Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winter Afternoon Tea

I’m thrilled to be a part of this month’s Foodbuzz 24x24. Each month 24 food bloggers from around the world create a meal on the same day—24 different meals in 24 hours and posted for your reading pleasure! For my event, I hosted a winter afternoon tea.

In 1987 I made my first trip to London as a 20-something college student with my friend, Barbie. (Like our 80s hairstyles!) One of the highlights was tea at the world famous Harrods department store. I was completely dazzled by all the wonderful food choices displayed on tiered tables—sweets, scones, and tiny sandwiches, and enamored with the idea of such a civilized afternoon repast with friends. (Visitors can still make reservations for tea at Harrods.)

On that trip I purchased the Harrods Book of Entertaining by Lady Macdonald of Macdonald. Inside is a complete menu for a winter afternoon tea for 6 to 8. I decided to make many of the recipes from that menu for my own afternoon tea. I included Cheese Scones, Walnut and Apricot Tea Bread with Lemon Icing, Vanilla Sponge Cake withVanilla Butter Cream and Raspberry Jam, Very Sticky Chocolate Cake with Fudge Icing, and Cream-Filled Vanilla Meringues. I also made cucumber and watercress sandwiches, and added Scottish shortbread cookies, strawberry and black currant jams, and British cheeses from Brits and World Market in Lawrence, Kansas. And I served PG Tips tea (a British every day type of tea) in a tea pot I also purchased on that 1987 trip.

The tea gave me the chance to use my Mamaw’s china dessert dishes. (Read about Mamaw here.) I remember her serving coffee and cake to the church ladies on these elegant, floral plates with the built in saucer. And I raided my mom’s collection of glassware for serving dishes. She also allowed me to use her sterling silverware, which she began collecting in the eighth grade. (She was so excited to come to the tea, but instead spent the day at home with a stomach virus. I missed her.)

The first trick to the menu was following British recipes.Most of the measurements were done by weight or metric. And I found out later that the British and American ounces are slightly different—the metric measurements were more accurate.

However, each recipe came out well, though the cakes didn’t rise as high as I imagined they should. I don’t know if that’s because of the measurement difference or if self-rising flour (which they call self-raising) in the UK is different from that here in the US. (If anyone knows the answer, let me know!)

The one exception was the Very Sticky Chocolate Cake with Fudge Icing. I fought with that cake from the beginning. My first mistake was in the interpretation of the recipe’s instruction when testing the cake. The directions said, “…sticking in a skewer and if it comes out not clean but with gooey cake just smearing the skewer, don’t worry: this cake is meant to be like that. If you continue to cook it until the skewer comes out clean, the cake will be drier and not nearly so good.”

You guessed it. I didn’t bake the cake long enough, and the middle fell through the cooling rack. So I tried it again, and all was well—until I made the Fudge Icing. It didn’t work at all! It was an unusable, crumbly mess. (Please let me know if you can figure out what I did wrong!) So I just made a double batch of the butter cream filling (with a touch of vanilla added) and used it to frost the cake.

The chocolate cake was the most popular item on the entire menu. Go figure.

I also enjoyed the vanilla sponge cake and the walnut and apricot tea bread.  They are now favorites in my recipe file. And the cucumber and watercress sandwiches were very refreshing. They will be perfect as part of a summer supper.

My guests were some of my closest lady friends. We enjoyed the tea, food and wonderful conversation. (Sometimes it’s just nice to add an elegant, relaxed repast to the day.) At the end of the meal each guest got a bakery box to fill with treats to take home.

Here are the recipes. Be sure to let me know if you try anyof them. You will see my comments on the recipe in brackets.

Cheese Scones

Makes about 10. [I got 16, but the ones made with leftover dough were tougher than the first-cut ones.] Scones freeze well: thaw before reheating in the oven at 270 degrees.

