Articles for the Month of June 2013

Recipe: Lemon Thyme and Basil Scones

Keeping in the trend of last week’s savory scones inspired by what was available in the house’s refrigerator, I offer you this week’s selection: Lemon Thyme and Basil Scones.

By some stroke of good fortune, my mom has kept the herbs her brother gave her alive for more than a few months (my mom will be the first to admit that she has a black thumb so this isn’t me insulting her I promise). Yet even with an avid baker and sometimes avid cook in the house, none of the herbs have been put to much use. She decided to change that and requested that I create a scone using her most abundant herb.

Lemon thyme.

IMG_4219A variant of–obviously–English thyme, lemon thyme fools you into thinking that it is just another thyme leaf, until you start cutting it and releasing the oils inside its leaves. Then you unlock its citrusy aroma, its lemon scent that suddenly wafts through your entire kitchen. And you wonder, what can I do with such a hidden delicacy?

IMG_4192Um, duh, I make scones. And since according to a flavor pairing book my brother bought me for Christmas, basil and lemon thyme have a natural affinity for each other, I killed two birds with one scone and cut off some of Mom’s basil leaves to toss in as well.

And thus the history of the second savory scone success. The flavor of these scones is significantly more subtle than the Beer and Cheddar scones, but no less enjoyable. They have a delicate balance of herbal notes that would probably be broken down if heated for too long, so I highly recommend keeping these scones small to decrease the baking time to the 8 minute mark. It is definitely worth it. Especially for the smell when you open your oven and the lemon thyme and basil take over your senses. The scent along, completely disregarding the flavor, is reason along to start growing lemon thyme.

Lemon Thyme and Basil Scones

Lemon Thyme and Basil Scones

Lemon Thyme and Basil Scones

Ingredients

  • 2 cups self rising flour
  • 3 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh lemon thyme
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, grated
  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven 450°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, sift together flour and salt. Mix in fresh herbs.
Break up butter by running it through a cheese grater. Rub into flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and knead until all ingredients are incorporated and the dough is smooth.
Turn out onto floured surface (this can be lightly floured as the dough is pretty self-contained) and pat down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out into scones (5 cm) and place on baking sheet. Recombine scraps and continue cutting out additional scones. Bake for 8 minutes until beginning to toast on the edges. Turn out to cool on a wire rack immediately.

IMG_4197 These scones became the base for another recipe that I am really excited to share with you…just wait and see!

Which Comes First? The Jam or the Cream?

It’s a variation on the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? But of course, since it concerns scones and clotted cream and jam, it is a way more important question than that concerning poultry.

When topping a scone, do you layer cream and then jam, or jam and then cream? Does it truly matter? Which way is the traditional or correct way to top a scone?

Well, there is actual an old rivalry that is still raging today over the proper way to top a scone with clotted cream and jam (though everyone does agree that the jam should be a homemade strawberry for the most authentic delight). And the two epicenters are the same places that battle over their superiority in clotted cream.

The Cornish Way. Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

The Cornish Way.
Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

In Cornwall, they believe that the scone should be topped with the jam first followed by the clotted cream. Some cheeky reasons from the Cornish? “Because we are proud of it, Devonians are slightly ashamed of theirs so they cover it up with jam” says one grandfather. Whether or not that’s true, the Cornish all agree that the jam goes on first and is then topped with a dollop of Rodda’s Cornish cream. If it isn’t Rodda’s, it’s not Cornish.

The Devonshire Way Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

The Devonshire Way
Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

Devon, on the other hand, tells the Cornish to stick with their pasties because the jam definitely goes on top of the cream. Otherwise, they insist, clotted cream will end up on your nose and they also compare it to bread. In their logic no one puts jam on top of bread and then butter on top of the jam, so why would one do that with cream and scones? Both sides make a fair point, but neither side is going to budge their position any time soon.

I personally follow the Devonshire way of cream and then jam, but I don’t pretend that this is some statement on authenticity or tradition. It’s more of habit and I think it looks prettier than anything else. What about you? Are you a Devonian or a Cornish person?

Recipe: Beer and Cheddar Scones

Let’s talk savories for a second.

