Cake Diary: Flourish

Cake Diary: Flourish

One of the many joys of having an artisan baker as a friend is that she finds little bakery gems and invites me along to test them out. Purely market research you understand as we would not normally like to spend our days off chit chatting over cups of tea and enjoying freshly baked produce!……. It’s a tough life.

This week we discovered Flourish, a craft baker tucked away on an industrial estate in Watford. As the sat nav led us past tyre fitters and wholesalers I began to think we were in the wrong place (I don’t trust sat nav’s at the best of times) but then it emerged before us. In contrast to it’s run down industrial surroundings Flourish stands proud with grey painted brickwork and slick black signage; a clean and sleek oasis.

The building is huge with the bakery taking up the majority of it, they need the space as they supply several high end hotels in London as well as The Grove locally. Sitting proudly at the front is the cafe with rustic, warm decor of reclaimed wood panelling and worn leather seats, welcoming you in to the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Vintage pastry trays and pans line the walls while wooden crates display goods for sale, simple yet elegant. Above each table a low hanging pendant light keeping an intimate feel and your focus on the food before you.DSC_0112

The wood panelling is punctured with bright windows of white light showing you the inner workings of the bakery. Machines whirring and hands kneading, just a pane of glass between the creators and the client.

The breakfast and brunch menu is simply mouth watering, there are no greasy spoons here! Fresh, vibrant ingredients lovingly put together to satisfy your hunger, the difficulty is deciding what to have. Having tried and failed to cook the perfect poached egg more times that I care to admit I now leave this nemesis of mine to the experts. Clearly these guys knew what they were doing so I ordered the smashed avocado and poached eggs with halloumi, on sourdough.

I had prepared myself for the menu choices and I knew the selection of breads and bakes would be varied. I had not, however, expected there to be such an interesting tea selection. The brand stocked is Birchall’s, an eco-concious London tea company who have developed plantations around the world. They work closely with the communities they’re in, are rain forest alliance certified and fair trade. Amongst the more familiar blends I noticed one on the menu I had not heard of before, Virunga….I was intrigued.

Virunga tea is grown at high altitude in Rwanda, close to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga National Park. Not only does this park nurture exquisite tea plantations it is also home to endangered wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas. You can read more about Birchalls conservation work at their website where they also recommend a Netflix documentary called “Virunga” for an insight into the area. One for the watchlist me thinks. Large companies have such an obligation to the nations they work with, amazing produce can be grown whilst still caring for the environment and local communities.

In the bag Virunga is a fine black tea and in the cup it brews a warm russet colour. I found it a little strong to drink without milk – as my friend described it “It’s very Tea-ee”! I would have to agree. A strong and earnest brew it will appeal to those who like a DSC_0097“proper cuppa”. Slightly more refined around the edges that a builders brew but still packs a punch. Virunga also comes in earl grey and Chai blends which may be softer on the palate but I am yet to try.

Brunch was nothing short of eggy perfection. The sourdough, toasted but still soft, had a delicious chewy crust, slathered with creamy, smashed avocado. The halloumi was pleasingly squeaky (I expect nothing less from squeaky cheese!) and not as salty as many supermarket brands. As I popped each egg the golden yolk flowed dressing the plate with sunshine. A gentle sprinkle of chilli & chives graced each fork full providing just a tingle of warmth. My plate was cleared and my tummy was full. So full I had to get my sweet treat to take away!

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The counter had plenty on offer, from huge slabs of carrot cake to delicate fruit tarts. It’s not often I go for a chocolate choice but I was enticed by the coconut brownie. A good few hours later that afternoon as the 4pm slump hit and the kettle was on I tucked in. Not as gooey as some brownies but I don’t think thats a bad thing. Sturdy enough to hold and bite in to, the desiccated coconut adding both texture and flavour to the bitter sweet chocolate. Deliciously satisfying and definitely worth the wait!

The vibe of Flourish is very much of an artisan bakery but their wealth of experience and expertise comes across in droves. There is little reason to visit this North Watford industrial estate but for the delicious food, welcoming service and artisan loaves that entice people back time and again. I doubt you’ll be passing but I highly recommend a detour.

Flourish, Unit 2 Garnett Close, Watford, WD24 7GL         TEL: 01923 630588

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Tea & Happiness’ Top 5 Teas

Tea & Happiness’ Top 5 Teas

Tea

Nearly a year on from starting my blog I have had the pleasure of trying a wide variety of teas from around the globe. Although it is hard to pick a top 5 I have selected some teas that I would consider daily staples as well as something a little different should you wish to challenge your taste buds. So put the kettle on and enjoy………

5) In at 5 is an after dinner favourite Fresh Mint TeaGreat to settle a full tummy and can be enjoyed hot or cold. There are plenty of mint tea bags on the market but there is nothing wrong with simply grabbing some fresh mint from the garden and plunging it into boiling water.

