Category Archives: Chocolate

Mothers’ Day Tea Party

I was really excited about baking for this Mothers’ Day tea party. It was my first Top Secret Tea Party since mid-December as the February event was cancelled because of snow – who’d have thought the weather could change so dramatically by mid-March – birds singing in the blue sky and sunshine warming our hearts – absolutely lovely. Secondly because seven daughters were bringing their three Mums and I wanted to create something special – no one wants to ruin Mothers’ Day, do they! Thirdly because this was another chance to hold a tea party at Tilly’s Vintage Workshop and Craft Studio in Chesterton, Peterborough. Tilly’s barn just gets cosier and cosier. There are currently lots of vintage wedding gowns hanging up – amazingly Tilly is going to cut them up to add to wet-felted scarves she’s creating with designer Sue Hughes (it’s thanks to Sue that I wear colourful felt flower corsages when I get to ‘be’ Lemony Drizzle) – think ‘cobweb’ fine merino wool in delicate colours, with lovely vintage wedding dress detail added in – beautiful – and although it sounds scandalous to cut something up that’s old and wonderful – it will be ‘reborn’ into something equally beautiful rather than simply hanging up, never to be worn again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usually I take three days, minimum, to prepare for a tea party but due to the pressures of work I only had two days so it felt like a mammoth bakeathon to get everything baked and ready for the tea table.

I served elderflower cordial, chilled, in champagne flutes on arrival and bought in more almond loose tea from Imperial Teas of Lincoln. I LOVE this tea, which I first served at my chocolate themed tea party last November. It’s so delicate and refreshing, with or without milk. I also served an assam blend and Blue Lady, which is similar to Earl Grey.

I decided to try a new sandwich filling for this event – coronation chicken. I thought it was something grand and sophisticated, suitable for the gathering of mums and daughters. I used an old recipe, which required poaching chicken in water (I used free range chicken breasts) with bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, carrot and onion. I left the chicken to cool in the cooking liquor before pulling the meat into small chunks. I then cooked finely chopped onion, well seasoned, in some olive oil and butter with a little garam masala and turmeric. Once the onion was cooked and cooled, I mixed it with mayonnaise, mango chutney, lemon juice and zest and a little fromage frais to loosen the mixture (I intended to add some cream but it didn’t need it).

I also served cheese scones topped with sundried tomato and lemon mousse. I’d been up to my elbows in scone dough that morning (well, not really but it felt like it) as I made cheese scones, plain scones, cherry scones plus a batch of gluten free scones. There was a moment of panic when the guests got their hands on the plate of gluten free sandwiches and scones, specially prepared for one guest who can’t eat wheat but luckily I managed to shout STOP before they’d eaten the lot!

The plain and cherry scones rose so much during baking that they actually toppled over in the oven. I’m not sure there’s any such thing as a scone that’s ‘too high’ though?! They were all eaten, topped with strawberry or cherry jam and lashings of clotted cream.

As for the cake selection….one of the guests had asked me to serve her favourite, carrot cake. No problem really, except I decided to use a different recipe than normal. I also decided to make it gluten free so that all the guests could eat it. It was a three layer carrot cake, completely covered in cream cheese and butter frosting. I was a tad nervous but as you can see from the picture, I needn’t have worried – it really was moist and delicious with a hint of orange (added to the batter and with zest grated onto the top; I also decorated the frosting with toasted coconut).

I made a chocolate and hazelnut torte which, as it’s a flourless recipe, is a relatively ‘flat’ cake, covered in a thin and glossy chocolate glaze which I then scattered liberally with chocolate flakes and toasted hazelnuts. I’ll certainly make this again as it was very moreish. One guest commented it would be nice served warm as a dessert with a dollop of cream and I couldn’t agree more. I certainly enjoyed eating the crumbs when I was clearing up, as that was all that was left!