Who said scones had to be sweet? Yes it’s more common to find a blueberry scone or a cherry scone than a beer scone or a cheddar scone, but it certainly isn’t unheard of. The very first scones might actually have been savory, made with a simple dough of wheat flour, baking powder or baking soda, butter, milk, and eggs. How the sweet scone became more common or more popular than the savory scone is a question for the historians, but we here at Once Upon an Afternoon Tea refuse to follow the hoards!

So we made some savory scones for you :)

Beer and cheddar scones to be exact. The perfect “Man Scone” for convincing the menfolk that scones are not only for girls and afternoon tea. Made with a strong English white cheddar and an Irish ale, these scones are very…moreish…and sure to be a hit amongst the sporting men in our lives.

Smithwick Irish Ale and English Coastal Cheddar

Smithwick Irish Ale and English Coastal Cheddar

Just don’t call them scones until after they’ve demolished the batch.

The beer lends the scones a surprisingly tasty yeast flavor (after all beer is made using yeast), and the hints of beer blend perfectly with the hints of the strong white cheddar. Beer and cheese are a common combination at Super Bowl parties–think of the guys on the couch drinking a brew with some deep fried cheese appetizer in front of them and the television–so it was only natural that they complement each other in scone form as well.

These savory scones are obviously not going to be topped with clotted cream, but eating them alone may be too salty for some. A few fun ideas for uses that we came up with: spicy hot links and make sausage sliders using the scones as buns, accompanying a red based soup like tomato, chili, or stew, butter, an ice cold beer. Oooo! Lightbulb! Gastropubs should serve these scones as a bar appetizer! They can be made bite sized and are the perfect munchies for sophisticated beer pairings. Cheese goes with wine, why not Beer and Cheddar scones with beer? Let’s make that happen.

Beer and Cheddar Scones

Beer and Cheddar Scones

Beer and Cheddar Scones

Ingredients

  • 200 g self rising flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 80 g white English cheddar (we used Coastal White Cheddar from Costco; in England look for something similar to Cern Abbas)
  • 120-140 mL beer (we used Smithwick Irish Ale)

Preheat oven to 220°C or 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift together the flour and salt. Grate the cheese with a small grater. Add to the flour mixture.
Add in enough beer to form a dough and knead until smooth.
Turn out onto a floured work surface and pat down to desired thickness (as usual, 1 cm). Cut out with a scone cutter (5 cm) and place on baking sheet. Knead the scraps back together and repeat until the majority of the dough has been turned into scones. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until cheese is oozing out and tops are beginning to brown.
I’m sure that any combination of beer and cheddar selections will work together well; we just happened to have Coastal cheddar around the house and chose a beer from the British Isles to keep in theme. Feel free to experiment.
These smell amazing and yeasty coming out of the oven. Serve these, and you’ll have men begging you to invite them for tea!

A Tea for Every Time

We all have our favorite kind of tea, that one type that we gravitate to above all others. Mine is lavender earl grey, my mom’s is traditional earl grey, my best friend’s is any green tea, and I have more than one coworker who swears by mate (though mate isn’t really a tea, remember?).

Officially though, we should all be basing what type of tea we order, not on flavor preference, but on the clock. Certain teas better suit the time of day that you are drinking it, much like some teas are more complementary to the palate, food being served, mood of the drinker, season, or the weather. So no drinking herbal teas with breakfast, and keep the Earl Grey to the afternoon.

Morning and Breakfast

Strong black teas are the best choice in the mornings because their caffeine content and robust flavor. A lot of cooked breakfast foods and breads need a tea that can stand up to them. Choose an English or Irish Breakfast, Assam, Kenya, or Yunnan tea for your wake-up jolt.

Photo credit www.skydancingblog.com

Photo credit www.skydancingblog.com

Mid-Morning and Lunch

Your first cup of tea is beginning to wear off, so the best choice now is one that will maintain the alertness you received from this morning. Stick once again to black teas, unless you are eating Asian food for lunch and then a strong green tea is better. Choose any of the Morning and Breakfast teas or Lapsang Souchong for a black option; choose Sencha, Chinese Chun Mee, or Gunpowder for a green tea.

Photo Credit www.theodor.fr

Photo Credit www.theodor.fr

Early Afternoon

As the day progressively gets brighter, your teas should progressively get lighter. And with the work day in full swing, a lighter or fruity tea will best calm and soothe you. Choose peachy or mango flavored teas like an oolong, a fruity Darjeeling, a light Ceylon, or a green tea.