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4) Warming your cockles at number 4 is Chilli RooibosThis is blend I found at Kanuka tea house and although it’s an acquired taste it soon becomes addictive. With dried chillis and rose buds in the mix it has floral notes with a sting in the tale. It can be like tea roulette as each cup can vary in spice levels depending how much chilli you scoop up. Great for the metabolism and Rooibos has suburb health benefits as well as being caffeine free! Give it a try if you’re feeling fiery.

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3) Bringing balance at number 3 is OolongI have recently discovered how wonderful this tea is for both it’s flavour and it’s healing properties. It’s a beautiful tea to look at, tiny rolled pearls which unfurl in hot water to reveal their natural green leaves. This tea fills the gap between green and black teas so carries many of the properties of both. Don’t be put of by it’s earthy fragrance as it is much lighter on the palette than you’d expect. If you can’t quite handle the bitter quality of green tea but want the same antioxidant power then give Oolong a try.

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2) A classy cup of Afternoon Tea is number 2 on my list. Most tea houses will offer an afternoon blend on their menu and the exact blend of leaves will vary from brand to brand. I enjoy a blend from Tealicious which is a subtle blend of Assam & Ceylon. The brew is light and creamy so I find no requirement to add milk but you can to taste. It’s a perfect cup for a summers afternoon with a slice of something sweet. I find this blend satisfying and reliable so it’s worth having in the cupboard for when you feel like adding a little sophistication to your day.

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1) So top of the teas is the beautiful and tasty Genmaichaa Japanese breakfast green tea blend. I recently found this little gem at The Camden Tea Shop in London. This is green tea blended with popped rice which gives a toasted warmth to the brew. It looks so pretty, speckled with popcorn and rice grains, and although you can taste the green tea the rice adds a depth of flavour that eliminates any bitterness from the leaves. It’s currently my favourite way to start the day and I highly recommend it for a breakfast cuppa with a difference.

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I hope you have enjoyed this run down of my current top 5 teas. I’d love hear what your favourite brew is……who knows perhaps it’ll feature in my next review 🙂

Thank you for reading and happy brewing!

Chinese Tea Tasting

Chinese Tea Tasting

For any tea enthusiast China is a dream destination where days can be spent getting lost in tea plantations and tasting all the amazing brews on offer…..I can but dream! However my Aunty & Uncle were recently lucky enough to travel around parts of China and kindly brought back two types of tea for me to try.

So here they are in all their glory:

Pu’er Tea 

This is a black tea which originates from the Yunnan province of China. After a complex process of fermentation the matured leaves are pressed into cakes for storage and sale. These can range from 50g to 1000g  in size, shaped into bricks, balls or domes. My gorgeous gift tin is filled with individually wrapped mini cakes, the golden foil more familiarly associated with sweets and chocolate rather than our daily cuppa.

Just half a cake is required per brew and this can be reused 7 or 8 times. You don’t get that sort of value with your standard supermarket bag! The cakes are sturdy little things but with a snap in the middle I pop half in the pot to make my first cup.

The dried leaves have a strong peaty aroma which is released when dowsed in the boiling water. This is a grounding brew, powerful and earthy it’s not messing about. I fill my cup with the stunning russet liquid, like the embers of a camp fire smouldering away.

Thankfully not as ferocious on the palate as you may expect. It’s strength is contained in the fragrance which gently washes over your tongue to leave a smoky after taste. Cleansing and moreish I enjoyed this brew, not least for the health benefits it boasts; assisting weight loss, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol.

 

Ginseng Oolong Tea 

Oolong is distinctive by it’s small, smooth pellet form. The leaves are worked through a process of bruising, withering and shaping to reach the desired texture. Falling between the gap of black and green teas, Oolong is the middle ground where many of the health benefits of green tea are present but the flavour is milder thanks to the longer oxidation period.

These leaves can also be reused, with the 3rd or 4th cup being rumoured to be the best flavour. It’s hard to believe the tiny green pearls are tea leaves but as they begin to steep the hot water entices them to unfurl and release their flavour.

This brew shines golden orange in the cup with a sweet honey suckle fragrance. It’s feels light and summery on the palate making it very easy to drink. The smooth, sweetness of honey is kissed with a subtle after thought of liquorice from the ginseng. No matter the weather outside the sunshines on you as you enjoy this brew.

I was aware that Oolong was readily available here in the UK but I am pleased to find that Pu’er (aka Pu’erh) is also available from most good stockists in either loose leaf or cake form. So next time you stick the kettle on why not try and taste of the orient and enjoy a little ceremony with your tea.