350 g (12 oz) self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
100 g (4 oz) mature cheddar cheese, grated
1 large egg
300 ml milk

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and mustard powder into a bowl. Stir in the grated cheese. Lightly beat the egg and milk together andadd. Mix well, and kneed for 1 minute. [I did this by just mixing the dough harder in the bowl. I also had to add additional flour to bring the dough together.]

Pat out the scone mixture on a floured work surface to a thickness of about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Stamp out 5 cm (2 inch) rounds, or cut out triangles, and put them on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C or mark 7) for 12 to 15 minutes, until the scones are risen and golden. Serve warm with butter and raspberry or strawberry jam.

Vanilla Sponge with Vanilla Butter Cream and Raspberry Jam

The cake will freeze very well if cooled quickly and frozen immediately. You can fill it 2 or 3 hours before serving.

3 large eggs
75 g (3 oz) granulated sugar
Few drops of vanilla extract [I used about 1/2 teaspoon.]
75 g (3 oz) self-raising flour, sifted twice
225 g (8 oz) raspberry jam
Sifted powdered sugar
For butter cream:
125 g (4 oz) butter
125 g (4 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
Few drops of vanilla extract [I used about 1/2 teaspoon.]

Butter two 8-inch cake tins and line the base of each with parchment paper.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, and whisk with an electric beater. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla essence, whisking until the mixture is very thick, almost white in color and mousse-like in texture.This will take about 7 minutes. To test of the mixture is thick enough, stop whisking and lift the whisk out, trailing a squiggle of the mixture over the surface. If it sits on top, the mixture is thick enough; if it vanishes into the mixture, continue whisking! Sift the flour over the mixture. With a spoon or spatula, fold the flour quickly and thoroughly into the egg mixture.

Divide between the prepared cake tins, and bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C, mark 4) for about 20 minutes [mine took 15 minutes, but my oven runs hot], until the cakes are golden brown on top and just beginning to shrink from the sides of the tins. Cool on wire racks.

To make the butter cream, beat the butter until creamy and gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until the butter cream is pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

Put one cake layer on a serving plate and spread it with the butter cream. Cover the butter cream with the raspberry jam, then put the second cake layer on top. Sift powdered sugar over the surface of the cake. This cake is easier to cut with a serrated knife.

Very Sticky Chocolate Cake with Fudge Icing

This cake will keep for 2 or 3 days in an air tightcontainer.

175 g (6 oz) butter
175 g (6 oz) dark brown sugar
225 g (8 oz) drinking chocolate powder [This is hot chocolate powder that you mix with milk, not cocoa powder! I used Cadbury. Look in the import section of the grocery store or a gourmet shop.]
50 g (2 oz) self-raising flour
4 large eggs
Few drops of vanilla extract [I used about 1/2 teaspoon.]
For butter cream:
125 g (4 oz) butter
125 g (4 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
For chocolate fudge icing:
50 g (2 oz) butter
50 g (2 oz) granulated sugar
175 g (6 oz) powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Butter a 9-inch cake tin and line the base with parchment paper.

To make the cake, put the butter in a mixing bowl and beat well, gradually adding the sugar. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Sift the drinking chocolate and flour together. Beat 1 egg into the butter mixture, then beat in some of the chocolate and flour mixture. Beat in another egg, and so on until the eggs and flour mixture are all incorporated. Beat in the vanilla essence.

Spoon and scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C, mark 4) for 35 minutes.

Test the cake, before you take it out of the oven, by sticking in a skewer and if it comes out not clean but with gooey cake just smearing the skewer, don’t worry: this cake is meant to be like that. If you continue to cook it until a skewer comes out clean, the cake will be drier and not nearly as good! Cool for 1 minute in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the butter cream, beat the butter, gradually adding the icing sugar and cocoa. Beat well until fluffy.

When the cake is cold, cut into 2 layers using a serrated knife. Spread the butter cream over the bottom layer and cover with the top layer.

To make the icing, put the butter, granulated sugar, and 90m. (6 tablespoons) water in a sauce pan over moderate heat. Heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved, then bring to a boil and boil fast for 4 to 5 minutes. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a mixing bowl. Gradually beat in the buttery sugar syrup, to make a smooth thick icing. Spread the icing over the tip and sides of the cake.