Photo credit www.sodahead.com

Photo credit www.sodahead.com

Afternoon Tea Time

Instead of worrying about time pairing, with afternoon tea focus on pairing tea with the food. Choose Earl Grey for courses with cheese, savories, or lemon desserts; choose Darjeeling with creamy offerings like scones and clotted cream; choose Lapsang Souchong for smoked offerings; choose Ceylon for fresh fruit and vegetable based items; choose Kenya for chocolates.

Photo Credit www.earl-grey-tea.org

Photo Credit www.earl-grey-tea.org

Evening and Dinner

Yes, you’ve had a lot of tea today, but why stop now? Night is when the lighter teas and delicate flavors can shine. Teas should now be focused on calming and cleansing, both in terms of digestion and stress. Choose light oolongs, light greens, whites, and herbal infusions or tisanes.

Photo credit www.renaissanceherbs.com.au

Photo credit www.renaissanceherbs.com.au

Review: The Huntington Library Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

The standard for tearooms in Pasadena and Los Angeles—according to the casual partaker of afternoon tea—seems to be the tearoom at The Huntington Library. When people discover that you are a tea aficionado and are trying all the tearooms you can find, they usually ask if you have gone to The Huntington yet. So at the behests of Once Upon an Afternoon Tea readers, I took the plunge and made reservations for this must-do afternoon tea.

 

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

First Impressions and Service

The first thing I noticed when we entered the one room restaurant was the noise, followed by the beehive of servers running around like rabid dogs were nipping at their heels. I understood that it was a Sunday and the place was full, but was it necessary to seem so panicked? A good server who is overwhelmed knows how to hide that from the customers. Server 101, Lesson 1: Your guests should never know that you can’t handle your section. Once seated, the server situation only felt worse.  No sooner had we sat then she ran over with a breadbasket of mini scones, rattled off the flavors, and pushed us into ordering the house tea. The entire hour we were there (and note most afternoon teas we do take between 90 minutes and two hours from start to finish) we felt like they wanted nothing more than for us to scarf down food, pay our check, and leave so they could flip our table to another party. It became an act of defiance to sit there and sip tea slowly. I personally would rather have an almost nonexistent server than one who overzealously tries to push me out the door.

 

Décor

IMG_4347The walls, curtains, and upholstery were all in shades of “old crazy cat lady” yellow, tan, and peach. The curtains were an ancient floral pattern in desperate need of updating. But the worst part of the décor came not from the paint or fabrics, but from the room’s arrangement. You are literally less than six inches from the nearest table with only the narrowest of walkways behind your chair for the mad servers to run behind. China is no china at all, but plain white porcelain? Whatever the material that typical restaurant plates and coffee cups are made out of? Nothing felt comfortable or inviting in the slightest. It was less a tearoom than a room that serves little sandwiches and desserts and whose only beverage is tea.

 

Tea Selection

What selection? If The Huntington had a tea selection, we had no knowledge of it. There is no tea menu (there is no menu at all) and our aforementioned pushy server immediately did a hard sell for the house tea. She never said anything about other options of tea, so we kind of assumed that there wasn’t another option until we heard her tell the table next to us—or rather on top of us—that if they weren’t going to succumb to her forcing the house tea on them, they could choose Earl Grey. By then we were almost done and the blackberry black tea was fine enough to drink. I wonder if she makes commission on how many tables order the blackberry tea?

Hope you like blackberry

Hope you like blackberry

On top of that, warming up the tea consisted of adding hot water to the tea already brewing and becoming bitter in our table’s teapot. I don’t understand how people really believe that adding hot water makes a difference in the bitterness of over-steeped tea, because it doesn’t. The tea is just as over-brewed with extra water as it was before the second pouring.

 

Food

The Huntington Tearoom does not do a traditional afternoon tea service, no matter what they claim on their website. Instead of the typical three-tiered stands with finger sandwiches, scones, and little desserts, they have a buffet in the middle of the room. IMG_0621While great for those with appetites that surpass a usual afternoon tea quantity, a buffet only serves to enhance the feeling of being rushed through like cattle for the rest of us. Note, however, that at the end of your meal the server will bring by a plastic bag for you to bag your scones to-go in, so eat your fill of the sandwiches and desserts and save the scones for later to get the most out of your money.