Lu Tong’s Seven Bowls of Tea 七碗诗 卢仝(唐. 790~835)

The first bowl moistens my lips and throat; 一碗喉吻潤,

The second bowl breaks my loneliness; 二碗破孤悶,

The third bowl searches my barren entrails but to find 三碗搜枯腸,

Therein some five thousand scrolls; 惟有文字五千卷,

The fourth bowl raises a slight perspiration 四碗發輕汗,

And all life’s inequities pass out through my pores; 平生不平事盡向毛孔散,

The fifth bowl purifies my flesh and bones; 五碗肌骨清,

The sixth bowl calls me to the immortals. 六碗通仙靈,

The seventh bowl could not be drunk, 七碗吃不得也,

only the breath of the cool wind raises in my sleeves. 唯覺兩腋習習清風生。

Where is Penglai Island, Yuchuanzi wishes to ride on this sweet breeze and go back. 蓬萊山﹐在何處,玉川子乘此清風欲歸去。

{Lu Tong, Chinese Poet}

 

 

The Art of Artisan Chocolate

The Art of Artisan Chocolate

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of returning to The School of Artisan Food to take part in an Artisan Chocolate making workshop hosted by the award winning Ottar Chocolate. It was such a joy being back on the historic grounds of The Welbeck Estate, its sandstone buildings glimmering in the spring sunshine, framed by fields in a rainbow of green.
Shelly was our guide for the day and it was apparent from the outset that chocolate runs through her veins, blood may be thicker than water but chocolate is thicker still! She shared her knowledge about the origin of the beans and I found it fascinating to learn what real chocolate is. The link between cocoa beans and tea leaves is clear; it truly matters where the product comes from and how it is processed. As with many crops the soil, altitude, weather and atmosphere all impact on the flavour. This seems a logical link when talking about wine, coffee and tea but chocolate seems to be the black sheep of this family. Let’s face it we all reach for a bar of galaxy or dairy milk when we get a sugar craving but that is exactly the issue, it’s a sugar craving and so far removed from chocolate.
My palate is used to detecting the subtle flavours in tea, appreciating hints of malt, spice or fruit in different brews, but could I tune in to chocolate? We took a taste test with beans from two origins, Madagascan and Brazilian. Like a sommelier of chocolate we used all of our senses to experience each. Starting with the Madagascan I noted it didn’t immediately melt with the warmth of my fingers into a gooey, sticky mess. Snapping the chocolate drop in half released the familiar aroma before I popped it into my mouth, letting it melt slowly. Solid dissolved to liquid on my tongue and it hit my taste buds with an unexpected citrus zing. The texture was unmistakably chocolate but the flavour was creamy, cut through with sharp lemon and a floral undertone. The Brazilian taster was still smooth but held a more nutty, toasted flavour. Deeper and richer it stayed on the palate with a comforting warmth of roasted beans. The differences were notable and could not be disputed; I finally understood what chocolate tastes like!
My taste buds were alive and in turn ignited my imagination. The kitchen soon became a hive of activity with a smorgasbord of fresh ingredients on offer; herbs, spices, fruit, nuts and, to my relief, teas! Shelly guided us through making salted caramel and tempering chocolate. She offered advice on balancing flavours as we raided the ingredients to create the perfect truffle. I was content lost in this chocolate paradise, coco powder in my hair and a workstation looking similar to an edible Pollack masterpiece.


It was a day spent with like minded people, learning and laughing. As always the school were attentive hosts offering an array of freshly made salads for lunch, the pea and mint hummus with herby focaccia was so delicious I had to have seconds…..and thirds! You can taste the freshness in every dish and the ethos of the school runs through every product and course they offer.

A perfect part of this artisan puzzle is Ottar chocolates, creating divine sweet pastries and truffles from high quality ingredients. The cocoa beans are ethically sourced from farms where the workers are treated well, their children are in school and the product is processed with care and respect. The passion for every step of this artisan process is evident in the work this husband and wife team put in, lovingly transforming chocolate into delicious treats which can be enjoyed (almost) guilt free.

Next time you have a chocolate craving think about the bar you choose. Don’t automatically reach for the sugar hit, why not explore the bean to bar process and select something where you can savour the flavour and awaken your taste buds!

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Salted caramel heaven
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It’s all about balance
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Earl grey and lemon truffles

Ottar Chocolate, The Welbeck Estate, Worksop, S80 3LT            TEL: 01909 512579

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Cake Diary: Cakestand & Crumb

Todays venture into cake lead me out of Hertfordshire to the small town of Ampthill in neighbouring Bedfordshire. With a quaint village like feel and a fascinating history Ampthill is littered with boutique shops, antique stores and pretty tea rooms, one of which being Cakestand & Crumb. I was first introduced to this hidden gem pre-blog so I simply had to return and share it with you.

Tucked away through an archway this vintage tea room catches your eye with it’s pastel frontage and multicoloured outdoor furniture. As it is away from the main road it can be pleasant to sit outside in the fresh air as to say it’s cosy within is an understatement. With just half a dozen tables it is an intimate affair, natural light floods through the gorgeous bay window preventing a claustrophobic sensation. As if welcomed into someones own dining room vintage dressers display old books and crockery and a record player fills the space with the unmistakable crackle of vinyl.

