Cake Diary: The Brewery Tea Rooms

Cake Diary: The Brewery Tea Rooms

This weekend I caught up with a friend from work and travelled to her neck of the woods for Tea & Cake. I know the north of the county reasonably well and lived in Stevenage for a few years when I was younger. Despite this I had never visited the neighbouring village of Walkern, but having been advised it boasts an award winning Tea Room I didn’t take much convincing.

Stevenage is unmistakably a new town, concrete tower blocks, new build estates and supermarkets. I have nothing against this concept as I live in a new town myself but there is no sense of history or interest so I drove in one end……and out the other, scooping up my partner in cake on the way through! The bland, beige landscape of the new town is soon forgotten, like Dorothy leaving Kansas and stepping into technicolour Oz the winding, narrow lane guides you past golden fields of harvested corn, hedgerows come alive with wildlife as the sky opens up above you welcoming you to the countryside. Wind down the windows and breath in the fresh air.

Had I not had a local guide I would have driven straight past the Brewery Tea Rooms. Despite being on the High Street it’s facade is understated, heavy wooden doors open onto a small cobbled patio area lined with tables and chairs. As the name suggests the building is an old Brewery which was renovated into a house. The current owners, Sarah & Nigel, reside in the main building but converted part of it into the Tea Room which has been open to the public for the past 7 years.

You enter into a charming tea parlour with a combination of tables and chairs to sit and chat or you can relax in the comfy armchair and sofa with a book from their collection. There is a classy combination of antique pieces and up cycled chairs covered in vintage hessian sacks. Like an Aladdins cave there is much more space than it would appear from outside. The cozy parlour leads through to a lighter and brighter seating area for larger parties. Natural light floods in from high windows and glistens off two chandeliers, brightening up the space. The walls are used to display echoes of the buildings past, the original bond from 1848 when the brewery was born as well as black and white photos of the building and its workers from the 1940’s. The piece de resistance is the gift shop to the rear of the room, the ceiling lowers again and your eyes cannot rest as they flit around the burgeoning shelves and side boards. Gifts for all occasions in new and vintage styles. Gorgeous things that no one needs but they make life that much prettier. Make sure you allow time to loose yourself amongst the treasures.

Even more tempting than the trinkets for sale was the array of cakes on the counter. The serving hatch has a country kitchen feel with chalk board menus and old fashioned dressers displaying their homemade produce. Sweet or savoury scones, Rocky Road, Apricot slice and Meringues the size of an ostrich egg!

The Raspberry Ripple Victoria Sponge called my name from under it’s glass cloche, it was muffled but I definitely heard it! The cake decision was a quick one, the tea decision took a little more time. Behind the serving hatch was a shelf lined with vintage, oriental, tins containing loose leaf teas from around the globe. From the delicate sounding Rose Congou and Jasmine Flower to the slightly more intimidating Gunpowder blend! I played it a little safe and choose Lady Grey feeling the refreshing citrus would compliment my fruity cake choice.

The teapots were modern, containing a removable tea infuser which allows you to choose your own brew length. The rest of the crockery was vintage china to compliment our historic surroundings. It may surprise you to know that I am not a huge fan of Victoria Sponge and I can’t explain why I was drawn to it on this day, what I do know is I’m glad I was! If I had dropped the sponge from the table I’m convinced it would have floated delicately to the ground like a feather.

The Brewery Tea Rooms  – Version 2
Raspberry Ripple

Thankfully I did not waste a crumb, each exquisite bite filled my mouth with the taste of summer. Between the layers of golden sponge was light buttercream swirled with fresh, crushed raspberries. As the familiar flavours burst on my tongue I was transported back to a childhood of raspberry ripple ice-cream on hot sunny days. The freshness of the ingredients took this slice to another level stunning us both into an enchanted silence.

The attention to detail at this venue is impeccable, respecting the past but looking to the future. Family run with Sarah & Nigel front of house and mum up early baking fresh produce for the table. There is a real sense of belonging with regulars being called by name and the business supporting local charity events. With villages like this being taken over by commuters and younger generations moving away to new towns of convenience we risk loosing the heart of the British countryside. It was a joy to spend the morning in Oz and I would urge you to follow the yellow brick road and support local businesses like this one in restoring our community spirit. After all there’s no place like home.

The Brewery Tea Rooms, 198 High Street, Walkern      TEL: 01438 861930

Cake Diary: The Pudding Stop

Cake Diary: The Pudding Stop

I only had one day off this week so in a bid to make the most of it my lovely boyfriend offered to take me to St Albans for shopping and cake. The cynic in me says this was as much for his benefit as mine! However I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so happily accepted.

St Albans is a beautiful cathedral city with a vast historic past, you can visit the Roman museum or take a stroll around the lovely parkland and lakes. The high street has an eclectic mix of familiar retail chains and interesting boutiques to loosen your purse strings. St Albans is one of my favourite places to eat out as there are restaurants to cater every craving; French fine dining, Greek Meze, American BBQ, spicy middle eastern and Italian comfort food to mention just a few.

