Category Archives: Reviews

Which is your Ultimate Scone Recipe?

my-scones-resized

This blog post is dedicated to Olga Boikess, a food journalist from the USA whom I met in May 2016.  Olga came to my home and wanted  “make scones the way they were made by Vanessa Bell at Charleston”.  Her request has opened up my eyes as to  how recipes evolve.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-17-20-12My first step was to read the Bloomsbury Group Cookbook: recipes for Life, Love and Art by Jans Ondaatje Rolls.  Under the heading of Savoury Scones, is a recollection of the kitchen at Charleston  by John and Diana Higgens , the children of Grace Higgens (née Germany), housekeeper at Charleston for over 50 years:

“ Tea was at five o’clock, and at about half past four, the kettle was set to boil on the Aga …. Sometimes, Vanessa would make scones to go with Grace’s seed cake. Standing in at the table in the poor lit kitchen with its concrete floor, she would hook her rings onto a convenient nail by the sink and slowly, carefully, sieve flour into a bowl, rubbing in the minimum of butter. Her scones were plain, unglazed and surprisingly good, like the perfect cottage loaves that her sister Virginia (Woolf), impractical as she too was, taught her young cook Louie Mayer to make.”

Paradoxically, the two scone recipes listed in this cookbook did not followed the recognised technique for scone making employed by Vanessa Bell in the above description!!   See below.

Savoury Drop Scones

dropscones

Vanessa Bell’s daughter’s recipe
for savoury drop scones
¼ lb plain flour *1 teaspoon baking powder * salt * pepper * 1½ oz margarine or butter * Just under ½ gill water * 4oz grated Parmezan (sic) * (Lard, for frying)

Melt marg & water in a saucepan. Sieve flour and baking powder together. Add (pinch of) salt & pepper. Stir in marge & water & cheese. Fry spoonfuls in hot lard. Serve hot. (Makes 16 – 18)

Drop Scones are also known as Scotch Pancakes here in the UK.  They are delicious served hot, fresh from the pan and drowning in butter. The drop scone is like a thick mini pancake.

 Soda Scones

Helen Anrep’s Soda Scones
” To four pounds of flour add two large teaspoonfuls of salt, half an ounce of soda,
and a quart of milk, in to which half an ounce of cream of tartar has been well stirred.
Mix the whole well but lightly. Cut into round cakes and bake in a quick oven, or on an
iron frying pan over a clear fire. About 15 minutes are sufficient. The scones should
rise well; they need to be turned once. Wheaten meal cakes can be made in the same
way and make an excellent breakfast bread, both delicious and nutritious.”

I found a more up-to-date Soda Scone Recipe at Oaken.co.uk, who hand-make cast iron griddle plates (another item for my wish list) under the heading of  ‘Buttermilk Scones’. I did not achieve the lovely hot/warm stable heat that I would have got with a cast iron plate – thus they got a little burnt!  The pictures below are of my soda scones cooked in the frying pan.

Soda scones

I baked half the dough in the pan and the remainder in the oven. Despite slightly burning the pan scones, I preferred their texture over those baked in the oven. I think we often forget that our equipment will have a part to play and I wonder if  this is how butter began to be added to the oven scones to provide a richness that I found lacking in my oven-baked soda scones, despite being fluffy and light?

My ‘traditional’ Scones

my-sconesThe scone recipe that I follow does follow Vanessa’s technique of rubbing the butter into the well-sieved flour (the rubbing in can be done in less than 30 seconds using a food processor). Then deftly fold in milk/ buttermilk/yoghurt/appropriate liquid into the crumb mixture in a few mindful movements and work your dough as little as possible.  The key for me is to follow a technique that embraces the chemical reactions that occur during the process.

My new discovery! Griddle Bread (or is it a large soda scone?)

Griddle Bread

Similar to the Oakden Soda Scone recipe, this ‘bread’ has baking powder (in the self-raising flour) rather than Bicarbonate of Soda. Possibly this is closer to the Margaret Anrep recipe that calls for the addition of Cream of Tartar ( found in home-made baking powder) to the milk which almost ‘turns’ it into buttermilk (a future blog will cover the nuances between different raising agents used in baking!).  It takes 20 minutes from my first thought to taking the first mouthful of warm bread – pretty much as for a scone recipe. I have adapted the recipe to use wholemeal flour and you may wish to experiment with adding some herbs or spices.