Also gracing the table (well, actually, a side table as we couldn’t fit everything on in one go) were pretty fondant fancies, Florentines and meringue with coffee mascarpone cream and pools of caramel. The only sweet item that the wheat-free guest couldn’t have was the fondant fancies. I think it’s important not to ‘single out’ guests with particular dietary requirements – it’s really quite easy to provide ‘naturally’ gluten free baked goods, like flourless tortes, meringues etc. and substituting GF flour for wheat flour can produce equally good results in your usual cake recipes (just make sure there is adequate liquid in the batter otherwise the texture will be very dry). Of course if the guest can’t take any risk that their tea has come into contact with food containing gluten then it wouldn’t be advisable that they attend; and as for catering for ‘fussy’ eaters with dietary demands…No, I don’t think so, but I’m happy to try to include guests like this lady who simply can’t eat wheat.

I hadn’t made Florentines before but they were generally declared to be ‘yummy’. Next time I would flatten the mixture with a spoon to ensure they come out wafer thin. I always like making up concoctions to partner a fluffy meringue and this version worked well. I flavoured the meringue mix with coffee extract (you could just use a few drops of espresso or even instant coffee granules diluted in hot water as that works equally well) and then added the same to some mascarpone cream along with some icing sugar. I made a lovely creamy golden caramel sauce and put a small pool into the top of each meringue before topping with the coffee mascarpone. To finish off I mixed more coffee with muscovado sugar and sprinkled the mix on the meringues, along with a shard of toffee – inadvertently created when the caramel started to go lumpy – waste not, want not!!

Conversation at the tea table centred on keeping chickens, baking disasters, Master Chef, children with special needs and reminiscing about school (two guests realised they knew each other as teenagers!). Once everyone could eat no more I insisted they pack away the leftovers into the tins and tubs they’d helpfully brought with them (a suggestion of mine which worked in everyone’s favour!) and they left, emerging from Tilly’s into the beautiful Spring sunshine.

I hope everyone enjoyed it – I packed up and headed off to see my own mother and grandmother along with the rest of the family – and ate more cake, drank more tea and, finally, put my feet up whilst Mr Tea very kindly washed up.

Lovely. Now it’s time to start planning for April’s tea party. Details are on the ‘events’ page of the blog.

Lemony x x

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New year, new cake?

Hello – well it does seem a long time since I last posted on my blog. I find the beginning of the year a bit of a struggle. After over indulging at Christmas (who doesn’t? do you know anyone?) I always feel I need to be restrained in January. Lots of pounding the treadmill (which is just not the same as running in the great outdoors, but I don’t enjoy running in the dark, gloomy half light of January or February so I make do with the gym; needs must). Lots of cooking with a ton of veggies. “Being good” perhaps you could call it. But BOY does it get boring after a while! So as we’re more than half way through February surely, SURELY it’s time to EAT MORE CAKE?! The rest of the year I don’t have this dilemma; I bake. I test. I lick the spoon. I eat cake. I share my cakes. And I run/keep fit and do my best to burn off some of the calories. It’s a nice life. So please, please can the winter be over so I can get back to normal? It’s not that I haven’t done ANY baking, that would be unthinkable. I’ve made brandy snaps (SO easy, SO nice, SO  retro, SO difficult to photograph!!), I’ve made coffee and walnut cake, I’ve made orange and almond cake – and that was actually wheat and fat free – take that January!! I’ve made chocolate sponge to soak in coffee and alcohol to turn into chocolate tiramisu. And I made Mr Tea a chocolate cinnamon cupcake, with chocolate fudge frosting and hand made plump red hearts (just a small cake you understand, what with Valentine’s Day falling in blooming self righteous February). But I want to bake MORE! I want to share more cake, I want to take tea sitting in my lovely little summer house, with Mr Tea or some other family and friends. It’s TIME – make it happen, somebody, please!!!

And as I’ve been focusing so much on thinking about baking lately (nothing new there) – I’ve also noticed just how many other people are getting into baking. People I wouldn’t normally expect to see sharing a cake or two have been bringing them to meetings. Even at a meeting at the Food Standards Agency recently, sshhh, don’t tell anyone – they baked and ate chocolate brownies!! Another running/baking colleague and I might even run for Sport Relief in March – and bake cakes to eat and sell afterwards – it’s a new trend, bake-share-run – you heard it here first! We even discussed having a Sport Relief Bake Off in our department – but we’d need a bank of ovens, oh and the time to bake all morning rather than doing any work…..

