Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Brewing tea the English way

Tea completes the trio of elements for afternoon cream tea in England.

I discovered that there are particular afternoon teas, blended to help you unwind after a long day, which are lighter and subtler tasting than breakfast teas, which brace you for the day to come.

To make a “proper” cup of tea, allow one bag or one teaspoon of loose tea per person (plus one extra teaspoon of loose tea for the pot).

Set water to boil in a teakettle.

When it’s nearly boiling, pour some into a teapot (not a coffeepot — the flavors don’t mix well) to warm it. After a minute or so, empty water from the heated teapot and place the loose tea or tea bags in it.

Then, add boiling water into the teapot and let it brew for at least two minutes or longer, depending on how strong you prefer your tea and the kind of tea it is. Cover the teapot with a tea cozy while it’s brewing. Resist the temptation to dunk and swish the bag to speed the process.

Pour the brewed tea (if using loose tea, through a wire strainer) into your best china cups and serve with low-fat milk, or sugar, if desired.

Sit down, maybe in your flower garden, to enjoy the tea alongside a scone loaded with clotted cream and jam! NLR

Photo courtesy of Nikki Rajala

“Nowhere is the English genius of domesticity more 
notably evident than in the festival of afternoon tea. 
The mere chink of cups and saucers 
tunes the mind to happy repose.”
George Gissing

Monday, August 22, 2011


Photos courtesy of Nikki Rajala

Scones are the second part of afternoon cream tea. Pronounced “scawns,” in England they’re mid-sized and light — vehicles for jam and the fabulous clotted cream mentioned in yesterday’s blog posting.

In comparison, scones in the U.S. are almost a dessert of their own — large, quite sweet and often densely flavored with fruit, candied ginger or other ingredients. 

Admittedly, I prefer the sweeter versions if I’m only adding butter. But with fabulous clotted cream and jam, who needs the extra sugar?

These scones are simple to make and best eaten the day they were made.

1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup milk (soured with a teaspoon of lemon juice), plus 2 tsp. milk for glaze
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Stir the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the mixture until it’s crumbly. Add milk and vanilla to flour mixture and blend until smooth.

Place dough on a floured surface and knead gently for a minute. Then roll or pat it into a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. With a knife, cut into triangles about 3 inches on a side. Brush the tops with milk and place on the baking sheet.

Bake about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Remove and transfer to the wire rack to cool.

Yield: about 6 scones

To serve, split the scones and spread them with a large spoonful of clotted cream and a thick layer of jam, in the order that pleases you. My English pen pal noted that in Devonshire, cream is layered on the scone before the jam; in Cornwall, it’s the other way around. I dolloped one scone-half each way and found both incredibly delicious pleasures.

Raspberry or strawberry jams are traditional choices. My best friend’s orange marmalade was equally enticing.

Here is Sue’s own recipe for Sweet Scones, which makes 9 scones.

Mix together 8 oz. self-rising flour (about 1 2/3 cups) and 1/2 tsp. baking powder. Then rub in 1 oz. butter (2 tbsp.) until it resembles crumbs. Add 1 oz. caster sugar (1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar, not confectioner’s sugar). Mix together with 1/4 pint (1/2 cup) milk into a soft dough. Roll or pat out until 1/2-inch thick, then cut into circles and place on a baking tray. Glaze the tops with egg yolk or milk. Bake for 8-10 minutes in oven 220°C or gas 7 (at 425°F) until risen and golden. Cool on a wire tray. Serve with clotted cream and raspberry jam.

Tomorrow — a cup of tea… NLR

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Henry James in “The Portrait of a Lady”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Clotted cream

Photos courtesy of Nikki Rajala
First comes clotted cream. When Sue, my pen pal, served it, hers had almost the texture of whipped cream.

In Cornwall and Devon, it’s produced by gently heating full-cream cow’s milk and then allowing it to cool in shallow pans. The cream rises to the surface and forms “clots” which are skimmed off. It’s so thick it doesn’t need whipping, or churning as does butter.
Rich and sweet, clotted cream has a minimum fat content of 55 percent (averaging 64 percent!).