Ingredients:
225g good quality Wholemeal Self Raising Flour (or 220g flour/2teasps baking powder)
1 teaspoon ground Sea Salt
250ml – 300ml buttermilk (or full fat milk with about a tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice added)
Method:
Heat your (medium sized) frying pan or iron griddle plate on the hob until the base is evenly hot.  Then turn the heat down to about half way. Sieve your flour and salt into a large bowl, add the buttermilk and, in quick strokes with a large metal spoon or palette knife, cut and fold the mixture to form a wet dough ball.   Sprinkle some flour into the hot pan.  Scoop your wet dough into the pan. If necessary shape slightly with wet hands.  Cook for about 8 minutes on each side to make sure it cooks through in the middle, remove from the pan and cool on a rack.  ENJOY with some good quality salted butter or even thick cream and home made jam.

This Griddle Bread could easily be cut into small rounds before baking rather than a large round – perhaps then they would be called scones! My next test is to bake the dough in the oven to see how it varies and whether it is as good as that baked in the pan.

Please let me know how you get on and your thoughts about transferring from hob to oven and back again. Also – do you have a favourite take on the perfect scone for you? I’d love to hear from you. And, if you have a spare cast iron pan or plate, please let me know!

 

Tea Review: The Tea Makers, London

Caroline Hope Review of The Tea Makers

A few weeks ago I was sent a sample pack of teas to review from The Tea Makers. If you are thinking of buying anything tea-related for Christmas, their website is well worth a look – they have some beautifully presented products and a wide variety of teas. I asked my friend, Hugo to come and help me with the tasting as he is passionate about different teas, drinks and food. (He once presented me with a gift of smoked eel from his travels, for which I don’t think I was very grateful !). Here is our verdict…

Tea Tasting - The Tea Makers

My friend Hugo tasting the teas

Tea Types

A box duly arrived containing three teas, along with an unusual Tea infuser in which to brew the tea.

The three teas and infuser were:

For all three teas, I used freshly boiled water (100 degrees) and water straight from the tap. All three teas were brewed for 4 minutes before separating the leaves from the liquor. Here are our thoughts…

The Tea Makers DarjeelingDarjeeling House Blend

We both liked this. It had a pale, lively looking liquor and the leaves had a grassy, lemony aroma. The tea was soft, or smooth on the tongue with a slightly astringent finish. It has the typical floral sweet aroma of a good Darjeeling. I have also given this to other people and they have commented how nice it is. I would anticipate it is a blend of first and second flushes and recommend drinking this tea without milk.

The Tea Makers English BreakfastEnglish Breakfast

I noted this was a blend of 100% Ceylon teas, which I found interesting. English Breakfast is traditionally a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas in varying proportions according to the tea merchant. I was interested to see if this tea would deliver a similar punch. I felt the dry leaf was very dark in colour, almost inky black and looked quite ‘skinny’. According to Hugo “….. the wet leaf was very dark and had an agricultural aroma”. The liquor had a caramel colour and, despite not being as heavy as some English breakfast blends, it still packed a good punch to get you going

in the morning. I would suggest serving this with milk. It is typical of what is perceived today as a ‘British’ tea.

The Tea Maker's Luxury Ceylon PekoeLuxury Ceylon Pekoe

This was an interesting looking tea. The dry leaf had a greeny/grey hue and was rolled, presumably by hand, to almost look like some Oolong teas I have had. The brewed liquor was quite orange in colour, you could feel the tannins on the tongue, and it had a certain muddiness in taste – hints of puerh. For me, this was an unusual tea for Ceylon

The Magic Infuser

The Magic Infuser from The Tea MakerYou can brew the tea in the infuser as you would a glass tea pot, and you gain a sense of theatre as you watch the leaves change colour.

Once the tea is brewed you then place it over a mug or small pot and the liquor is released into the receptacle, leaving the spent leaves behind in the receptacle. For me, this is a tad gimmicky and I don’t find it an attractive looking object. It is made of plastic, so could be subject to staining in time. I also feel it does really retain the heat well enough during the brewing process for a black tea. The volume at 500ml is really suitable for 2 mugs and switching from one mug to another takes a bit of practice. Possibly it is more suited to brewing green or oolong teas that don’t require boiling water. There is no reason also why you could not rebrew the (green/oolong) leaves.

Overall View

I think The Tea Makers are well worth a look to buy some unusual teas this Christmas – one of my students on the City Lit tea tasting course ordered a lot of their sampling packs and was very pleased with what she received. They also do the tea pyramids or Trianes, superior large tea bags in which you can see the large leaves unfurling.

Thank you to Tea Makers for the opportunity to write a review of their teas. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Up On a Mountain Top in The Lake District I Contemplate: What Makes Tea Special?