So the baking trend is not only continuing but reaching out to new bakers young and old in 2012. I commented on nostalgia and the need for us to have civilised, sophisticated tea parties in the article that Nene Valley Living Magazine published in January (you’ll find it online).

So bring on the warmer weather, spring flowers, green not brown roadsides and verges, bird song and more opportunities to bake and share cake!

Why not treat your Mum, Daughter, Son, Grandchildren, Wife, Friend, or Yourself! Sunday, 18th March 2012 – Peterborough

Join me and my co-host Tilly at a beautiful vintage barn venue in Peterborough for full afternoon tea on Mothers’ Day. Enjoy finger sandwiches made with Hambleton Bakery bread, savoury and sweet scones (everyone loves them!), and a selection of cakes and bakes. All served on pretty bone china, with starched white table linen and fresh flowers, with lots of loose leaf tea (or coffee if you’d prefer), friendly chatter and time to browse the pretty surroundings. Just what you need to drag you out of the winter slush and gloom!

Email mslemonydrizzle@sky.com to book and pay £20 per guest in advance via PayPal.

Lots of love, care and cake

Lemony Drizzle x

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Top-Secret-Tea-Parties/159296277491762

 

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Gingerbread tea party for Christmas

Friday 2nd December – this was the 2nd joint Top Secret Tea Party / Tilly’s Vintage Craft Workshop event and, again, it was just fabulous!

Tilly’s barn, in Chesterton, Peterborough, is an Aladdin’s cave of beautiful things. Currently Tilly has decked the barn out for the festive season with lots of felt garlands, innovative Christmas tree decorations, oranges studded with cloves and tied with ribbon, a stunning white Christmas tree and lots of fragrant candles. I can’t think of a nicer place to spend a Friday evening with a bunch of lovely, chatty women and a couple of young girls.

I served luxurious hot chocolate – the kind that’s made from cream, milk, melted chocolate and… nothing else! It’s the only kind of hot chocolate I like and is perfect for a cold winter’s evening. Equally delicious is a tea cup of mulled wine…..I make mine using red wine, orange juice, sugar, honey, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  I also put the kettle on and made several pots of steaming hot assam tea.

I made a squidgy ginger loaf cake, studded with stem ginger and sultanas and drizzled with fondant icing (these cakes are great because they keep for a week or two so are perfect for guests popping in over the holidays); chocolate and cinnamon cupcakes topped with marshmallows and two chocolate logs. One was a traditional ‘buche de noel’, filled and covered with chestnut , chocolate and cream mousse and the other was made the same way but minus the chestnut puree. If you’ve ever cooked with canned chestnut puree I’m sure you’ll agree it’s the most unpromising of ingredients – it doesn’t smell or taste pleasant until you mix it with other ingredients; then it imbues the chocolate mousse with a nutty taste and really does lift a chocolate log to another level. Delicious!

 

 

Tilly showed our guests how to make vintage inspired gift tags and Christmas decorations – some using some of my gingerbread cookies which I’d baked and brought along – I have a tin full of these, all wrapped with wool, lace, ribbon and little snowflakes – the whole tin looks and smells divine (why not fill a pretty tin with something similar and give as a gift?). Tilly also had us all captivated by showing us something many had last made at school – pom poms! We used some of those plastic sacks that often drop through your letterbox for charity donations, cut them into long strips and matched with strips of wool. It’s better than throwing the bags away, if you’re not going to fill them with goods for the charity. We wound the strips around circles of card, well, you wouldn’t think something so simple could keep a bunch of grown women (and two girls) so quiet! We were all very pleased with our pom poms and these can be attached to gifts or hung on a tree (or used to entertain the cat). Tilly gave us so many ideas, using up bits of fabric, paper (buy a snowflake stamp/cutter and stick the cut outs to card/gift tags), wool, ribbon, things that you might have lying around at home (garden twine… string…brown paper…newspapers…comics…holly) that really give your gifts and home the individual touch.