Walnut and Apricot Teabread with Lemon Icing

This teabread is nicest eaten the day it is made, but it freezes very well so you can make 2 and keep one in the freezer.

225 g (8 oz) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
50 g (2 oz) dark brown sugar
125 g (4 oz) walnuts, chopped
75 g (3 oz) dried apricots, soaked in water for 1 hour, drained and cut in half [I cut mine in quarters.]
45 ml (3 tablespoons) golden syrup [I used Lyle’s. Look in the import section of the grocery store or a gourmet shop.]
150 ml milk
1 egg, beaten
For lemon icing:
75 g (3 oz) powdered sugar
15 ml hot lemon juice
Chopped walnuts, to garnish

Butter a loaf pan and line the base with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, walnuts and apricots. Put the golden syrup into a sauce pan and pour in the milk. Heat until the syrup has melted into the milk. Beat the syrupy milk into the flour mixture, then beat in the egg.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake at325 degrees F (170 degrees C, mark 3) for about 1 1/4 hours, until a knifeinserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. [Mine took just over an hour.] Cool in the tin for several minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the powdered sugar and lemon juice, beating until the icing is smooth. [I had to add more lemon juice to get the right consistency.] Cover the top of the teabread with the icing, letting it trickle down the sides. Decorate with chopped walnuts, if desired.

Cream-filled Vanilla Meringues

They are very convenient for a tea party because they can be made a few days in advance and stored in an airtight container. Fill them with vanilla-flavored sweetened whipped cream shortly before serving. [I just served the whipped cream on the side.]

3 egg whites
175 g (6 oz) granulated sugar

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then very gradually add the sugar, whisking continuously, until very stiff and glossy. Fill a piping bag with the mixture, and using a wide star nozzle, pipe meringues about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 225 degrees F (110 degrees C, mark 1/4) for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Cool on a wire rack.

Cucumber or Watercress Sandwiches

Thin-sliced white bread [I used Pepperidge Farm brand.]
English-style (seedless) cucumber, sliced thinly, or 1 bunch of watercress
Unsalted butter, soft
Salt and pepper, to taste

Spread the butter onto one side of both pieces of bread. Layer the cucumber or watercress leaves onto on the of buttered bread slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then top with another buttered bread slice. Cut off the crusts with a serrated knife and slice into triangles or fingers. [I cut the cucumber sandwiches into triangles and the watercress sandwiches into fingers.) Keep on a plate covered with a damp paper towel and plastic wrap in the refrigerator until just before serving.

The Perfect Pot (orCup) of Tea

To brew the perfect pot or cup of tea, fill the tea pot or cup with very hot water and let stand to warm.

Bring cold water toa boil. (Cold water has more oxygen and makes a better tasting tea. Also do not let the water boil for too long or it will release the oxygen and the tea will taste flat.)

Empty the pot or cup, add the tea leaves or bags and pour the boiling water on top. Allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes or until the tea reaches the desired strength. Note: Steep green tea for only one to three minutes to prevent bitterness.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Delia Smith’s Four Nut Chocolate Brownies

Delia Smith is someone I’ve always heard of and wanted to know more about, especially since I love all things British! She is that country’s best-selling cookbook author, with more than 21 million copies sold (according to Everything I’ve read describes her way of cookery teaching, both in her books and on television, as no-nonsense. And that was just what I experienced as I read some of her recipes.

I was intrigued by her Four Nut Chocolate Brownies recipe on her website. I loved her description of brownies, especially since everyone seems to wonder just how to tell when a batch is finished baking. She wrote, “If you’ve never made brownies before, you first need to get into the brownie mode, and to do this stop thinking ‘cakes.’ Brownies are slightly crisp on the outside but soft, damp and squidgy within. I’m always getting letters from people who think their brownies are not cooked, so once you’ve accepted the description above, try and forget all about cakes.”