We had reserved a table, which I highly recommend doing, and ordered the full afternoon tea. We were running late but the staff were very accommodating and welcoming as we arrived. Our table laid out beautifully with classic vintage crockery and cutlery, linen table clothes soften the rustic wooden furniture and there is no holding back on doilies; chintz with all the trimmings. The glass display counter imprisons delicious cake creations including gluten free lemon, chocolate fudge, white chocolate and raspberry and a selection of cup cakes. Their slices are not for the faint-hearted, triple tiered, laden with thick buttercream icing and topped with the fresh fruit or thick chocolate drizzle. Choose wisely as there will be no room for seconds!

I was pleasantly surprised that the afternoon tea is brought to the table in courses. As divine as the tiered stands look they can also be intimidating; foothills of sandwiches to wander through before clambering up to the boulder like scones then the final push to the sugary sponge summit. Instead a delicate selection of sandwiches was placed before us, delicious triangles of ham & mustard, egg & cress and cheese & chutney. The bread was fresh and soft, each mouthful met with a flavoursome filling. With no time pressures upon us we were free to graze and top up our teas.

There was a respectable list of loose teas to choose from that included all the favourites but one in particular caught my eye, “Lost Malawi”. I believe the blend is from the Rare Tea Company who source the leaves from one of the oldest tea farms in Malawi called Satemwa. This is essentially a black tea, similar to english breakfast, but the fact it is hand crafted in small batches with such care taken over the harvest each cup fills with a rich smooth flavour you can’t find in a high street bag. We also ordered a pot of Assam so we could both try and compare each brew. As expected the Assam was malty and soft, slightly creamier than the Malawi leaf but equally enjoyable.

As we talked and topped up our second course arrived, traditional fruit scones with jam and clotted cream. In contrast to my recent scone encounter I was presented with two mini scones, delightful morsels on which I balanced cream and jam (I have now decided I am firmly in the Devonshire camp…….subject to change!). Four bites was just enough to bridge the gap from savoury to sweet.

With empty pots we decided to change our brew for the final course. Each with the lasting sensation of clotted cream on our palates we opted for a cleansing pot of lemon verbena. Served in modern glass pots the leaves swirled before our eyes as the tea brewed. A light golden green in colour it tasted as fresh as it looked. The perfect accompaniment for the sweet and sticky course that followed.

 

Our final plate consisted of bite size chocolate brownies with a sticky layer of fruit jam running through the centre. Mini lemon and mascarpone tarts, encased in buttery, crumbly pastry aside a gooey meringue topped with whipped cream and fruit. Each bite was delicate in texture but heavy in flavour, sweet, soft, crunchy, zesty, rich and fruity, the summit had it all. I was beaten by the time I reached the meringue so it was kindly boxed up for me to take home. Unfortunately I was a little careless as I got in the car and the box tumbled from my hand, bouncing off the car to land face down on the pavement!!!!…..oh well, now I have eaton mess!!

This bijou bakery has a world of passion within and every drop is poured into it’s bakes and although there is a compromise with space there is no such compromise when it comes to flavour. Enjoy a monstrous slab of indulgence or a platter of miniature delights, either way you wont be disappointed as you devour every morsel from Cake-stand to crumb.Cake Diary

Cakestand and Crumb, 7 Kings Arms Yard, Ampthill, MK45 2PJ        TEL: 07843 574379 

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

Cake Diary: The Kitchen, Croxley Green

I stumbled across The Kitchen via a Facebook advert (thank you cookies!) and after perusing their website I was keen to know more as there seemed to be a lot going on. Celebration cakes to order, baking lessons and afternoon tea to mention just a few.

Croxley Green is just outside of Watford and Rickmansworth, and it is here town and country sit in juxtaposition. Winding narrow lanes take you past large houses and riding schools, circling to the rear of the Grove Hotel, renowned for it’s famous clientele. Entering Croxley via the green itself all appears unchanged since the 1800’s when a lot of the beautiful houses were built. Folk out walking their dogs and taking in the (almost) spring like air, both pubs on the green brimming with Sunday roast diners, but it was the cake we were here for.

The village-esque feel subsides a little as you approach the main run of shops and the terraces of modern housing beyond. The Kitchen stands understated just meters from the quaint and historic railway station. Part of the Metropolitan underground line it means that within just 30mins you can be transported from the shires to the heart of the city.

The Kitchen differs from other venues I have visited in that everything is simple and paired back. There is no getting away from the fact it is a modern building, there are no original features or open fire places to coo over. In fact it used to be a blockbuster video store!! Now that brings back some memories; spending Friday evenings pursuing the isles, debating which movie to rent and for how many nights! Leaving the house for such a menial task seems very old fashioned now a days. What the building lacks in personality is certainly made up for by the staff. Linda greeted us the second we walked through the door, looking up from the colouring in book she was assisting a young customer with, she smiled and welcomed us in. It was clear from the outset that customers of all ages are a priority here.