Take them away...literally

Take them away…literally

Sandwiches

The advantage of a buffet is that there are more options than most tearooms offer for finger sandwiches and if you like particular ones you can have more of those and not waste your stomach on those you dislike (no mayo for me! Extra smoked salmon!).

Grab only what you want to try :)

Grab only what you want to try :)

A debate between Mom and me arose with the Tarragon Chicken Sandwich (chicken, tarragon, mayo, walnuts, and celery on wheat bread): She tasted tarragon; I did not. I felt that there was too much of a mayonnaise and relish taste to the sandwich, but Mom still insists that there was tarragon mixed in with the nicely not pureed chicken salad. We did both agree that the bread tasted very fresh.

The Carrot Ginger Sandwich (chopped carrot and candied ginger with cream cheese on fig walnut bread) was definitely a new favorite that I want to recreate. It was sweet, more like a finger sandwich best served for breakfast than lunch, and the fig-walnut bread was a sophisticated take on cinnamon raisin bread. I had two of these!

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Mom’s assessment of the egg salad on white bread was that the bread was once again soft and fresh, but that the salad needed more flavor. There was no seasoning or herb mixed in, so the egg sandwich literally taste like simply egg and bread.

The Cucumber Mint (freshly sliced cucumber and mint with cream cheese) fell victim to the not enough cucumber trap of cucumber sandwiches. Although the mint was strong and refreshing, without any cucumber for substance the sandwich was just too airy.

There is also an assortment of salads.

There is also an assortment of salads.

The smoked salmon (smoked salmon with cream cheese Dijon spread, dill dollop, and cucumber garnish on marble bread) was surprisingly good. I think dill is the best herb to pair with smoked salmon, but not enough places combine the two, choosing capers instead for that briny taste. But dill brings a touch of the pickled sourness of capers with a more refreshing note. This open-faced canapé was tangy, creamy, and worthy of seconds and maybe thirds.

Scones

Every table gets a breadbasket of mini scones in different flavors. The flavors are luck-of-the-oven, completely dependent on what the kitchen is churning out in mass quantities when you sit down. The table next to us received maple bacon scones and chocolate chip scones. We were given almond, cranberry, and apricot scones.

You can take them home.

You can take them home.

In hindsight, I don’t think it really matters what flavor you are brought, since they all sort of tasted the same. I liked how they were brought warm to the table, but since you should take them home anyway it doesn’t really make a difference. All the flavors were rather bland with only little pieces of their mix-ins for not much added flavor. When topped with jam and cream, they all taste the exact same. The texture was nice, particularly noteworthy since they were mini scones, which tend to end up over baked and dry.

IMG_4346The whipped cream is very sweet and fluffy (which I don’t like, see my clotted cream rants). I can’t comment on the marmalade because as I discovered at one of my first tea places, I really don’t like marmalade. These two toppings set me up for disappointment with the watery jam, but I actually was surprised at how tasty the raspberry jam was. It had a great flavor, not too sweet and not too tart, and its only problem was consistency.

Desserts

Dessert Buffet

Dessert Buffet

The brownie and the chocolate mousse cup were laughably polar opposites. While the brownie was rich, thick, and basically a block of fudge (nothing wrong with that 😉 ), the mousse cup was light and airy and shatters in one bit. Talk about dessert antithesis.

The fruit tart’s custard was rather bland, no strong vanilla flavor like so many excellent fruit tarts have, so it tasted more like a raspberry topped cookie than a fruit tart. I will say, though, the fruit they used was wonderfully ripe and fresh. You can taste that it was made that day and not defrosted from mass baking earlier in the week. The nature of a buffet probably makes a difference with that aspect as the food turnover is high.

IMG_0631The pecan bar was a disappointment, especially as I just recently learned at my job that I like pecan bars. Maybe that liking only applies to the pecan bars at work? This one was heavy on the pecan, but there was something about the filling that just didn’t work. I don’t know ingredients of pecan bars yet so I couldn’t put my finger on where it went wrong. And my crust fell off which is always sad.

Grab extras of the tea cookies. They are nice and crumbly like Russian Tea Cakes without all the powdered sugar and if you sneak a couple extras into your scone basket before the plastic bag comes, they’ll blend right in and you’ll have dessert to go.