Instead of the Brazil nuts and hazelnuts the recipe called for, I used almonds and walnuts along with the pecans and macadamia nuts listed in the ingredients. I also used bittersweet chocolate (60-percent cocoa solids) instead of the recipe’s dark chocolate (75-percent cocoa solids) since the darker variety wasn’t on my grocery store’s bakery aisle shelf and I didn’t want to go hunting around the store for it.

This recipe turned out wonderful. So good, in fact, that I couldn’t resist licking the batter from the spoon and bowl. (Confess, you still do that too, don’t you?) Even with the bittersweet chocolate, the brownies had a wonderfully rich chocolate flavor. Each bite was dense and chewy—almost like candy! And the mixture of nuts added a flavorful touch just a step above traditional brownies with only a single type of nut mixed in.

Four Nut Chocolate Brownies

1 ounce macadamia nuts
1 ounce blanched almonds
1 ounce pecans
1 ounce walnuts
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate at 60 percent cocoa solids
4 ounces salted butter
2 large eggs, beaten
8 ounces granulated sugar
2 ounces plain flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1/4 level teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a  7 x 11-inch baking dish with parchment paper, allowing the paper to come 1 inch above the sides.

Chop the nuts, not too small, then place them on a baking sheet. Toast them in the oven for 5-8 minutes. Use a timer so you don't burn the nuts.  While the nuts toast, put the chocolate and butter together in a large mixing bowl fitted over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Allow the chocolate to melt, then mix until smooth. Remove it from the heat and stir in all the ingredients until thoroughly blended.

Now spread the mixture evenly into the prepared baking dish.  Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until it’s slightly springy in the center. Remove from the oven and leave it to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into roughly 15 squares. Then transfer the squares onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you've enjoyed my posts or tried one of my recipes, you can support my writing efforts through Buy Me a Coffee...or tea...or flavored fizzy water. Your donation will be greatly appreciated, especially now as I deal with a chronic autoimmune disease that flared back up again. The button is located on the right-hand side of this page. If you can't, that's okay, too. Either way, thank you so much for reading my stuff!  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bread Pudding Souffle from the Palace

This week’s selection from the Gourmet Live 50 WomenGame-Changers that I and a group of my fellow food bloggers post about each Friday is Ella Brennan. She has been a fixture in the New Orleans restaurant scene for more than 65 years and is the matriarch of a family that operates a dozen restaurants, including the world famous Commander's Palace, for which she is best known. (She lives in a home behind the restaurant.) This restaurant has been the launching point for many of the city’s most famous chefs, including Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. Mostly retired now, she is still known to show up in one of the restaurants a few times each week.

I love New Orleans cuisine and was excited to make the Commander’s Palace Bread Pudding Souffle. Unfortunately, too little time and a bad cold virus kept me out of the kitchen this week.

I’ve made many bread puddings in the past, both sweet and savory. For the dessert variety, I like to use cinnamon raisin bread and add even more raisins and nuts. Instead of a whiskey sauce, I just top it with a little heavy cream. Yum.

I like the savory style, also known as Italian strata, for breakfast. I make it with bacon, onions and cheese. This dish even tastes great the next day!

Just about any bread pudding recipe can be adapted to fit your tastes. However, this one has the added twist of being a souffle with whipped egg whites folded into the mix after it bakes.

When I do get time to make it, I’ll let you know what I think. If you give the recipe a try, please share your thoughts!

Image from
Commander’s Palace Bread Pudding Souffle

Bread Pudding:
Butter, for greasing pan and ramekins
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
3 medium eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups New Orleans French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (see Cook's Note below)
1/3 cup raisins

Whiskey Sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup bourbon

9 medium egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar

Cook's Note: New Orleans French bread is very light and tender. If another style of bread is used that is too dense, it will soak up all the custard and the recipe won't work.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs until smooth, and then work in the heavy cream. Add the vanilla, stir to combine, and then the bread cubes. Let stand so that bread soaks up custard.