I purchased a 5.6 oz jar of Somerdale English Clotted Cream in the refrigerated section at a local upscale grocery store for around $9.50. The butterfat content is 55 percent. The directions said, “Shake before using,” but it was too thick to shake, even at room temperature. Its texture was like butter.

Making your own is easy and economical. The texture of mine was more like cream cheese. The only ingredient needed is one pint of heavy cream.

Pour the cream into an oven-safe shallow pan. Place in the oven, set the temperature for 175°F and leave it for about 12 hours. The thick band of yellowish skin that forms is the clotted cream. Remove from the oven, cover, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to use. The cream may be kept for 3 to 4 days, and used for other foods besides topping the scones.

Yield: about 1 cup clotted cream

I poured off the remaining cup of “unclotted cream” after it had been refrigerated — that task might have been less messy if I’d done it when the cream was at room temperature. The unclotted cream can be used in cooking or on berries.

You could purchase clotted cream from the English Tea Store by calling 1-877-734-2458 or visiting them online; click on British Food, then find Clotted Cream & Devon Cream. A 6 oz. jar of Devon Double Cream is $4.81; a same-size jar of English Luxury Clotted Cream is $5.69.

Shipping is extra — because the product is so perishable, the company requires purchasers to choose “Next Day Air” between March and October to guarantee the items arrive in good condition. In addition, they only ship clotted creams Monday through Wednesday to ensure products don’t sit on a loading dock over a weekend.

Next — the scones, and finally, a proper cup of tea… NLR

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cream tea in the afternoon

On my trip to London and the English midlands, I savored the foods — and words — unique to Britain: mushy minted peas, a rasher of streaky bacon and Pimm’s, a refreshing beverage. I learned the difference between chips (our French fries) and crisps (potato chips to us). And I discovered “pudding” is a term used for any dessert, not just a creamy custard. Sticky toffee pudding, then, was a lovely unfrosted spice cake with toffee sauce poured over the top. 

One treat that stands out was the cream tea prepared one afternoon by my pen pal Sue, who I’ve corresponded with since about fifth grade.

Cream tea is not a new tea flavor, nor is it tea with lots of cream — it’s a traditional way of serving afternoon tea. It consisted of clotted cream and jam spread thickly on scones (pronounced “scawns”) and tea with milk.

Cream tea is different from a more formal or “high tea” which might be served in a hotel, cafĂ© or tea shop. A high tea could also include cucumber, egg or other savory sandwiches and a variety of cakes and pastries. In other words, a three-course tea: sandwiches, scones and finally the sweets. During my visit, I ate well — breakfast, lunch and dinner — so the “cream tea” served mid-afternoon was more than sufficient.

Over the next few days I’ll share my recollections and how you might create your own treats for afternoon tea. NLR

Photo courtesy of Nikki Rajala

“Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors.”
Alice Walker

Friday, August 19, 2011

A trip to England: Taking tea

Photo courtesy of Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a friend and fellow copy editor at The Visitor. In June she traveled to England with her three sisters, and after a week in London, visited her pen pal in the English midlands. 

It’s been fun to see her pictures from the trip and chat about her experiences. In the next few days, as guest writer for this blog, she’ll share her version of a proper afternoon English cream tea. CJK

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A memory in every bite

I still love making hamburgers on the grill. Whenever I eat them, childhood memories come up for me.”
— Bobby Flay

Friday, August 12, 2011


“Fresh tender corn on the cob — its succulent kernels are one of summer’s sweetest rewards.”
—Bill Vossler

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Savoring summer’s best

“No tomato on earth compares to one straight from the garden — still warm from the summer’s sun.”
— Bill Vossler

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pink or punk?

“To test for ripeness in watermelon, snap your thumb and third finger against the melon. If it says ‘pink’ in a high, shrill tone, the melon isn’t ripe. If you hear ‘punk’ in a deep low tone, the melon is ready to eat.”
— Dr. Myles H. Bader, 6001 Food Facts and Chef’s Secrets

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Food of the angels

“Watermelon is chief of this world’s luxuries, king by grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.”
— Mark Twain

Friday, August 5, 2011

Perfect summer day

“A perfect summer day is 
when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.”
— James Dent