Archive for the ‘tea’Category

Kensington afternoon tea shows sweet wit

Kensington hotel exterior
Years ago on a visit to London, David and I interviewed Benny Hill for a feature in an American magazine. We were surprised when his publicist suggested that we meet the comedian known for his bawdy humor for afternoon tea. It seemed a bit, shall I say, refined. But, in person, Hill turned out to be a gentle man, perhaps even a bit shy. And the ritual of the tea service made for a very relaxed couple of hours.

Tea service at KensingtonThe experience sold me on the afternoon tea tradition. Now I make a point of sampling tea in a different spot whenever I’m in London. On my last visit, I spent a lovely afternoon with a couple of friends in the Kensington (at top). It’s one of the three hotels in London owned by the Doyle Collection, a group of Irish family-owned luxury lodgings (doylecollection.com).

As the name suggests, the elegant white stucco building sits in a neighborhood associated with royalty. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are the latest in a line of royal family members to occupy Kensington Palace. The red brick palace is an easy walk from the hotel. Surrounded by wrought iron gates, it sits on the western edge of the sprawling Kensington Gardens. The Gardens are filled with statuary and beautiful plantings. On an afternoon stroll, I even encountered a 1932 Rolls Royce converted to an ice cream truck.

Chef’s treat at the Kensington


Chef Ste Gibbs of the KensingtonBut the best afternoon I spent was in the Drawing Room of the Kensington hotel. The weather was still chilly enough to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace as tea service began. The Kensington serves teas from the London-based Rare Tea Company, which sources its own white, green, and black teas. Kensington Executive Chef Steve Gibbs (right) oversees the Town House restaurant as well as afternoon tea.

Gibbs has been at the hotel since Town House opened about two years ago. In keeping with the Doyle Collection’s ethos of warm, relaxed service, and comforting menus, Gibbs likes to create what he calls “updated classic foods, with a bit of a twist.” He also enjoys the showmanship of an elegant presentation.

Gibbs is even particular about how the sandwiches—including potted Argyle smoked salmon with crème fraiche and roast Devon Red chicken with cranberry—are cut. Like all breads that I sampled at the Doyle hotels, the buttermilk scones were just right: neither too dry, nor too heavy.

Tea is the perfect setting for Gibbs to indulge his refined sense of presentation as well as his sly wit. For my friends and me—all from the U.S.—he inscribed “Have A Nice Day” in chocolate around the edge of a scrumptious plate of pastries (below). The coffee Opera cake, coconut rum macaron, and bitter chocolate and raspberry choux were, figuratively speaking, the icing on the cake.

tea plate at Kensington

A pastry lesson for home


I asked Gibbs to share a recipe so that I might get a sense of how his kitchen makes such delightful pastries. He kindly shared his recipe for four individual blueberry pies. Following Gibbs’ commitment to fresh, local product, I waited for the short but sweet season of wild Maine blueberries to try the recipe. Rather than making four individual pies, I cut the recipe in half to make a six-inch pie, which is more than adequate for four servings. You could also make a nine-inch pie with the full recipe. My adaptation of Gibbs’ recipe follows. I have kept his measurements in grams because following them exactly makes a far better pie than using the approximations of so-called “English” measure. Brushing egg white on the top crust makes it nicely crisp.

BLUEBERRY PIE


Makes 4 individual 4-inch pies

blueberry pie

Ingredients

For the pastry

125g unsalted butter
180g superfine sugar
1 large egg, beaten
250g all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting surface

For the filling

600g blueberries, fresh or frozen (fresh better)
120g superfine sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1 tablespoon superfine sugar

Crème fraîche for serving.

Directions


Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Add the beaten egg, scraping the sides of the bowl every so often if you are using a mixer. Fold in the flour. (For greatest ease, this can be done in a food processor. Just don’t overmix the flour at the end.)

Put the blueberries into a saucepan with the superfine sugar and tablespoon of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes.

Dilute the cornstarch with a little water, add to the blueberries and simmer for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl to chill in the refrigerator.