Lak District Hike with Mountain Hikes

I recently went on a hiking week-end in the beautiful Lake District with my hosts Kevin and Yen Yau from Mountain Hikes. Even in the outdoors and in the basic of environments I was reminded of the specialness of “hosting” that comes with serving tea – in any location.Group mountain hike, Lake District

“Shall I be mother?” Kevin said as he surveyed the assorted small teapots in which he had brewed tea in the Youth Hostel kitchen. Tired and happy, eight of us were sitting in the pool room of the Keswick YHA after our first day’s hiking in the Lake District. Kevin’s partner Yen had placed a pile of beautifully light, scones, she had freshly baked the night before. All of us dived into the clotted cream and home made jam as Kevin then poured out mugs of tea for us.tea and cake

The tea parties at the end of each of our walks provided such a warm and welcoming highlight to each day that the functional furnishings of the Youth Hostel around us just disappeared. It was the display of care and love in the preparation of the food and the brewing of our tea that I still hold in my mind as I write.

Tea party at Youth Hostel, Lake Dsitrict

Kevin had taken on the role of the host having brewed and poured the tea. I find it intriguing to realise that even with the most basic of tea parties there was a tug from the past that dates back three hundred years.

In the early 18th century tea drinking was embraced by a burgeoning, newly rich urban 18th Century Tea Party‘middling’ class to demonstrate their skills of politeness and ‘genteelness’. They were copying the recent fashion embraced by the very small elite strata of society whose wealth had been derived from land ownership. What better way to show off knowledge of polite behaviour and good taste than for the lady of the house to orchestrate her own tea making ceremony, laying out her delicate tea equipage? I am sure that without realising it you have seen contemporary paintings and prints in which you see a family ensemble taking tea. These pictures are akin to Instagram or Facebook posts of today telling the world that the recorded group is sophisticated and fashionable. In these paintings it is the lady of the house who is demonstrating her skill and technique in making the tea and it would have been disrespectful to have tried to usurp her position and pour from her tea pot.

Kevin was taking on this role in a public place i.e. by suggesting that he play ‘mother’ he would take on the position of authority at our tea table. This used to happen when women started going out for tea in the 20th century: if two friends were to meet one of them would take on the role of pouring the tea and thus in charge of requesting more hot water, fresh pot, etc. This saying has possibly died out now as most hotels and cafes usually serve individual pots of tea and we each take ownership of that to pour out. Food is fine to help yourself but with the serving of tea you wait to be offered.

What makes tea special?

It is the sitting down together, conversing and enjoying a refreshing cup along with the secret ingredients of care and love. Kevin and Yen Yau provided this in spades and I urge you to join them next year on one of the hiking weekends in the Lake District. Yen might even give you her secret scone recipe!

Tea Party on the balcony

I would highly recommend looking at Kevin and Yen’s website > Mountin Hikes. They provide guided walks in the Lake District as well as hiking and yoga breaks.  You can follow them on Twitter at @Mountain_hikes or on Facebook at Lakes Mountain Hikes.

My Review of the “High Spirits Afternoon Tea” at The Paramount, Centrepoint, London

Update to this post 3 Feb 2015: The Paramount Bar and Restaurant has since closed their doors (as part of a larger redevelopment plans for Centre Point).

high spirits afternoon tea review by caroline hope

It fascinates me how Afternoon Tea is moving further and further from the original idea of serving food that would complement that perfect cup of tea sometime after noon. The High Spirits Afternoon Tea served at the Paramount has quite a different energy to any images of a languid Victorian meal that its title seems to conjure up.

Afternoon tea is described thus in the 1893 edition of Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management which was the era in which I would suggest that this meal reached its apogee (there is no mention of the meal in the first edition of 1861).

This is the opening chapter on Teas from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Ward Lock, 1893:
“Under the head of “Teas” how many different meals are served? We say “meals”, perhaps, incorrectly, for the afternoon cup of tea (in many fashionable houses the only tea served) can scarcely come under this head: but independent of this, we have wedding teas, high teas, “at home” teas, ordinary family teas, and in some old fashioned places, whose inhabitants have not moved with times, still a quiet tea where people are invited to partake of such nice things as hot buttered toast, tea cakes, new laid eggs, and home-made preserves and cake. A pleasant meal, that is only the precursor of a good supper, of which we shall speak later on.”