Tea Cookies

Tea Cookies

On the dessert side was also an assortment of fresh fruit and cheeses. I like the addition of fruit because it allows me to trick myself into thinking that afternoon tea is healthy.

 

Extras

Stroll around the gardens before and then again after your afternoon tea. The Huntington has the most beautiful themed gardens and right now the roses are in bloom. And since you have to pay for admission to the Library in addition to your tea, you may as well get your money’s worth.

Untitled

I can officially say that all those who rave about The Huntington Tea Room need to try some of the other places I’ve reviewed. A few food items stood out as good offerings, but between the buffet style service and the being rushed and pushed throughout the whole meal, this place no where near lives up to its reputation as a must-do tearoom. With so many better tearooms minutes away in Old Town Pasadena, unless you are coming for the gardens, The Huntington can be skipped at no loss.

 

Visit The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA, 91108. (626) 683-8131. Closed Tuesday. Cost per person $29.50 plus cost of admission to The Huntington Library.

 

Recipe: Strawberry White Chocolate Coconut Scones

They say that inspiration comes from everywhere around us, and I’d agree. I am constantly walking along, minding my business, when out of the orange colored sky, FLASH! I see something that inspires a new scone flavor. It literally happens anywhere.

This combination has a magical inspiration behind it. Disneyland, in fact. During the strawberry harvest, Disneyland’s candy makers cover the most gigantic sweet strawberries in the world with the most incredible dark, milk, and white chocolate coatings. They were probably the most delicious fresh made treats those candy makers could have offered us. And my favorite coating–which I haven’t found in years–was the white chocolate and coconut covered strawberry.

Strawberry, White Chocolate, Coconut Scones

Strawberry, White Chocolate, Coconut Scones

These scones were my attempt to recapture that incredible flavor of a childhood treat, and I have bad news for you: say good bye to your waistline and apologize to your friends now because not only will you not share these, but you will eat the whole batch in an unprecedentedly short time span. I brought some in for a few of my coworkers to taste test, and already their parents are requesting them (though how the parents snagged a bite I’ll never know). Rest assured coworkers, I’ll be bringing these to the staff meeting this week.

You’d think that based on the combination of sweet flavors from white chocolate, sweetened coconut flakes, and strawberries (again from Harry’s Berries) this scone would be cavity-inducing sweet, but since the base is my basic cream scone, there is a pleasant mildly salty element to counteract the sugar. Which makes them totally acceptable for mass consumption, right?

Strawberry, White Chocolate, Coconut Scones

Strawberry, White Chocolate, Coconut Scones

Strawberry White Chocolate Coconut Scones

Ingredients

  • 200 g self rising flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 50 g ultrafine baking sugar
  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut, divided
  • 150 mL heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 220°C or 450°F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
Sift together flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add sugar. Toss in strawberries, white chocolate, and 1/4 cup coconut until well distributed.
Work in whipping cream until all ingredients are fully combined. This is a very wet dough! Don’t worry you didn’t do anything wrong.
Turn out onto a heavily floured workspace and knead a few times. Pat down to desired thickness (1 cm). Dip scone cutter in more flour before cutting scones out (5 cm) and placing on baking sheet. THIS IS ESSENTIAL. Because the scone dough is so wet, you need a hefty additional amount of flour to make everything manageable when kneading and cutting. Knead offcuts back together and repeat process until most of the dough is used.
Brush tops of scones with water and sprinkle remaining coconut on tops.
Bake 8-10 minutes until starting to brown. These scones don’t rise, but they do spread out so make sure you have left some space in between the scones on the baking sheets.
Remove immediately to a wire rack to cool.
These scones not only don’t require a topping of cream or jam, but a topping would probably ruin them (way too many flavors in too small of a package) so forego any clotted cream, curds, or jams when serving these scones. Their deliciousness speaks for itself.
Strawberry, White Chocolate, Coconut Scones

Strawberry, White Chocolate, Coconut Scones

And make about 4 batches at a time, just to be safe 😉

Origin of the Word “Scones”

I love scones. Read almost every blog on this site, can you not tell? They are my favorite part about afternoon tea, and also the part I’m harshest on. But when I think about the power of an amazing scone to make you feel comforted and content with life, I accept my scone obsession and invite everyone to join me.

