ingredients and equipment:

Bien Manger french gourmet food and gifts

Bien Manger: a French website that sells lots of colourings and flavourings plus pistachio ‘flour’ (pre-ground pistachios – very expensive). Also try Atelier de Chef in Wigmore Street. 

Screenshot 2015-11-19 11.27.06Lakeland: Great equipment for the domestic kitchen and the only people who seem to sell textured piping bags that have such a good grip. They also sell microplane zesters and large rolls of siliconised baking paper.

DivertimentiDivertimenti: I got my blossom silicone heat distribution mats from them.

Little PodLittle Pod: Vanilla Paste – either buy direct from Little Pod – you can’t beat high quality vanilla. 100ml tube of paste costs £ 10.50 and lasts for about six months to a year with frequent use. Also available in Fortnum and Mason and WholeFoods.

The Spice Shop

The Spice Shop in Blenheim Crescent: they sell dried beetroot powder if you want to use a natural pink colouring.


Cake Craft worldCake Craft World – For boxes in which you can put your macarons or cakes AND Gel Food Colours – I recommend using SUGARFLAIR Gel EXTRA colour to prevent any browning – also excellent for Red Velvet Cake.

Cherry Tree PreservesThe Cherry Tree– excellent ‘home-made’ Curds and Preserves. I found the Passion Fruit a little runny (but fabulous taste). They make a Ginger Preserve and also a nice ‘solid’ Lemon Curd. 

If you have any further baking questions please do not hesitate to ask.  

Cake Decorating Company

The Cake Decoration Co. – infusions/colourings, everything for sugarcraft.

Screenshot 2015-11-23 12.41.32
Rycraft – stamps for biscuits or cookies – it is an American company. I ordered a stamp with a thistle on it for my Scottish shortbread (the emblem of Scotland).

Tiptree preserves and jams
Wilkin & Sons (Tiptree) – Their Little Scarlet Strawberry Jam – costs £3.99 per jar ( at time of writing). 
This is far superior to any other shop bought strawberry jam. The jam is made with miniature strawberries and only a finite amount of jam is produced each year using the fruit from a single harvest. It is almost double the price of their standard strawberry jam. 

Remember you can also follow me

I have a Facebook Page and am on Twitter – so please do join me there and ask me any questions you may have. I blog about all sorts of subjects related to baking, preparing and hosting an Afternoon Tea as well as preparing the perfect cup of tea – so make sure you subscribe to get my new posts in your inbox.

My Essential Store Cupboard Secrets for Successful Afternoon Tea Baking

This may sound silly to say – but I can’t stress the importance of preparation. As with most work – transfer your skills from what you know in your day to day to your baking and you may find some remarkable results.

People who just seem to knock up a cake or some scones at the last minute have one secret weapon that may not be immediately apparent. They are utterly confident in their understanding of what they are doing by:

  • knowing how their ingredients will work together.
  • understanding the process of  each action, whether beating, folding etc.
  • being aware of what they have in their store cupboard.

In other words…they are ‘prepared’. Their preparation may have come about through years of practise so it becomes second nature. Part of that “secret confidence” is likely to be the result of what they use and what they keep as the staple items in their cupboards.

I’m going to share with you what my Top 10 staple food items are that I keep on hand. If you bake regularly or want to – it’s going to become more and more important to keep good quality ingredients in your store cupboard and fridge.

A peek of what is in my store cupboard

A proper visual peek of what is in my store cupboard!

Here’s a peek into my cupboard and fridge:

  1. Flour: Marriage’s organic plain and self raising flours and Sharpham Park organic wholemeal spelt flour. If you use supermarket ‘value’ flours you will be amazed at what a difference such a small switch can make. Whatever goes in will have an impact on what comes out. (Read my blog post on flour choices here.)
  2. Lemon Juice: a bottle of concentrated lemon juice to add as necessary.
  3. Very mature cheddar cheese: I find M & S is good on cheeses (always full fat cheese: I feel that anything that is half fat must have been ‘engineered’ in some way).
  4. A selection of nuts and seeds to throw into scones to make them more interesting. At the moment I am in a sunflower seed and walnut phase.
  5. Barts dried herbs and spices – throw out those that have been opened and sat on the shelf for years. The optimum time to use them is three weeks, yes weeks, after opening to get the fullest flavour.
  6. Good quality vanilla extract or paste – Little Pod is my favourite. I am too lazy to always scrape the seeds out of a vanilla pod so I use the paste that has the seeds in it.
  7. Instant espresso coffee powder (Nestlé or Carte Noir). A teaspoon of the dry powder is brilliant for flavouring macaron shells or I use it to create a concentrated paste for flavouring sponge cakes, buttercream icing and mocha ganache.
  8. Frozen chopped onions – not strictly for baking! I just find them useful as a base flavour for soups, especially if I have a lot of vegetables that are looking a bit sad and need to be transformed rather than thrown out. Then I might serve with wholemeal spelt flour and (dried) rosemary scones.
  9. Dark chocolate – at least 70% cocoa solids – I always snap up anything that is on offer in the supermarket. Very good for the soul in whatever form and if I suddenly have a late evening desire to make some ganache to have with some fruit I even make it with hot water rather than cream.
  10. Oats – but I am already nudging towards 11 items because I need to include golden syrup as well – to make my ginger and oat biscuits to take hiking.