The Paramount (restaurant and bar) provides a sophisticated, very urban meal that has overtones of the world of James Bond. Each morsel of food is infused with alcohol. That, along with the sugar, provides such a giddy rush of energy, that neither I, nor my guest, Samantha Pearce, were brave enough to dive into a cocktail for which the Paramount is famous for serving, and feebly opted for a virgin Mohito each.high spirits afternoon tea paramount, tea tray

The cocktail theme runs through the presentation of the food. Rather than serving conventional cakes and pastries, the focus was on presenting, each deliciously concocted alcohol laced dessert in unusual miniature cocktail glasses and jars. See the wonderful Amaretto Sour and Porn Star Martini

The sandwich shapes were almost created to mirror the high rise buildings that we viewed from our window side table – 385ft above the London streets.

Everything was snappy, smart and exciting and very much in keeping with the character and feel of the bar.

Possibly, the least discernible part of the meal was the tea itself. The strong boozy flavours permeating the food and the Virgin Mohitos rather overwhelmed the senses. The tea is supplied by Blends for Friends. Samantha had a Classic Black and I had the Altitude Afternoon. Both were good on the initial tasting but needed to be drunk quickly before going slightly bitter. However that is a minor quibble as we were both offered fresh pots of tea on request.

I urge you to go for the sheer joy of being so high above London and enjoying a really unusual take on this meal. Whether Mrs Beeton would approve is quite another matter!high spirits afternoon tea, view from paramount restaurant

For more information or to book a “High Spirits Tea at the Paramount” – call them directly on 0207 420 2900, tweet them on @ParamountSoho, join them on Facebook or visit their website.

The address is: Paramount Restaurant and Bar, Centrepoint, 101 – 103 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1DD. The tea is served between 2.30pm – 4.30pm. At the time of writing the cost is £28 per person, or with a cocktail…£42 per person.

Masterpiece London 2014 | Art, Antiques, Design – My Review

Masterpiece London

My lovely friend, Charlotte Howard, invited me to join her to see Masterpiece 2014, a rather amazing and professionally presented exhibition of Art, Antiques and Design that took place in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. It had that quiet opulence of soft beige carpets; our feet sank into it as we walked around.

There were some really stunning pieces on display and I felt a surge of thrilled excitement on seeing some fabulous chinoiserie pieces, just because it is so much in my mind with my newly devised History of Tea Tour at the Victoria & Albert Museum. (Find out more about the personalised tours here.)

I was really taken with some mirrors (or girandoles) and two delicate chinoiserie cabinets on thePagoda Girandoles Apter Fredericks stand and so enjoy seeing this influence from China – the mysterious and exotic country from which tea originated. It was not just tea that captured the imagination of the rich Europeans in the 17th and 18th century that resulted in this delicate liquor becoming Great Britain’s national drink. It was the overall sheer exoticism of items arriving from the land known as Cathay that really intrigued and stuck in our imagination.

Why should this be? I feel it is partly down to ‘less is more.’

During the 14th and 15th centuries, China had closed its borders to the barbarians of Europe with only a few travellers such as Marco Polo returning with information. No-one could check if these returning stories were true; so those about the great beauty and infinite luxuries of this far off land were greatly embellished and even fabricated. Perhaps this excerpt from Chinoiserie, The Vision of Cathay, by Hugh Honour aptly describes it?

“Cathay is, or rather was, a continent of immeasurable extent lying just beyond the eastern confines of the known world. Of this mysterious and charming land, poets are the only historians and porcelain painters the most reliable topographers. They alone can give an adequate impression of the beauty of the landscape with its craggy snow-capped mountain ranges and its verdant plains sprinkled with cities of dreaming pagodas and intersected by meandering rivers whose limpid waters bear whole fleets of delicately wrought junks, all-a flutter with bedraggoned pennants and laden with precious cargoes of jade, porcelain, samite, silk, green ginger, and delicately scented teas.”

“Besides their banks the palm and weeping willow flourish amidst phoenix-tail bamboos and a proliferation of exotic flora. Giant flowers abound here: chrysanthemums which tower above the men who tend them, paeonies which dwarf the birds nesting in their branches, and convolvulus whose blossoms serve as hats, as parasols, and even, on occasion, as the roofs of huts. Indeed the natural landscape is so beautiful that when laying out their gardens, the cathaians could desire no more than to reproduce it on a miniature scale, with paths serpenting round hillocks of artificial rock-work, sinuous rills, and forests of tiny gnarled trees.”

“The fauna is no less extraordinary. Huge and fiery dragons lurk in every mountain cave; gaudy birds with rainbow-hued plumage swoop over the plains; butterflies the size of puffins hover round the pendant blooms of Wisteria sinensis; and diaphanous-tailed goldfish play amidst the water-lilies and chrysolite rocks of stream and pond.”