The seating area is relatively small, although on this occasion most of the tables were reserved for a Birthday party and a Hen party due in later. Both were having a full afternoon tea so the tables were laid beautifully with vintage crockery and traditional linen table clothes. It may be wise to book to avoid disappointment if there is a group of you.

The cake making talent is clear when you view the amazing sugar work on display, stunning celebration cakes made to order and created in the on site studio. I loved the fact the “studio” was not hidden away, surrounded by glass allowing you to see all the handy work going on behind the scenes. It was like getting a sneaky peak at Santas workshop!

We sat in the window on a sofa reminiscent of the Central Perk couch in Friends, but just for two. It enveloped us into it’s cushions and we were settled. Unfortunately the view is not as stunning as the surrounding country side but you can watch the world go by along and “there’s nowt as interesting as folk” as they say.

Various coffees are on offer from one of those fancy machines I don’t understand, and a lovely selection of Pukka & Fairtrade tea bags. No loose tea here but that feels right for this venue, it’s not about fancy leaves for far flung lands but a simple selection of quality bags and beans. After recently discovering Rooibos and its amazing health benefits (lowering blood pressure, improved complexion, relieves insomnia to mention just a few) I opted for the Rooibos and Honeybush by Pukka. My partner in cake today went for the Peppermint and Green Tea Blend.

Rooibos, pronounced Roy-Boss, really is the boss! It is grown in South Africa and was originally marketed in the UK as Redbush tea, which may ring a bell with some of you. I assume that now we are all about the Quinoa, Kale and Flaxseed tea companies felt we were able to handle the native name. My brew was blended with Honeybush, also South African, it adds a little natural sweetness to the cup. I let mine brew for about 3 minutes until a gorgeous copper, red tone – no milk required. The flavour is subtle and smooth on the pallet, the honey coming through in taste but not smell. It was a very easy blend to drink so I was grateful for the extra mini jug of hot water so I could top up myself.

The cake display was a little light when we arrived but Sunday afternoons can be like that, establishments will rarely over bake, especially if they are closed on the Monday. It was an easy decision to make, we selected a slice of the prettiest Victoria sponge I have ever seen and a slab of lemon drizzle, which I always find hard to resist. Our hearts broke a little when we went to pay the bill and saw they had topped up with Coffee & walnut and some amazing looking brownies!!! But it seems no matter what you choose you wont be disappointed.

As we were having a lazy Sunday we had enjoyed a late breakfast before heading out for cake, boy was that a wise decision. The portion sizes are eye popping and belly filling which put a smile on both our faces. This would be the perfect pitstop after a lovely long dog walk or cycle round the country lanes (we did neither of those things by the way #guiltyface) but that didn’t stop us from polishing off the lot!.

Both sponges were fantastically light and not overly sweet. The Victoria sponge let its thick butter cream coat the palate only to be cut through by the delicious fruity jam adding a sugar hit. It reminded me of a perfectly balanced afternoon scone.

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The lemon drizzle let the fruit do the talking, the sponge being a steady base for the sharp lemon syrup which seeped through every inch, a crunchy sugar topping finished with a little fresh zest. Both light to the touch but packing a punch with flavour.

Satisfied (and ready for a nap) we wended our way back home in the comforting realisation that you don’t always need all the bells and whistles to enjoy an afternoon slice. The kitchen doesn’t hide behind gimmicks, it’s a community hub where children can come to learn how to bake on a Saturday morning, Grown up’s can enjoy comedy & live music evenings, or simply catch up with friends over a tasty brew and a generous slice of cake. To me the Kitchen feels part of something that isn’t about global brands and nameless baristas, it’s about community and a personal touch. So no matter where you are see what’s on offer right on your door step as these are the businesses that deserve our custom.

The Kitchen, 198 Watford Road, Croxley Green, WD3 3DB      TEL: 01923 805896

 

Birthday China

Birthday China

Last weekend I was invited to Afternoon Tea to celebrate the 60th Birthday of my partners Mum. Having been to a few venues for tea and cake I was delighted to find out this would be a home made family affair. Happy to chip in I enlisted the help of my best friend, and master baker to make the staple of any afternoon tea – Scones!

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I was a mere sous chef so I can’t take credit for the baked goods which wowed the guests. Golden brown on top with a light crumbly centre. Dowsed with a healthy (or should I say unhealthy) dollop of clotted cream and jam. Just delicious!

The spread was impressive with many of the treats gluten free to cater for my partners sister. I find home made gluten free treats so much tastier than shop brought for some reason. Mini cup cakes of various flavours, canapés and rocky road all made for a satisfying afternoon of grazing.

