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.

Devonshire Cream
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. ;)


Camille said...

I have a thing for afternoon tea and when I lived on Cape Cod I would frequent a lovely little shop. Your delicious looking scones and jam remind me of many a pleasant tea had at that shop.

Vera said...

I recognize this book :)The scones look yummy!

Dee said...

Another lovely post; your pictures are stunning as always.

I wish I had a tea set :( We have a weekly tea with but when there's a five year old BOY present melamine is the only way to go.

I've bookmarked the Devonshire cream recipe :)

Patricia Scarpin said...

I would love to be invited to such a beautiful tea! I love how delicate everything looks. And delicious!

onesilentwinter said...

Beautiful photographs! the colors are lovely!

Rachel@fairycakeheaven said...

ooo nothing better than scones with jame and cream - DIVINE!

Anita said...

Beautifully written - and your delicious setup makes me feel like I've stepped into an old-fashioned tea salon indeed!

linda said...

I love to drink tea but not the way you do though.
Scones with cream and jam are probably the most delicious sweet thing there is. So simple but so good. Your cream tea looks delicious! Good reminder to make scones again :) Will have to try the Devonshire cream recipe as well

pea & pear said...

This looks so outrageously delicious!!! I want to eat this immediately...but I feel so sick at the moment I can't muster the energy... I wish someone would make it for me.... Now it's all I can think about ... YUM!!!
Ali :)

Mallory Elise said...

oh you've come back eh. no more being lazy. hehe. i kid.

lets have a tea party--i have far too many knee skirts.

ps. your jam bonnets are tres mignon.


Mrs.French said...

Yay your back! I would chat, but I have the sudden urge to partake in some tea!

Mallory Elise said...

Great. We call it toile too. I'll find a toile skirt to wear to the tea party in Melbourne which i definatly do not need to be asked twice for. hehe. god Australia isn't a maybe, its "yes i'm going there!"

oh and the tiles are actual Azulejos from the side of a building in Porto. oh yeah we've got style.

Dani said...

what better way to spend an afternoon than with a scone and hot cuppa?? :)

Tartelette said...

Love the colors in these shots Christy!! You are handling your new camera perfectly!
I'll have to check out those books to see if this is the same city we are talking about...:)

Oakley Rhodes said...

Hey Christy! This is so sweet. I love the pictures.

I just bought a bunch of loose tea from my local herb shop, and have been really enjoying it.

Aran said...

good to see you are back christy. say the word tea and i am there. where and when?

Botacook said...

I love your pictures and these lovely 'tea-recipes'!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I also love old-fashioned things! Those scones look marvelous! With a good cuppa, mmmhhhh!



coco said...

Love your photographs. Fresh, radiant and full of life - sound a little crazy but yes they are very vibrant and happy looking :)

Elra said...

Goodness me, my husband and I really love scones, jams and clotted cream. We couldn't find clotted cream here, but plenty of devonshire cream. When I saw you have the recipe for the cream, I thought, this is it. I will make this!

Galina said...

Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. Sherry Yard's book is one of my favorites.

askmsrecipe said...

Your sweets sure look tasty...

Ask Ms Recipe

Ms Recipe

Sophie said...

Lovely post; I am a big tea drinker...and I've always wanted my very own tea set :D. What a delicious sweet treat :).

We'd like to invite you to participate in our September apple and peach recipe contest. All competitors will be eligible to win one of three prizes :)! Please email me,, if you're interested.

Feel free to check out our blog for more details:

Thanks :),
KI Chief Blogger

Ash said...

love the afternoon tea pics! I think I may need to look out for some nice little tea cups!
yeah, I use paper for my backgrounds. I just buy the scrapbooking paper, cause there is so much too choose from and they have a lot of cool patterns.

Paula said...

Really enjoying your blog. Don't know how scones are made over there, but I'm based in the UK and I'd think if you really want them to be english then add a little bit more liquid to the dough, and cut them a bit thicker - as a guide when they are done they should be think enough that you can break one in half down the centre like you would a bread roll. Texture wise they're more like bread or cake (or a brioche) than biscuits or cookies.

Also, if you can find clotted cream it is the best.