But how did the name come around? Scone sounds like kind of a funny word, and like many funny words there are debates on its origin and even on how to pronounce it. Does it rhyme with gone as in “skahn” or like own as in “scoan”? Will we ever agree on the pronunciation? Probably not, but it’s interesting to learn that the word for this common British delight may not even be British in origin!

Here are the leading theories on the base of the word scone:

1. The Scottish claim that scones were named after a stone that Scottish kings sat upon once they were crowned. This stone is called the Stone of Destiny, but apparently the word stone was once scone and the Scots confused a rock with a pastry. Maybe back then they overbaked their scones. This is why I say 8 minutes my dear Scots!

Stone of Destiny

Stone of Destiny

2. A derivation of the Gaelic word “sgonn”, which would make the pronunciation of scone rhyme with gone. Sgonn means a shapeless mass or large mouthful. Obviously the Gaelic didn’t have 5 cm scone cutters.

A cut in half shapeless mass or mouthful

A cut in half shapeless mass or mouthful

3. One of the two claims that the Oxford English Dictionary supports is that of the Dutch “schoonbrut”, meaning fine white bread. The first scones were made mostly of oat though, so I wonder why the OED thinks this claim is so likely.

I would call this a fine, white bread

I would call this a fine, white bread

4. The second OED supported theory is that the origin is the German word “sconbrut”, in English meaning a fine, beautiful bread. At least the OED acknowledges that the German sconbrut is so obviously related to the Dutch schoonbrut as to make them nearly identical that supporting these two theories is more like supporting only one.

A fine, beautiful bread with chocolate, almonds, and dried cherries?

A fine, beautiful bread with chocolate, almonds, and dried cherries?

So which answer is the truth? Which root word gave rise to our favorite risen pastry for afternoon tea? We may never really know…and yes insert ominous tone of voice right there for some fun.

Review: The Langham Huntington, Pasadena

IMG_0212Today we take our first step away from the quaint and “Mom and Pop” tearooms and branch out to a whole new field of tea service: the high end hotel afternoon tea. Some of the most famous afternoon teas are served at hotels, like The Ritz-Carlton and The Waldorf in New York and The Claridge in London. These teas focus less on tradition and originality and more on…swanky. So attending tea at The Langham was guaranteed to be a different experience than we’ve had thus far, but in no way less enjoyable.

 

First Impressions and Service

We drove up to the valet and were immediately surprised and impressed by the employees. Although the hotel is quite upscale, the employees were not snooty but rather the epitome of friendliness. That may not sound all that shocking, until you learn that we were driving a Honda Odyssey that has seen nearly a decade go by. But always remember, you can never judge a family by the outside of their car.

An upcoming tea event

An upcoming tea event

Once inside we made our way to the tearoom and lounge, as always early for our reservation. So far every place we’ve been to has been able to accommodate us showing up half an hour early to our seating, and here was no exception. But we did have to wait until the lounge opened at 1:00 so until then we relaxed in chairs in the garden and courtyard. I could have lived in this garden. I wish I did. Can I?

Langham Gardens

The waitress inside the lounge was nothing special but nothing terrible. Her tea recommendations were obviously those of someone uneducated in tea, but hotel teas do not focus on knowledge of tea, they are all about the upscale experience. We never had to wait long and our cups were never empty, though we felt a little self-conscious pouring our own tea when occasionally she would do it for us. Sorry, but tea waits for no waitress!

 

Décor

Table Setting

Table Setting

Think swanky: open, airy, white tablecloths, silver utensils, floor-to-ceiling bay windows, perfectly landscaped courtyards. I was half surprised that there wasn’t a harpist or pianist in the corner. Every piece of furnishing, from the lounge area to the tea settings, was crisp and clean, with an obvious show of wealth. The room was so open that you could just drink in huge gulps of air. As many tearooms are cramped and trying to fit as many customers and flowers into one space as possible, the immense free space felt like quite the luxury.

 

The Lounge

The Lounge

Tea Selection

There are a fair number of teas and very descriptive tasting notes below each tea’s name to help you make a decision. The bar area is topped with all the teas in glass jars, which is a fun way to display them all.

New Idea...A Tea Bar Perhaps?

New Idea…A Tea Bar Perhaps?