The whole set up was brought to life with a fantastic array of vintage crockery, mismatched in every colour and pattern with cake stands and serving dishes too. They came from a local company called Vintage Rose China and really completed the whole event.

Friends and family came together, sharing stories over sandwiches. The table a feast for the eyes with each tasty morsel a treat for the tastebuds. Turning another year older can make us all feel as delicate as china but when you are surrounded by those who care you realise that age is but a number…….and a fantastic excuse for cake!

 

Tantalising Tealicious

Tantalising Tealicious

It has taken me a little while to publish this blog, not though lack of trying, just that it needed my full attention. Now the festive season has passed I had a weekend to myself so I was able to do it justice, or so I hope!

I was introduced to a company called Tealicious through a colleague at work. On hearing about my blog she recommended I tried some of the products they offer. The fact there was a Hertfordshire based loose tea company intrigued me and after checking out their website I ordered myself a few taster tins; Royal Reserve, Afternoon Tea & Rwanda Green.

Shortly after my order confirmation email I was sent a follow up advising me that the Rwanda Green was not available, a real disappointment as I am always in search of a Green Tea I find easy to drink. Thankfully they had offered to replace this with a Green Tea from the Yunnan region of China and for the inconvenience they added a Darjeeling taster tin as well!! What fabulous customer service!!

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My order arrived swiftly and after spending some time tasting them here is my review:

Darjeeling 

Let’s start with the freebie. I am so glad Tealicious sent this to me as I have never tried it and for some reason shy away from it in favour of more familiar teas. This is known as the Queen of Teas and certainly has the presence of royalty. The temperature, altitude and soil all playing their part in nurturing this earthy brew and give it real substance.dsc_0489

Tealicious recommend a 3 minute brew time which I found to be sufficient, much longer and it becomes too astringent. The leaves smell of dry autumn leaves and hay bales, strong and peaty. The water turns golden as it brews and the scent becomes much lighter and fresher. You can add milk if you wish but I enjoyed it without. The earthy flavour lingers in the aftertaste but I didn’t find it over powering. Warm and comforting this is a sturdy brew grounded in its Himalayan routes.

Royal Reserve

If, like me, you find Darjeeling a little intimidating then I recommend you try this regal blend. The earthy Darjeeling is blended with malty Assam which softens it enough for new comers but doesn’t sacrifice any of its depth. Brew for 4 minutes, as recommended by Tealicious, or perhaps a touch less if you’re new to these flavours.dsc_0484

The brew has warm, inviting russet tones with a light scent. The Assam brings a smokey background which lingers after each sip. You are welcome to add a splash of milk which does make it a little smoother on the pallet but I found it unnecessary as well as making it less appealing to the eye. A well balanced, smoky brew, strong enough to accompany any afternoon tea.

Afternoon Tea Blend

This a beautifully light combination of Ceylon & Assam, not smoky like the Royal Reserve as the light touch of malt shines through. Light and golden it is as refreshing to the eyes as it is to the pallet, very easy to drink. I found it had an almost creamy quality even without milk, although you can add a drop if you fancy. The grassy citrus from the Ceylon finishes each mouthful on a refreshing note. A very balanced brew which I could drink at any time of day.

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Yunnan Green 

So this was my replacement blend and my first venture into loose green tea. I have to say all the bags I buy leave me with such an astringent taste in my mouth I end up drinking green tea as you would take medication as a child; grin and bare it as the benefits should out weigh the negative taste! I am pleased to say this brew did not leave such a bitter taste in my mouth. Tealicious recommend a 3-4 minute brew and ideally let the water cool just a touch before pouring it onto the leaves to bring out the best flavour.dsc_0491

This brew has a golden green glow, far more appetising than the pond water effect you get from most bags! Smoky background notes warm the pallet with a balanced astringency you associate with green tea but no bitterness at all.

 

 

Each brew has it’s own personality and I enjoyed each in its own way. If I had to pick a favourite it would be the Afternoon Blend as it was so light and moreish, very drinkable for all pallets. The others may be preferred by more adventurous tea drinkers but the taster tins are perfect for trying something new for a very reasonable price.

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Whether you are an tea fanatic or you just enjoy a simple brew I urge you to check out Tealicious. Their blends are non fussy and reasonably priced, each with expert advice on where it’s grown and how to brew it. You can order on line or, if you are local, visit one of their stockists in Hertfordshire and London. I love the simplicity of this company and I mean that as a compliment. It’s clear that thought and compassion goes into each blend selection, high quality, hand selected and accessible – everything you could ask for in a decent cup of tea. Happy Brewing!

www.tealiciousltd.co.uk 

Pearce’s Farm Shop & Cafe (Stockist) 

Soul Food Photography

Soul Food Photography

This time last week I had spent the day feeding my creative habit, combining two of my passions; food & photography. I am lucky enough to have a good friend who is studying at The School of Artisan Food and she invited me along to one of their short courses to indulge my photographic creativity. As you may have noticed from my blog I love taking pictures of food but I am the first to admit that they don’t always turn out as I envisage. Having taken general photography courses to familiarise myself with my DSLR I felt it was about time I sought some professional guidance on this area of photography which is fast becoming my passion. The School offers a one day introduction to food photography run by the very talented Joan Ransley.