Roll the pastry to 5mm (about 1/4 inch) thick and cut discs big enough to slightly overlap a 10cm (4 inch) non-stick pie dish. Fill to the top with blueberry filling, Cut another 10cm disc then cut a quarter- size hole in the middle. Place on top and crimp together. Brush with slightly whipped egg white and sprinkle with superfine sugar.

Repeat for other three pies.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown for 4-inch pies. The 6-inch pie takes about 25 minutes and the 9-inch pie will take 35-40 minutes.

Serve with dollops of crème fraiche.

29

08 2017

Afternoon tea gets royal treatment at Prince of Wales

Prince of Wales exterior
We got a quick refresher in British royal protocol when we stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara on the Lake (www.vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales). The stately brick property had been entertaining guests under a couple of different names for more than 30 years before the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) paid a visit in 1901. Thrilled with the royal presence, the property changed its name to the Prince of Wales. We finally figured out that the Duke assumed that title when he became heir apparent to the throne. His father was King Edward VII, the monarch best known from PBS as an unrepentant playboy who took socialite actress Lily Langtry as his mistress.

This time the name stuck and the grande dame of lodgings in genteel Niagara on the Lake remains the Prince of Wales. Located where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario, the town was originally a British military stronghold and haven for Loyalists fleeing north during the American Revolution. But it was virtually destroyed by U.S. troops during the War of 1812. Quickly rebuilt, by 1830 it had developed a thriving steamboat business.

Drawing room at Prince of Wales Hotel

The Arcade Hotel, as the Prince of Wales was originally called, was built in 1864 in the prime location at the corner of Picton and King streets. It’s been carefully restored to its Victorian elegance. Yet in keeping with modern, more casual times, the hotel strikes a nice balance between decorum and comfort. That’s especially true in the drawing room (above) where afternoon tea is served daily. The gorgeous space features ornate woodwork, big mirrors, and a glittering crystal chandelier. The overstuffed chairs and sofas encourage a persistent indolence.

Pomp and circumstance of afternoon tea


server at tea at Prince of Wales HotelThe Prince of Wales serves teas from Sloane Fine Tea Merchants in Toronto. The company produces its own blends from teas sourced directly from the point of origin. The first step in the Prince of Wales tea service is to open small containers and sniff the various offerings. Once the tea is properly steeped and poured, a serving tray arrives with a variety of dainty sandwiches along with sweet small cream puffs and macarons.

Of all the goodies, the scones are the star of the show. Their subtle flavor derives from golden raisins that have been steeped in jasmine tea. The scones come to the table hot from the oven. Tea drinkers slather on jam, butter, and house-made crème fraiche to taste. (Chefs at the Prince of Wales found it impossible to get an adequate supply of true British clotted cream, so they devised this more than acceptable substitute.) For those who can’t get enough of the scones, they are also served at breakfast. One morning the couple at the next table ordered a half dozen to split between them. For those who still can’t get enough, the hotel graciously agreed to share the recipe.

scone at tea in Prince of Wales Hotel

JASMINE TEA SCONES


Makes 12 large scones

Ingredients


1 cup golden raisins
2 cups hot jasmine tea
4 1/2 cups (500g) cake flour
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
7 teaspoons (30g) baking powder
1 stick (115g) cold butter (cut into cubes )
2 (1/2 cup) whole eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (250ml) heavy cream

For egg wash
1 egg
1 teaspoon cream

Directions


Soak the raisins in hot jasmine tea mixture. Cover and let cool overnight in fridge. Strain and squeeze out most of the water before weighing. Use 175g, or 6 1/4 oz.

Combine the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Cut the butter in until mealy texture (slightly smaller than a pea).

In a separate bowl, mix together the cream and eggs. Add to the dough slowly while mixer runs. Add in the raisins and mix until combined. Rest the dough in a well floured pan for approximately 1 hour, preferably in refrigerator.

Roll dough to about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut to desired width. Brush tops of scones with egg wash. Let rest for another 20 minutes.