But seeing the teas won’t help you make a selection. As always we went with one pot of the Earl Grey (The Langham’s is organic). The server—whether by experience, customer opinions, or employer’s policy—recommended we taste the Langham House Blend. This blend is a combination Assam and Darjeeling Black, and it was a good standard black tea that was very smooth thanks to the Darjeeling, but for Earl Grey lovers it still didn’t steal away the tea crown. For those who usually choose an English Breakfast or other plain black tea, even I recommend trying the Langham Blend. It is a worthy black tea (though how could it not as a Darjeeling blend?). The Earl Grey was a great choice as well.

IMG_0221All their teas are brewed loose leaf, and then the pot is topped up with more water once your second cup is poured. Apparently this is supposed to make it less bitter? We didn’t trust that, so poor Jenny bless her heart had to suffer some confusion. What did we mean that we wanted our teabags taken out of our tea? Did we want her to brew a new pot? She was a little unsure of what we wanted, but she did her best to accommodate what seemed like a weird request to her. The pots were nice and thick to keep the tea warm and she did brew us another pot once one became too lukewarm.

Earl Grey and House Blend

Earl Grey and House Blend

 

Food

Afternoon tea comes as a set menu, the only difference between the two options being an upgrade to a glass of champagne and strawberries with whipped cream.IMG_0233 We were already not starving, so we went with the lower of the two services consisting of only sandwiches, scones, and dessert.

Tiffin Afternoon Tea

Tiffin Afternoon Tea

And even then there was more than enough food, particularly the desserts. Everything was a wonderful gourmet twist on traditional offerings with some unique additions that I wish we could have every time.

Sandwiches

My biggest confusion on the sandwiches came from the menu description seemingly not matching the actual sandwich. Some ingredients were missing, I swear, or else were so minimal that they added no flavor and were only listed in order to increase the ingredient list and gourmet sound. But they were almost all fantastic, and oddly all open faced so the presentation was great.

Sandwiches, beautiful presentation

Sandwiches, beautiful presentation

The cucumber watercress had the thinnest slices of cucumber that I have ever seen on a sandwich. The “mascarpone mousse” topping the delicious squaw bread tasted more like plain cream cheese than mascarpone. And there did not seem to be any watercress nor crispy shallots as promised on the menu. This one was a bit of a disappointment based solely on the menu description, but taken as is was mildly refreshing.

Caribbean Shrimp

Caribbean Shrimp

My favorite sandwich was an amazing pesto shrimp on herb garlic bread. The herb combinations of watercress pesto, cilantro, and lemon zest really brought out the intended Caribbean flavor. And the herb garlic bread? Let me tell you it was probably some of the best bread I have ever tasted. Everything tasted fresh and refreshing. Absolutely fantastic in my eyes.

 

Egg and Proscuitto

Egg and Proscuitto

Mom’s favorite, on the ironic contrary, was the egg. Unlike most egg sandwiches, this one was not egg salad with mayonnaise but rather a hardboiled egg slice over a prosciutto slice on a potato peppercorn bread. As Mom said: anything is better on potato bread. But her favorite element was the addition of a green onion and a red pepper slice. She loved the different taste and texture it brought. “It all complements each other,” she said.

Salmon Sushi?

Salmon Sushi?

Much like I refuse to eat egg, Mom refuses to eat smoked salmon, so tasting this profiterole topped with “caramelized shallot caper cream” that tasted exactly like the “mascarpone mousse” as on the cucumber sandwich (making me think that both are simply plain cream cheese), smoked salmon, and caviar fell to only me. It kind of looked like a bread-based version of sushi. The profiterole part was crazy light and the salmon wasn’t overly fishy like some are. It was a disappointment though based on what was promised on the menu.

Last and pretty much least was the Asian pear and raspberry on pistachio bread. The bread was excellent. The pear not so much. Like the cucumber, it was sliced too thin to bring flavor rather than texture and the blue cheese mousse was nothing more than a little dollop on top of…more plain cream cheese. The half a raspberry was only part of one bite so it didn’t do much.

Scones

Blueberry and Cranberry Scones

Blueberry and Cranberry Scones

The cranberry and blueberry scones didn’t taste like a cookie, and didn’t taste like a pound cake! Revelation to American scone makers everywhere! Scones are a flavor not a shape! Both had the correct texture and stayed together well when dollops of cream and lemon curd were added. But neither needed a topping to enhance the taste.

