Tag Archives: tea tips

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!

 

My 10 Top Tips For Making a Perfectly Delicious Cup of Tea

Nowadays we are so inundated with choice and, in looking recently at the food halls in John Lewis, I thought “How on earth can anyone tell, when faced by a bank of beautifully packaged cartons which teas were going to taste good or not?”  It almost feels a bit like looking at endless rows of wine.

But, for me the answer to this question has two easy parts:

The first – just keep buying and tasting different teas until you find those that you like – ideally you will trust the brand you like.

The second – is to brew your tea with care.  A cheap tea made properly will taste far better than a high quality tea made badly.

I don’t know about you, but I do not have the patience to use kettles with thermometers and Caroline pouring teagetting things ‘just so’. However there are certain key rules to follow that will definitely make a difference to how your cup will taste. I honestly believe (and have tested) that the following points do indeed make the difference. (And yes in my tea lab (i.e. kitchen) I have tested both black and green teas using boiling hard and soft water and off-the-boil hard and soft water.)

So, here are my tips for Black Teas:

TIP 1: The tea will taste best using freshly boiled water with a  pH balance of 7 or above.

The ph balance increases the harder the water (with a higher calcium and magnesium content). (The famous Mrs Beeton even recommends putting a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in with the boiling water – at first I thought this most odd but realise it would make the water more alkaline.)

TIP 2: Ensure that you only boil your water once.

If you repeatedly boil water that sits in the kettle, then cools and is then reboiled, you will lose the oxygen.

TIP 3: Make sure that your water does reach boiling point (100 °C) and then pour straight into your (ideally) warmed cup or tea pot.

If you heat your pot prior to pouring in the boiling water the leaves will brew at a higher temperature than in a cold pot.

TIP 4: Don’t use continuous hot water taps or large urns.

The water is usually just below boiling otherwise it would be bubbling away. If your water is not boiling the tea will taste flat and lifeless.

TIP 5: Use a good quality tea or good quality tea bag – it does make a difference.

If you like a strong robust cup of tea try a high quality Assam that has the malty richness that can be diluted with milk if appropriate but lacks the harsh tannic that leaves a ‘rough’ taste in the mouth.

TIP 6: Brew your tea long enough for the flavour to infuse into the boiling water (read this with Tip 7.)

TIP 7: Understand the type of tea you are drinking

If you like a delicate fragrant tea you are probably not going to like a strong punchy Assam but itTea Types would be worth trying a Darjeeling or Keemun. Don’t try and brew the Assam for less time as a compensation for strength of flavour. You don’t water down red wine to create a white wine – you buy a different bottle. Tea is the same.

TIP 8: Remove the tea leaves after infusing for three to four minutes.

This will stop the tea from stewing or going bitter. With a tea bag it is easy to remove from a pot or mug. If using loose leaves I would recommend either a special tea pot where the leaves can be blocked off from the water, a tea filter (a fill your own tea bag), or a tea brewing basket that can be removed after brewing.

The extra tips I would give you for Green teas:

TIP 9:  Leave your kettle to sit for about 5 minutes after boiling so it can cool down.

Then pour over the leaves. This makes an enormous difference to the roundness of flavour in the mouth. Boiling water makes the green tea taste bitter.

TIP 10: If you can, use water with a lower pH balance (I used some bottled water with a level of 6.2) this water is slightly more acidic.

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If you are interested in learning more about tea, I am teaching a specialist tea tasting course spanning four weeks at City Lit in Spring 2014 and some single module classes in Summer 2014. Alternatively, if you would like to chat to me about some one-to-one time for a private class for you or a group of friends – please feel free to call me on 020 3730 3788, email me on                                caroline@teaandscones.co.uk or Tweet me on @Caroline__Hope.