These are my must-have items and I am sure  you must have some of your own? What are they?  What do you always make sure never runs out in your fridge or cupboard and why? I would love to know so please do share with me in the comments below…

The Debate Between Quality Organic Flour vs Supermarket Branded Flour | My Flour Journey

I may have got into some ‘expensive’ habits when it comes to baking that I would now find hard Organic Flourto break. I am great believer in good value i.e. weighing up the cost vs. reward ratio and certainly now I apply this when using flour.

For years I would buy the cheapest flour thinking ‘flour is just flour.’ A leading supermarket own brand costs 75p for a 1.5kg bag whereas as one of the beautifully packaged bespoke milled organic brand might cost up to £4 for the same quantity. My initial thought used to be “No contest”. I was teaching after all and any increased costs took away from my bottom line.

Enter: a whole new world for me..Organic Flour

A few years ago I heard Mervin Austin of Mount Pleasant Windmill talking about his allergic reaction to flour that had manifested itself when he  previously working for a commercial bakery for many years. Having developed contact dermatitis on my hands I thought it worth trying out good organic flour; anything to alleviate the pain of the ‘burning’ on my hands.

One Sunday, as I was preparing for a class that day,  I realised I did not have enough flour and rushed to my local supermarket. Happy Eater flour was all they had in stock. The class commenced and everything fine. At the end we sat down for tea to taste everything made by the students.  I was shocked at the texture and taste of the scones this time compared to my normal results with organic flour (they were still good but once you have made something thousands of times you do become very become extremely sensitive to every change).

Since then I have practised with numerous different flours and have found the quality really does make a difference,  especially when making something very simple such as bread, plain sponges and scones

Test it for yourself:

Why not put some normal supermarket branded flour into one bowl and some superior organic flour in another (at the moment I am using Marriages flour). Place one hand in one bowl and the other hand in the second bowl. Rub the flour between your fingers. You will feel the feel the difference (I hope!) and it is that difference that comes through in your baking. The organic one is much more slippery and silky (this also applies to wholemeal and spelt) whereas the value brand  ‘catches’ on the skin. If you hold up the bowls to the daylight it is likely the value brand is whiter – it will have been bleached which covers up any chemicals and any coarseness.

Food intolerances could stem from the quality of the flour

I would also wonder if the all pervasive additives and chemicals in the cheaper impure, low grade flours in so much of our food, especially ready meals and volume baked bread, has led to a lot of problems that are labelled under gluten and wheat intolerance.  I feel it is the ingested chemicals and additives used in mainstream food  productions that  are the problem rather than the bread itself.  I was on a wheat free diet for three years and really did not feel that much better for it (although my general diet radically improved!). I now only buy artisan bread if I can; Cranks wholemeal or lots of goodies from my local baker, Paul Rhodes in Notting Hill. Occasionally I eat mainstream bread  but I notice the difference to my well being if my consumption increases from once a week or so.

Quality (and higher cost) wins for me – over lower quality cheaper options

For me the cost reward ratio has no contest – flour is a staple that underpins so much of our food – aren’t you worth it to use the best? The compliments also will come in thick and fast for the superior baking results! Please do comment below with your thoughts and experiences with flour – I’d be interested to hear from you.

No clever baking techniques – just the obvious point: whatever you put in you are likely to get out.  We sometimes forget that flour was a living organism and expect each packet to be identical. They aren’t. And I am spending money on flour, not diamonds so I think it really is a luxury you really can afford.

Remember to follow me on Twitter for other baking tips and tricks, and of course to learn more about the wonderful world of tea.