Can you imagine the excitement as more and more items flowed from this continent ‘lying just beyond the confines of the known world’?

Nothing previously known could compare with the exoticism of hand painted wallpapers, lacquered and gilded furniture, woven silks, carpets, chintzes, delicate porcelain and of course the highly prized tea.

In time many of these luxury goods were to be manufactured throughout Europe as our native Painted Jug Vasecraftsmen emulated the skills and styles of the Orient, creating the mythological and idealised vision of this remote culture. Sometimes it was difficult to tell which pieces were originally Chinese or European.

It gives me a little thrill each time I see any oblique references to tea drinking. From visiting a modern day art and antiques exhibition such as Masterpiece, walking past the stunning de Gournay showroom in Old Church Street, Chelsea and then burrowing around in the British Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum, everywhere there are strands of information interwoven with tea.

I would love to welcome you on one of my personally guided “History of Tea Tours” of the V & A. This tour is perfect for those who want to explore the history of tea drinking from its origins in China and East India to the height of its popularity in Georgian Britain, where it touched the English interior and forever shaped British culture.

The Tour includes not only the guided tour hosted by myself, but also a donation to the museum; printed tour notes; and of course tea and cake when we finish. Prepare to share two and a half hours with me on this tour. Reserve a place for yourself at only £42 per person >> click here.

Tea Time – A Themed Celebration of The Royal Chelsea Flower Show

Caroline at the Intercontinental Westminster

What a wonderful afternoon I had with Hilary Newstead at the Intercontinental Westminster Hotel. I had been invited to review their Edible Garden afternoon tea, which was created to coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show.

Despite the fact that I spend innumerable hours teaching classes around English tea time (including cake or scone baking; tasting fine teas or looking at the history English tea time), it is quite rare  for me to go “out to tea”. It was a real treat to review the Edible Garden Afternoon Tea at the Intercontinental , enjoy free flowing Laurent Perrier champagne and indulge in a glorious feast of exquisite garden-themed patisserie creations.

I took so many pictures – the food was just a feast for the eyes with the glass cloche centrepiece, under which our cakes nestled in a bed of dark (and edible) soil.

Lifting the glass cloche displaying the edible garden

Lifting the glass cloche displaying the edible garden

The Gorgeous Teatime Treats

How did the food taste?

The Pea and Basil Tart

The Pea and Basil Tart

Fresh, delicious and as it should be! When I got down to tasting each little treat as it was presented, they were divine. The biggest winners for me were the miniature Chelsea Bun and the Garden Pea and Basil Tart. I normally avoid currents and dried fruits  but this Chelsea Bun had been created by someone who understood what they were doing. There was almost more fruit than bun dough; the spicey, citrusy, moist fruit enveloped my tongue.  Likewise the pea and basil tart; the burst of fresh baby peas exploding in my mouth.

 

The quality of the tea:

More delicious treats

More delicious treats

We drank some exceptionally good teas that were supplied by Jing Teas. I had a Second flush Darjeeling that had nectar-like qualities and Hilary had a superlative Japanese Green Sencha, about which she was very excited as she had not tried before.

The Hotel, the service and the presentation:

The hotel excelled in all the areas that mattered:  superbly attentive waiters and bar staff who were knowledgeable and not at all officious; spotless and beautifully presented silverware and porcelain, comfortable chairs into which  we could just sink whilst indulging ourselves.

The only negative I have, and this is more one of a personal dismay, is to question why it is necessary to go to such lengths to design cakes to no longer look like food. This is not to doubt the skills of the pastry chefs – their technical virtuosity was par excellence – but why is it is necessary?  Nowadays afternoon tea seem to be a competition about who can ‘design’ the most ‘clever’ feast for the eyes.

I am with Sir Henry Cole on his theory of good design. He states that good design takes into account the intrinsic quality of the material being used.  For example a woven piece of fabric into which a flower motif has been woven displays the virtuosity of the woven fabric whereas a flower design that is printed onto a fabric will not display the quality of the weave – the printed pattern is what is seen and nothing more.

Perhaps this is what I found difficult with this meal – I was being asked to admire the cleverness of the pastry chef in creating clever little concoctions such as a chocolate flower pot, a garden wall or edible earth. However  the delights we feasted on were neither particular to the season during which we were eating it, nor could we see the qualities of the cake or pastry shining through the designed piece.

But this is one of my little bees that buzz around in my bonnet and a minor quibble.  I shall definitely return. Thank you Intercontinental Westminster, for a truly exceptional and wonderful afternoon.