Since booking the course I started following Joan on social media and her website. I felt an instant connection to her style; simple stunning food on rustic backgrounds. Each shot has a natural feel that makes you want to reach out and touch it, the textures and colours bringing the image to life. Everything looks so fresh and delicious I warn you not to peruse her website on an empty stomach!! In awe of her work and a hunger (not just metaphorically speaking) to produce images even half as good as hers I couldn’t wait to learn from a pro.
The School is situated on The Welbeck Estate, a historic site nestled within Sherwood Forest, North Nottinghamshire. The estate has been developed to support artists and traditional trades. Buildings and barns have been converted into workshops for talented folk who hand make jewellery and art work. Browsing the stunning hand made goods and seeing the artists at work was a really joy. Much of the site is open to the public including an art gallery and Farm shop which is supplied by the on site bakery and brewery. Amongst this thriving creative community is the School of Artisan food which nurtures traditional processes for bread making, Cheese making, brewing, charcuterie and confectionary.
As soon as I arrived the relaxed, creative atmosphere embraced me and I knew I was in for a good day. We were greeted with a selection of teas and pastries made by the amazing on site artisan bakers. I dowsed a buttery, flaky croissant with their home made jam and washed it down with a cup of earl grey to set me up for the day ahead. Joan welcomed us with her warm smile, putting us at ease no matter what level of photography experience we had. Starting with a short presentation we familiarised ourselves with the camera settings we would be using and Joan shared some of her exquisite shots to demonstrate how to set the scene.
It was then time to wrap up warm and head outside where we were working in a stunning old barn, it’s huge wooden doors propped open to let the dusky autumn light flood in. Benches brimmed with props sparking our inspiration, trigger fingers  began to twitch as we were keen to start snapping. Joan set us on our way with a few hints and tips on how to get the “perfect shot” (does it exist?). She made it look so simple I feared it would take me a little longer to achieve something I was pleased with! Thankfully we had a small group so Joan and her colleague Alison were both on hand to assist us with queries and inspire us when our own creativity froze. Playing with light and colour we all soon got lost in our lenses.


Despite rumbling tummies we took some convincing to step away from our cameras to break for lunch; however, given our location it was clear we wouldn’t be faced with a dodgy buffet. Calling it a canteen would be an insult as the cozy lunch room was warm and welcoming. Chunky wooden tables and chairs were surrounded by shelving units displaying cook books and fresh produce. At the far end was a small open kitchen where our chef for the day had rustled up the most amazing lunch. The serving bench was laden with blushing roast loin of Welbeck venison, fresh seasonal veg and the crispiest of crispy roast potatoes. For those with room it was followed by a cheese board with homemade chutneys. This is not your average school dinner!

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Welbeck Venison Loin

With thawed fingers and toes we headed back out to the barn to continue with our shoot. The food was so fresh and delicious inspiration kept flowing as we tried new angles and back drops. The light dimmed throughout the afternoon so we utilised the courtyard to capture the soft glow of the sun as it retired for the day. Later in the afternoon we were given the opportunity to visit the working bakery to try some actions shots. My senses were overloaded as the noise and warmth of the kitchen hit me. I watched as bakers prepared focaccia and uniform bread rolls, stacked and ready to be slotted into the industrial ovens. The smell of warm, fresh bread made my mouth water but I had to try and concentrate. Faced with new challenges I tried not to get in anyone’s way whilst also achieving the correct lighting, composition & exposure. It was exciting to be in the busy kitchen seeing the breads journey as hands worked the dough bringing the loaf to life.


Exhausted but proud of all of our hard work we reconvened in the warmth to share our best shots and receive feedback. Joan was constructive and supportive with no question unwelcome. She helped us understood why something’s had gone wrong and how to improve. Artists of any kind always see the worst in their work so we all supported each other and praised the fabulous shots we all achieved. It was a real thrill to have my work appraised by a professional.


Looking back at my shots now I can see how my technique improved throughout the day and I am very proud of what I achieved. The school is a creative world to get lost in whilst learning skills you can take home and share with friends and family. I cannot recommend this organisation enough, whether you fancy a wander around the estate with its art gallery and farm shop or you choose to expand your knowledge of artisan processes. In an age of over processed, industrially produced food it gives you a sense of wellbeing to understand where food comes from and how to get the best from natural ingredients. This weekend was good for my soul and I encourage you to seek out some soul food of your own to feed your creativity…….enjoy 🙂

Cake Diary: Little Heath Farm Nursery

Cake Diary: Little Heath Farm Nursery

With the stunning colours of Autumn in full bloom a friend and I decided we must take this opportunity to head out with our cameras. The season disappears so swiftly and I couldn’t bare the thought of not spending some time amongst nature to capture this beautiful time of year.