Today we visited The Pudding Stop and not for the first time, it is one of my favourites. It’s the brain child of Johnny Shepherd who reached the final six contestants in the first series of The Great British Bakeoff. His venture started with the Pudmobile which parks up at the train station serving freshly baked cakes and puddings to hungry commuters. It’s success then led him to open The Pudding Stop in the city centre. His concept is simple; hearty, tasty puds made fresh on site offering comfort and pleasure to his customers. You can choose from the ever changing sweet treats available at the counter or from the unfussy but delicious menu selections.

The cafe is not huge so it can be a struggle to get a seat, today we were lucky. The decor is simplistic, dove grey paintwork and cream walls with a funky mural depicting Johnny in his Pudmobile. Long natural wood tables are for sharing and you sit on reclaimed wooden school chairs which may bring back memories for some! Gleaming chrome equipment fills the small downstairs kitchen where staff can whip up your frothy latte, pot of tea or pud inspired milkshake. If you needed any more of an incentive to come and enjoy pudding they have a projector on the back wall where they show films on Sunday evenings and GBBO every Wednesday evening during the series.

The menu occasionally has a savoury option on offer, like a cheese board, but this place really does what it says on the tin…..pudding! Its hard to pick between classics like rhubarb crumble and custard or sticky toffee pudding, or opt for chocolate heaven in their flourless chocolate cake or hot brownies! Being open till late, and a licensed premises, this is the perfect spot to head to for pud and a night cap after a meal at one of the divine local restaurants. Being daylight hours I was restrained and ordered a pot of Earl Grey, the tea selection is limited but the pots are bottomless so I cant argue with that.

Over our numerous visits I have had the pleasure of sampling a number of the goodies on offer but today I chose my absolute favourite….…Madeleines. These little sponge delights never let me down, baked to order they arrive on the table warm and inviting. Each delicate, shell shaped, morsel has a crisp edge encasing light blonde sponge. Served as a dozen or half dozen alongside a pool of chocolate salted caramel sauce for dunking.dsc_0383

Salted caramel is not usually a flavour I opt for but here they get the sweet and salty working in perfect harmony. The world around me became white noise as I lost myself in smooth liquid chocolate and warm fluffy sponge. Thankfully my other half was on hand to offer a napkin as I regressed to childhood, scooping up stray sauce with my fingers and dribbling chocolate down my chin! He must have been so proud!

When you order Madeleines you are advised they take 15mins or so to bake fresh, believe me it’s worth the wait. There seemed to be some delay in the bakery today and it took a while to knock up a fresh batch of batter. The waiting staff were very apologetic for the extended delay and kindly gave us some chocolate brownies to take away. The customer service here is always second to none and this gesture was unexpected but very much appreciated.

As their tag line says “The proof is in….. The Pudding Stop” and today, as with every visit, they have proved themselves to be at the top of their game.

The Pudding Stop, 6 The Colonnade, Verulam Rd, St Albans Tel: 01727 830357
P.S. Somehow the brownies made it home and were a filthy, gooey delight!!!

A Change Is Gonna Come

A Change Is Gonna Come

This week I delved further into the world of Crystals and attend a Crystal group at The Enchanted Oak. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about what I had let myself into and nervous due to my novice crystal status! I went along with a friend and her sister, luckily there was just one other lady that joined us so there weren’t too many people to look silly in front of.

The session was run by Chris who really knows his stuff but manages to keep the session light hearted. I found his approach perfect for me as I tend to make silly jokes or comments which are not appreciated if people take themselves too seriously. Thankfully my humour was welcomed and my (silly) questions were answered.

Chris introduced us to Mookaite which originates from Australia and is linked to mother earth with very grounding properties. As with many things they come into your life at a time when you need them. I have recently been feeling agitated, an unsettled feeling where I have not been able to focus. I have been trying to pin point what could have caused this imbalance and the only thing I can think of is approaching change. Friends and loved ones are moving away, facing new challenges and careers, as am I. All of which is very positive and exciting but there is a feeling of uncertainty beyond my control. I often feel slightly unsettled when the seasons are changing and despite the mini heat wave at the beginning of September, Autumn is in the air. The leaves are turning orange, the flowers have finished blooming and sunset is arriving earlier each day.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love Autumn, in fact I love all seasons. I feel grateful that we live in a country where we can see the seasons changing and enjoy the personality of each. The optimism of spring as everything comes to life; the lazy long days of summer soaking up every last ray of sunshine; the harvest preparation of Autumn with its golden colours and the crisp stillness of frosty winter mornings. The British often focus on the grey rainy days thinking that’s all we have but if you take the time to notice you will see all the colours of the calendar as it passes. The dog walkers amongst you will know this better than most.

Mookaite is a nurturing stone that brings peace and a feeling of wholeness. It is a good Crystal to have during times of change to allow versatility and acceptance. Just what I need right now!