I wasn’t feeling too well a few nights after the tea party so I spent a quiet couple of hours finishing more gingerbread decorations whilst curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea – time and energy well spent!

I can’t wait for the next Tilly / Lemony Drizzle joint event…. A Mothers’ Day Vintage Tea Party – book your places now by emailing mslemonydrizzle@sky.com.

Peterborough chocolate indulgence tea party

After weeks of anticipation it was finally here – my chocolate indulgence tea party to raise funds for Age UK. I love, love, love chocolate and couldn’t wait to create some new recipes to wow my guests and their taste buds. Several weeks ago I tried different scones/clotted cream/jam combinations to incorporate chocolate and I really didn’t like scones with chocolate baked into the dough. Lesson number one. Lesson number two – I tried an awful (awful being the right word) lot of savoury+chocolate combos and boy let me tell you some things just taste horrible when combined with chocolate (chocolate+olives anyone?!).

Here’s what I finally decided to serve today:

Hot chocolate on arrival in the garden – yes it was a bit chilly and yes it was a bit rich but I couldn’t resist. I also laid out some Willies Cacao samples to taste but I think my guests were a bit shy at that point so they didn’t really dig in.

Once seated in our shabby chic little summerhouse, complete with fairy lights and candles (including a gorgeous little blueberry pie candle from the Emporium Oundle which looked good enough to eat!) we had a good old natter whilst eating:

Cream cheese and chive finger sandwiches

Cheese scones with sweet chilli pepper and dark chocolate swirls

Walnut scones with blue cheese cream

Salted pretzels dipped in milk and dark chocolate

(so I didn’t add too much chocolate to the savouries in the end)

Then… plain scones, served with morello cherry jam or Nutella and a choice of white chocolate or Talisker single malt clotted cream. Something for everyone…including a new male guest who claimed not to like chocolate but who did not let the side down by the end of the afternoon!

Cake/sweet selection included a new favourite, chocolate Guinness cake topped with a cream cheese frosting and chocolate curls. I find this quite heavy personally; and in case you’re wondering, no it doesn’t taste of Guinness – the stout just makes the cake dark and rich.

I made chocolate brownies as my friends always rave about these – I’ve used Nigel Slater’s recipe since it was first published in the Observer in 2004 – it ALWAYS hits the (chocolate) spot! So fudgy and dense – no tinkering required – look for the recipe online and just follow it to impress your friends!

I experimented with a couple of new recipes which I think turned out rather well. These were inspired by my absolute favourite recipe book (I sit and read this in the evening, I just love it) – Green and Black’s Ultimate, published last year, and the Ghiradelli Chocolate Cookbook which I picked up a few years ago when I visited ‘America’s premier chocolatier’ in San Francisco. So, one recipe was rather British in origin and the other quite American.

I made meringue nests, then poked a little hole into them into which I poured salted, velvety caramel (I’m salivating now….it was very gorgeous indeed!), then I put a small blob of whipped cream on top so I could anchor a rich chocolate truffle – I infused the cream with rosemary from the garden – then I drizzled the little beauties with melted milk chocolate and a little more caramel. Heaven.

Experiment no. 2: I crushed oreo cookies, mixed with butter and lined a mini tartlet case with the buttery crumb. Into the freezer they went. Then I whisked some cream with icing sugar and combined it with some smooth peanut butter and some cream cheese. Oh and some chopped dark chocolate. I froze these babies until an hour before the tea party. I could have happily eaten the whole tray of these Peterborough mud pies!

I spent some time experimenting with loose teas to serve today and everyone tried the black tea with almond and the Maya Gold though we all decided the former was a winner (smells like marzipan!) and the latter was quite pleasant, something perhaps to drink at bedtime? The almond tea came from Imperial Teas in Lincoln – worth a visit to the tasting room on the Steep Hill. Maya Gold came from Nothing But Tea in Bedford.