Wrapped up warm with batteries charged we drove out to Ashridge Forest, part of a National Trust Heritage Estate. I have been visiting this place my whole life; as a child I’d climb trees and collect conkers, on school field trips we analysed soil samples and pond water, and now I walk the dog and enjoy photography in the fresh air. I remember as a child my family often dragged us out on walks before or after a Sunday roast to “blow away the cobwebs” or “work up an appetite”. This concept was lost on me back then but now, even when the weather is cold, I often feel the desire to get outside and stretch my legs.

Luckily the weather was dry, unluckily we did not account for the fact it was half term! We headed off the beaten track to avoid the hoards and take some shots. I uncovered a new interest in mushrooms and found more obscure ones to take photos of. I love the way looking through a lens can change your perception of a subject.

There is a lovely cafe at Ashridge Monument which we had planned to visit, on arrival the queue was out of the gate and the garden swamped with kids fuelled by cake and stressed looking parents fuelled by caffeine! Not wanting to counteract the peace and quite we had enjoyed amongst the trees we escaped Ashridge and headed to a place my partner in cake had recently discovered.

It seems this hidden gem is advertised by word of mouth. I grew up just a 10 minute drive from Little Heath Farm and I had no idea it existed. My friend found it through a friend, who found it through a friend, who found it through a…….you get the picture! Tucked away down a country lane lined with impressive detached houses it’s not the sort of place you would stumble across. Having been in business for over 40 years they are clearly doing a lot right. Turning into the very tight entrance it was clear the parking was not for the faint hearted. The narrow gateway leads you down an overgrown track and into the small car park. With no obvious flow to the traffic there was some mild chaos as a lady was trying to leave through the same gate we were entering! All good fun! (I can say that as it was not me who had to reverse!).

The Nursery feels very casual in comparison to the large chain garden centres you and I are probably more familiar with.

I feel my lack of horticultural knowledge would have found me lost and confused amongst the rows of unlabelled plant life so if you are going to buy I’d take  guide. A beautiful pergola draped in vines took centre stage, tucked underneath in their winter storage were tables and chairs, eagerly awaiting the warmer months. With my fingers more blue than green we headed into the wooden clad Sanuk shop and cafe to warm up.

Sanuk is a real treasure trove of items from around the globe. Large ornate mirrors reflect light from low hung chandeliers, illuminating hand carved wooden animals, decorated bowls and trinkets.dsc_0491 You have to cut through the small on site kitchen into the light, bright, dining room, all the baking is done off site and just warmed up and presented in the cafe.

A familiar vintage affair greats you, with mismatched furniture and grand dressers displaying the goodies on offer. I am advised that there used to be vines from the garden growing through the roof and coiling themselves around the exposed oak beams. After a recent face lift these have all been cut away (somewhat of a shame but possibly healthier for the structure), white washed walls display artwork for sale. The focal point of the room is an exposed brick chimney breast and log burner, all that was missing was a dog curled up at the hearth.

 

There seemed to be a limited amount of cake on offer, possibly as it was late in the day, and after hearing apologies at the next table for the crumbly texture of the chocolate cake I, perhaps controversially, decided to go savoury. The menu listed a warm cheese scone with butter which, on a chilly day, seemed the perfect option. I perused their eclectic tea cabinet which contained a wide variety of tea bags, from Twinings to Waitrose and everything in between. It was a little like rummaging in a friends kitchen cupboard in the hope something takes your fancy. In my mission to combat the chill in the air I opted for the warming spice of Masala Chai. My partner in cake braved the crumbly chocolate cake and had a (much needed) glass of homemade elderflower cordial to wash it down.

The staff seemed a little distracted and took a while to take our order, not that we were in a rush, but thankfully the food didn’t take long to arrive. Our order was served on quaint, mismatched crockery and a teapot reminiscent of Aladdin and his lamp. The giant wedge of scone laid before me surpassed all expectations. It had a relatively dense texture but was rich with cheesy flavours. I was grateful for a decent helping of butter to accompany it, I always feel a little embarrassed asking for seconds!

The salty, creamy butter melted into the golden scone and gave me a big cheesy hug as I devoured every last morsel. The first cup of my Chai was delicious, warm yet refreshing. Unfortunately with it being a tea bag in a tea pot it started to over brew and as I refilled the dainty cup the flavour became too strong and slightly bitter.

The afternoon soon disappeared amidst photography talk and ideas for our next adventure. It was such a pleasure to be introduced to this secret garden and the homely little cafe within. The joy will be returning as the seasons change to explore what is in bloom and discover what homemade treats are on offer.

Little Heath Farm, Little Heath Lane, Potton End, HP4 2RT       TEL: 07835 200789