Place the raisins in the greased pan. Top with the bread mixture, which prevents the raisins from burning. Bake for approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until the pudding has a golden brown color and is firm to the touch. If a toothpick inserted in the pudding comes out clean, it is done. The mixture should be moist, not runny or dry. Cool to room temperature.

Make the whiskey sauce: Place cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch and water together, and add to cream while whisking. Bring to a boil. Whisk and let simmer for a few seconds, taking care not to burn the mixture on the bottom. Remove from heat. Stir in the sugar and the bourbon. Taste to make sure the sauce has a thick consistency, a sufficiently sweet taste, and a good bourbon flavor. Cool to room temperature.

Make the meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 6 (6-ounce) ramekins and set aside. Make certain that the bowl and whisk are completely clean. The egg whites should be completely free of yolk, and they will whip better if they are at room temperature. This dish needs a good, stiff meringue. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), whip egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Add the sugar gradually, and continue whipping until shiny and thick. Test with a clean spoon. If the whites stand up stiff, like shaving cream when you pull out the spoon, the meringue is ready. Do not over-whip, or the whites will break down and the souffle will not work.

In a large bowl, break half of the bread pudding into pieces using your hands or a spoon.

Gently fold in 1/4 of the meringue, being careful not to lose the air in the whites. Add a portion of this base to each of the ramekins. Place the remaining bread pudding in the bowl, break into pieces, and carefully fold in the rest of the meringue. Top off the souffles with this lighter mixture. Smooth and shape tops with a spoon into a dome over the ramekin rim.

Bake immediately for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately. Using a spoon, at the table, poke a hole in the top of each souffle, and pour the room temperature whiskey sauce inside the souffle.

Also, be sure to check out my fellow food bloggers to see what they prepared to honor Ella Brennan:

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie -Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Claudia – Journey of An Italian Cook
Alyce – More Time at the Table
Amrita – Beetle’s Kitchen Escapades

Friday, February 3, 2012

A New Discovery and An Old Love

I made a new discovery in the food world thanks to this week’s selection from the Gourmet Live 50 Women Game-Changers that I and a group of my fellow food bloggers post about each Friday. Today we are focused on Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the duo behind Canal House Cooking.

Hirsheimer (who is a woman, by the way) was a founding editor and food photographer of Saveur magazine (one of my favorites!), and Hamilton, a chef, was Saveur’s test kitchen director. Their new publication comes out three times a year and features recipes and images the pair creates in their New Jersey studio on the Delaware Canal.

Canal House Cooking’s publications are beautiful. You can check them out on the website, where you can also order back issues. (I plan to order two of them in the very near future!)

Best of all, on the website I found a recipe for all-time favorite spread—pimiento cheese. I grew up enjoying this cheesy creation on sandwiches, crackers and celery. Mamaw made her own spread. My mom bought hers from the store. (Pimiento cheese always makes me think of my mom, since it's a treat we both enjoy.) I usually purchase it from a local deli here in Topeka, but I was intrigued with the idea of making my own.

This recipe is very easy, and the result is wonderful! I don’t think I will ever buy ready-made pimiento cheese again!

Pimiento Cheese
Makes 2 cups

8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, finely grated
1 4-ounce jar pimientos, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon grated yellow onion [seems like a little, but it makes a huge difference to the taste!]
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of ground cayenne

Put the cheddar, pimientos, onions, mayonnaise, cream cheese, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a medium bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until it is well blended and the cheddar becomes creamy. Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

If you’re on Facebook, be sure to check out the There andBack Again page.

Also, be sure to check out my fellow food bloggers to see what they prepared from Canal House Cooking:

Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia -A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets
Katie -Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green
Jeanette - Healthy Living
Linda - Ciao Chow Linda
Nancy - Picadillo
Veronica - My Catholic Kitchen
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits
Claudia – Journey of An Italian Cook
Alyce – More Time at the Table
Amrita – Beetle’s Kitchen Escapades