Bake at 340°F (170°C) for approximately 8–15 minutes for a convection oven or 15–22 minutes for a conventional oven. Tops should be just turning golden brown and toothpick inserted in one should come out with no dough slick. (A moist crumb is acceptable.) Be sure to open up at least one to ensure the middle is baked enough.

tea at Prince of Wales Hotel


For an overview of travel on the Niagara Peninsula, see the web site of Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

17

08 2017

Enjoy a millionaire’s tea at a pauper’s price

Tea tray at Good Food & Wine in Belfast
Aptly named Good Food & Wine is a gourmet treat shop and casual cafe that serves afternoon tea all day long. It’s tucked into the Queen’s Arcade shopping center between Fountain Street and Donegall Place, Not only is it steps from Belfast City Hall and the Linen Hall Library, it’s also handy to the central shopping district. Mind you, afternoon tea here is not the lifted pinkie, fine porcelain, hushed ambiance formal tea. For that experience, visit the nearby Merchant Hotel (16 Skipper St., 28 9023 4888, themerchanthotel.com), the poshest address in the city.

Counter at Good Food & Wine in BelfastBut at £7.50 per person, it’s hard to beat Good Food & Wine for a tiered tray of finger sandwiches and sweet treats and a pot of brewed looseleaf Belfast Blend. (It contains 90% Assam and 10% Tanzanian black teas.) The selection of sandwiches and treats varies by the day. When we stopped for a respite, we were served four egg salad finger sandwiches on alternating white and dark bread and slices of a three-layer chocolate torte. Even if you just stop in for a cup of tea or coffee, you’ll find a sweet treat at the edge of the saucer. Often, it’s a tiny square of a classic Northern Irish “tray bake” called the Millionaire’s Bar. It stacks a layer of shortbread, a layer of caramel, and a layer of chocolate.

The Millionaire’s Bar (also sometimes called Millionaire’s Shortcake) is a popular treat in Belfast. Most versions are topped with semisweet or milk chocolate. For a change of pace, Good Food & Wine sometimes uses white chocolate (legally called “white confectionery” in the U.S.). We played around with a few recipes and came up with the version below. The sprinkle of sea salt on top enhances the toasty flavor of the caramel.

Good Food & Wine, 12-16 Queen’s Arcade, 28 2766 8879, thegoodfoodandwinecompany.co.uk

White Chocolate Millionaire's Bar

MILLIONAIRE’S BARS


A few notes about the recipe: Measurements are largely given by weight. Since many baking ingredients vary widely by volume, weighing the components guarantees that the recipe comes out the same each time. As far as we can tell, no one makes golden syrup on this side of the Atlantic. Imported cans of Lyle’s Golden Syrup are available in gourmet shops and well-stocked grocery stores. Nothing can substitute for the toffee flavor, as the syrup is made partially with invert sugar.

Makes 16-20 pieces

Ingredients

For shortbread
225 grams (8 oz.) all purpose flour
175 grams (6 oz.) butter, cold, cut in small cubes
75 grams (2 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar, ground fine in spice grinder or food processor

For topping
150 grams (5 oz.) butter
394-gram (14 fl. oz.) can condensed milk
100 grams (3 1/2 fl. oz.) golden syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
350 grams white chocolate, grated or cut very small
sea salt for finishing (Maldon flake or similar)

Directions

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan with aluminum foil.

In food processor, combine flour and small cubes of butter. Process in pulses to consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add ground sugar and pulse until combined.

Place mixture in lined pan and spread evenly with back of a spoon. Press down shortbread firmly to pack tightly in pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until pale golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

As shortbread is baking, begin to prepare the caramel layer of topping. Place butter, condensed milk, and golden syrup in saucepan. Stir occasionally while heating until butter melts and mixture is smooth.

Raise heat to bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. When the caramel thickens and turns golden brown, remove from heat. When it has cooled a little, pour over the cooled shortbread, spreading evenly over the surface. Set aside to cool completely.

When caramel is cooled, prepare chocolate layer. Bring water to a simmer in bottom of double boiler. In top of double boiler, heat the cream over direct heat until simmering. Place over simmering water in double boiler and add white chocolate, stirring until mixture is smooth. Pour over pan and smooth to edges. Sprinkle sparingly with finishing salt and let cool before cutting.

04

12 2016