Whilst everyone packed their take home tins (which I’d asked them to bring along!) with leftover cake I handed out little bags of chocolate which I’d tied with ribbon. I tempered dark chocolate with chilli and sea salt and white chocolate with pistachio and cranberry – lovely little gifts which they can either give away or consume greedily!

I’m constantly surprised how cosy our little summerhouse is – the windows steamed up and no one needed to borrow a scarf, though I’d supplied several, just in case… What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with new and old tea party guests. The conversation didn’t wane for even a minute and covered local schools, special needs, child minding, secret tea rooms, commuting, research, conferences, where we were brought up and jobs. A fabulous tea party and yet again I’m a very happy secret tea party hostess!

Lemony Drizzle x x

An afternoon of vintage loveliness!

Finally, I have time to post details of the delightful topsecretteaparty
at Tilly’s Vintage Craft Workshop a couple of Sunday’s ago. I was really
excited about this tea party, because every time I visit Tilly’s barn, at Hall
Farm, Chesterton on the outskirts of Peterborough I come away with bags of
ideas about things to make and sew – of course I can rarely find the time to
make most of it a reality, but the inspiration is there and surely it’s only a
matter of time before I actually make some of these projects?! It was at Tilly’s
that I learnt to applique (I made a lovely little lavender bag and was very
pleased with my efforts), the wonders of bondaweb (great for a lazy sew-and-so
like Lemony he he..), and the possibilities for upcycling tired clothing / how
to jazz up jackets etc., plus all that is fabulous about wet felting – I got to
make a gorgeous flower corsage out of beautiful merino wool. Have a look at Tilly’s
Facebook page/events and see what takes your crafting fancy https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Tillys-Vintage-Workshop-Craft-Studio/216476658376432.

Anyway….Tilly and Lemony decided afternoon tea at the Barn
would be a fab way of introducing people to vintage crafting – a civilised tea
party around Tilly’s wonderfully large table whilst drooling over my cakes and
scones and Tilly’s shelves full of fabric, linens, ribbons and books/magazines…
what could be nicer? The fact that Tilly currently has several vintage wedding
dresses hanging up was a bonus – so pretty!

Six lovely ladies came to tea – a wonderful
mix of chatty people with such different backgrounds and interests –
dressmaking, photography, textiles, academic research, a café owner,
radiography…!! They all enjoyed browsing Tilly’s shop and workshop whilst
sipping their elderflower cordial from champagne flutes.

Then they got down to
the serious business of afternoon tea…which included egg mayonnaise finger
sandwiches on wonderful Hambleton’s Bakery 7 seed granary bread; cheese scones
with red pepper cream (Appearance No.2 for these little savoury delights, as
they were such a hit at the fashion+tea party the weekend before); plain scones
with Hall Farm strawberry jam – made by the farmer’s wife a few feet from Tilly’s
barn! Plum, pear and apple jam was also on offer from Saints and Sinners in
Spalding (Lovely) and, of course, lashings of clotted cream.

I made a morello cherry and vanilla
buttercream layer cake – which was incredibly messy to cut and serve but tasted
great nonetheless!! Meringues sandwiched with my homemade lemon curd (always
have to have something Lemony on the menu!) 

and some iced gingerbread biscuits –
which I have to confess were a last minute substitution as I seem to have lost
the knack of making shortbread – two attempts were nibbled on by myself and Mr
Tea and rejected – what’s happening?! I have won awards for my shortbread in
the past (at Nassington and Yarwell village show, in case you were wondering!)
and now I just can’t get my act together – I’ll keep trying though as I love
shortbread and I hate to be beaten by something so simple!