It got me thinking about the changes we face in our life, the quarterly change of the seasons, the annual celebration of getting older and all the worries it can bring, changes in our body and in our health, new career paths or relocating. As humans we are resiliant and my mum always told me that you will never be dealt a hand you cannot play. You have to believe you are capable, whether you are facing change yourself or supporting others changing around you. Think back 10 years, 5 years or just last year. Can you imagine your life being exactly the same? I know I certainly can’t.

Scandinavian countries embrace a concept called “Hygge” which I learned about through another blog, Whole Heartedly Healthy. It means that as the summer sets beyond the horizon those living in Scandinavia hunker down, create a feeling of coziness and enjoy comfort food with friends and family in front of open fires. Rather than resist the change in season they embrace it and adapt to keep warm and happy. Perhaps this approach is why they are often considered the happiest people in the world. I believe this approach can be adapted to face any change. Don’t fight it, accept it, embrace it and be kind to yourself as you grow into the new version of you. After all, change is the only constant we can guarantee in life.

Cake Diary: House of High Tea

Cake Diary: House of High Tea

The post festival blues kicked in this weekend and there were only two things capable of curing it……Tea & Cake of course! My other half & I headed to the historic market town of Berkhamsted, or “Berko” as it’s known locally. It is a must visit for any history buffs and culture vultures, boasting the remains of a Norman Castle which you can explore and soak up the historical surroundings. The High Street is a patchwork of buildings, from Anglo-Saxon to Art Deco. The local cinema called “The Rex” is the latter, a stunning Theatre which has been converted but has kept many original features. You can sit in comfy chairs at tables and enjoy a class of wine from the bar during the movie. OK, there’s no 3D iMAX experience here but I’m happy to trade that for comfort any day!

There are several places to choose for an afternoon pick-me-up but we settled on the House of High Tea.  DSC_0356

It’s at the far end of the High Street and easy to miss if you’re out perusing the shops. The tea room is not large but as you enter the high ceiling and chandelier give the feeling of space and elegance. We sat at the window table just by the front door to watch the world go by, there is a second room but it seemed a little dark with just one small window. The decor is luxuriously Victorian, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing my Corset & Bustle, my partner his Top Hat & Tails! Heavy fringed drapes frame the windows and the walls are adorned with large mirrors and silhouette portraits framed by ornate gold gilding. Mahogany tables draped in crisp white linen are surrounded by mismatched chairs, and not just on the floor!

The counter was brimming with a selection of cakes, all of which looked divine; chunky carrot cake, delicate pistachio and lime and fruit laden chocolate and almond. With one glance I knew what my other half would have, the dark and delicious looking Chocolate Jaffa cake. DSC_0330

Two layers of cocoa sponge with an orange jelly centre, smothered in smooth chocolate icing and topped with candied peel. I have to say I was tempted myself but I perused the menu and decided it was a Scone kind of day. I ordered the familiar option of sweet scones, jam and clotted cream, but alternatively you can opt for savoury cheese scones with butter and onion relish.

The loose tea selection is extensive, from Assam to Jasmine, Ceylon to Lady Grey. Being nearly 3pm there seemed like only one logical option, English Afternoon Tea. This is a delicate blend of Keenum and Darjeeling with just a touch of Lapsang Souchong. I have not tried all of these individually so was not sure what to expect. The waitress kindly assisted me with my choice and advised me this was lighter that the traditional English Breakfast blend. In fact is was so fragrant and light I chose to drink it without milk.

The chocolate cake was rich and filthy, it should probably be consumed alone, in a dark room, with a guilty look on your face; the ultimate Jaffa cake experience! As my partner sat opposite me growing devil horns and a euphoric grin I tucked into my angelic scones. Served warm and each topped with a golden halo. Soft to the the touch they fell open willingly, barely grazed by the knife.

Then commenced my internal debate, cream and then jam? or jam and then cream? Not being from the west country nor having any affiliation with Devon or Cornwall I went with my gut instinct. I slathered on a generous helping of clotted cream and dolloped the jam on top frivorously.

The scones melted in my mouth, the cream was not too sweet, finished off with the sugary hit of strawberries. Each bite did not last long enough so on to the next, and the next, and the next. Cleansing my palate between mouthfuls with a sip of refreshing tea. When I saw there were two scones per serving I was not sure I would manage it. Although I had to sacrifice some to the dark lord sat opposite me I had no issues clearing my plate.

This husband and wife run operation is friendly and welcoming, and all the goodies are home made. They offer brunch, sandwiches, cakes and afternoon tea with the savouries looking just as tempting as the sweets (homemade sausage rolls the size of your arm!)*. You can soak up some history and step back in time to this Victorian Tea room which has been voted the best in the Chilterns, you can’t argue with that!!

House of High Tea, 61 High Street, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire      TEL: 01442 871905

*This may be a slight exaggeration and it really depends on the size of your arm!!