Thursday, August 21, 2008
An Ode to Tradition, and a Love Affair with Tea
I confess to having a certain uncanny affection for old-fashioned things. Be it the cut of a skirt (high waisted, full and somewhere around the knee), or a social culture in the form of afternoon tea. Of course, owing to the fact that I did not grow up in Europe or even any parts remotely close to the Northern Hemisphere, I only picked up the habits while I was growing up.
But really, I think that I have a certain affection to tea, even years before it was revived and elevated to its present status. I remembered playing with my mother's collection of patterned tea cups as a child, imagining as to when I will use them based on their patterns (little sprigs of flowers for spring, little fruits for summer---yes, the obsessive streak showed early; and no, we don't have 4 seasons in the tropics but what does a 7 year old care?) My obsession went so far as to buy an entire display tea set with my pocket money when I was about 10 years old. I got into trouble for it, but how could I explain myself?
And then, I don't remember how or why, but I grew out of it. There were certain lapses, but for the most part of my adolescence, I was not attracted to tea. I still drank the stuff, but less like a ritual and more like a common beverage. And then I moved to Melbourne. While during the first few years I was immune to the charms and attraction of the beguiling tea shops scattered around the city; I was nonetheless drawn in again, I think much in the same way that you are drawn to an old flame that did not really quite die down.
So after all these years, I once again find myself besotted and fatally attracted to my unresolved love affair with tea. I think my recent discovery of Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mystery series worsened my infatuation to unprecedented proportions. It was truly a case of the books choosing me, not the other way around. Set in the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina---Oh Helen, how lucky you are!---this book is all the things that I love bound into one neat little package that fits in my handbag: tea and food spiked with a dose of light-hearted mystery...what's not to like??
Putting into context my current re-obsession with tea, I decided on having some traditional English treats to go with my cup of afternoon tea. I've owned Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard for quite some time, but have not had time to make something from the recipes within. When I decided to make these, I had quite a few recipes at my disposal, but decided on Sherry's because 1. She claimed that her recipe is based on the traditional British version of the now world famous snack; and 2. All the ingredients needed are already part of my kitchen arsenal.
Traditional English Scones
adapted from Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus more to sprinkle
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 ounces or 114g cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream, or more as needed
1/4 cup milk, or more as needed
Milk for brushing
Preheat oven to 200C. Line baking trays with greaseproof paper. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt into a bowl. Rub in butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, cream and milk. Add to the flour mixture and mix/knead just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix. If it seems dry, add a bit more cream or milk, a tablespoon at a time*. Dust your working area with flour, and shape the dough into squares, or triangles, about 1 inch thick. Flip the scones over and place on the greaseproof paper lined trays. This will ensure even rising when bakes. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until dark golden brown and puffed.
*This is Sherry's suggestion. I didn't think that my scones need the extra liquid, but then again, I've never made scones so I won't be quite sure.
makes one cup
1/2 cup mascarpone or cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream (35% fat)
Place the mascarpone or cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add sugar, cream of tartar and vanilla and blend well on low speed. Without stopping the machine, stream in the heavy cream until well blended. Scrape into a bowl and cover with clingfilm until ready to use. (The cream will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 2 days).
Forest Berry Jam
250g frozen forest berries mix (or substitute any berries you like)
1/4 lemon, juice only
225g caster sugar
Place the berries and lemon juice in a heavy based saucepan over low heat. Gradually add sugar while stirring. When the jam boils, skim off any impuritires to improve the clarity of your jam. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occassionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. After 20-30 minutes, check the jam. It should be thick and be able to hold its shape.
P.S. This is not the pleasant surprise I had hinted in the previous post. I promise I'll get to it in my next one. ;)