Tilly told the guests all about her
Barn and workshops and one of the guests, Sue, gave everyone lots of ideas for
crafty keepsakes including using baby clothes. I then forced everyone to take
home bags containing leftover cake – I like to think they can share my baking
goodies with their loved ones long after their own tummies are full up! And as
luck would have it, one of the guests, Amy, is setting up a photography
business so asked to take some piccies which I’ve made use of here… isn’t it
nice meeting new people and helping each other out? You can look at Amy’s
photographs on her blog http://amylewinphotography.wordpress.com/

Tilly and I have lots of ideas for
future joint ventures and I’m hoping to become a more regular visitor to the
Barn, at Tilly’s regular sew-in café (Wednesdays 7-9pm and Saturdays 2-4pm) –
after all, I’m determined to make at least some of my Christmas gifts this year
so I need to get sewing! And if you come along to the topsecretteaparty on 2nd
December you might just get to visit Tilly’s for some Christmas inspiration of
your own…

Lemony x x

 

 

Being a good hostess

I was intending to blog about my thoughts about WHY I spend my precious spare time baking and hosting secret tea parties-  I think about it a lot because I get SUCH a lot of enjoyment out of it even though I also find it time consuming and at times stressful…. getting everything done when I also work full time is no easy feat. So…why? But as well as writing about that, I thought I’d combine those thoughts with feedback on the first children’s vintage tea party that I hosted last weekend, because in some ways it exemplified what ‘being’ Lemony Drizzle is all about.

Whilst there are many keen amateur/home bakers and cooks out there it’s not just the baking that I love. And it’s not really the planning as I find this the hardest bit to fit in to my busy working life… never enough hours to dream up new recipes, try them out, shop for the ingredients..so sometimes I fall back on old favourites or trust that a new recipe will turn out just fine even when I’ve had no time for a trial run.

What I really love, above everything else, is hosting tea party events. Having guests come to eat my food and enjoy it, looking after people, knowing they will (fingers crossed!) be impressed with what I’ve baked and making the table a visual delight – THAT’S the best thing ever in my view. It’s such a basic thing to do really, to feed people, to make connections with people, to strengthen bonds over the tea table… it shows you care when you spend time baking, when you try your best to ‘wow’ people – not just because food looks good but because it also TASTES good – no good having one without the other! So many ‘food experiences’ these days are bland, branded, ubiquitous, there’s very little that’s personal with an eye to the finishing touches – it doesn’t matter where you are in the country (or even the world) you can go to a chain cafe and get the same food, often mass produced, taken from the freezer, and made to look and taste the same in Aberdeen, Liverpool, London or Southampton. I find that utterly depressing.

There’s something so civilised about sitting at a table laid with pretty tea cups and plates, with freshly cut flowers (though I can’t claim they’re from my own garden, sadly), starched white table linen, having a conversation with your fellow guests, and being waited on by someone who really does care whether you have a lovely time and who knows what went in to every morsel you’re eating. You can get more perfect looking cakes or scones elsewhere that’s for sure – I’m not the most careful of bakers when it comes to prettying up my wares – but you would be hard pushed to find a tea table with food containing more love, care and devotion to pleasing the people consuming the fare. I love ‘doing’ Lemony Drizzle because I love feeding people with great food.

And so hosting a tea party for a beautiful, sophisticated 8 year old and three of her friends was an absolute joy last weekend. The birthday girl gasped with delight when she saw the tea table and the cakes that were lined up for her party. She introduced each of her friends to Ms Drizzle and they loved drinking pink lemonade poured from pretty tea pots and loved the name tags I’d tied with ribbon around their whiten linen napkins. They wolfed down the finger sandwiches and, much to my surprise, enjoyed the dark chocolate marbled cookies and chocolate dipped fancies, much more so than the butterfuly cupcakes which went untouched (though they loved talking about them!). Their little tummies couldn’t of course take as much as adult guests I feed, BUT that did not diminish their love of visually consuming the feast before them. They chatted away to each other and to me, weren’t at all shy and giggled and laughed – a lot!

They adored the sherbet lemon sweetie cake I’d made as the centre piece, filled with sherbet butter icing and topped with jelly tots, jelly beans and flying saucers even though they only ate the sweeties because they were full up! Seeing their joy at having a vintage tea party was so lovely – the birthday girl declared it her ‘best party ever’ and decided that Ms Drizzle makes ‘the best cakes in the world’.  She wants to do it all again next year.

What more could a host ask for? x x