Whipped Devonshire Cream

Whipped Devonshire Cream

We just used the cream because it tasted like clotted cream should taste, only was more whipped, and the lemon curd was so good that I’d be entirely happy to have it injected into my veins via an IV drip.

Might be the best lemon curd ever.

Might be the best lemon curd ever.

It was lemony and creamy, almost like a lemon cheesecake, but better because it goes on a scone. The preserves offered were Bonne Maman, basically guaranteeing that the jam was going to be good even though it wasn’t homemade. The lemon curd on the other hand…

IMG_0238Oh and speaking of pound cake. On the same tier as the scones was a Cranberry Orange Tea Cake, which did taste like a dried out pound cake. Pass on that.

Desserts

I have never seen so many desserts on one afternoon tea plate before. If this review breaks the 2000 word mark, it will be because of the numerous dessert options. Come here on a day that you have a massive sweet tooth to get the fullest experience.

A LOT of desserts

A LOT of desserts

The ice cream cone look alike was the best dessert. It was a vanilla cone filled with passion fruit mousse. The mousse was then topped with a dried apricot compote and edible gold leaf. The cone stays nice and crispy because you scarf it down so fast, but then you wish you had slowed down and savored it because there is only one golden cone on this stuffed plate.

Apricot Passion Cone

Apricot Passion Cone

The Strawberry Pistachio Gateau has a good layering of the flavors. You get a hit of strawberry flavor followed by true pistachio (not the ice cream pistachio that tastes nothing like the nut) followed again by strawberry and so on. The strawberry is more mousse and the pistachio is more cake and the whole thing is more deliciousness.

Chocolate Raspberry Financier Cupcake

Chocolate Raspberry Financier Cupcake

The chocolate raspberry financier cupcake was the weakest link here. My best description is a glob of sticky raspberry jelly in a mini cupcake liner, topped with a decent chocolate brownie, and a swirl of raspberry buttercream. Remove the raspberry jam and rename it to a Raspberry Frosted Brownie and it may redeem itself.

The crème brulee tart is fantastic for anyone who loves the taste of burnt sugar. Anyone? Hands raised? Hmm. Because it is such a small tartlet, the primary flavors are butter, flour, and burnt sugar. There is basically no taste of the crème part of crème brulee. Sometimes mini may be cuter, but full sized tastes better.

Cute, isn't it?

Cute, isn’t it?

The checkerboard chocolate and vanilla cookie may not have had an overwhelmingly strong flavor beyond plain shortbread, but it was too cute not to gush over.

French Macarons! One of my all time favorite desserts, and this coffee macaron was almost a perfect one. In terms of taste it was excellent. The coffee wasn’t overdone and the cacao nibs brought a nice bitter note to contrast the sweetness. The execution wasn’t the best as the macaron cookie dome was hollow. Bad batches can’t always be avoided, even by the best of bakers.

Finally, the white café torte was my second favorite dessert and I would’ve eaten two of them had I not been stuffed and seconds away from a sugar overdose. Take a tiramisu and combine it with a subtle spice coffee cake and give it the perfect texture and taste balance. That was this dessert. Heavenly for any tiramisu or spice cake lover, I promise.

 

Extras

There really weren’t any extras here to speak of, no merchandise or florists shop attached, the usual loose leaf tea available for sale. All I can say is skip the jam on your scones since they don’t need them and pocket the little jars of jam and honey for later use on your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—or your scones with cream and jam—since you definitely paid enough for them.

IMG_0227

The most important thing to be aware of when attending the Tiffin Afternoon Tea at The Langham is that this is not a tearoom, not a teahouse, not a bakery, but a fancy hotel with a dress code and a valet. If you anticipate an experience in line with its reality, then you are in for a delightful afternoon. Strolling through their little garden makes it wonderful, particularly if the weather is nice. But you will be sorely disappointed if you are looking for a place with expert tea brewers and homestyle fare. The Langham is decadent and stunning, but that is after all what you are paying for. And it is an investment well worth making.

 

Visit The Langham Huntington Hotel, Pasadena at 1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue, Pasadena, CA, 91106. (626) 588-3900. Reservations required. Upscale casual dress. Cost per person: $39.00

 

Recipe: Zebra Scones

Zebra Scones

What’s black and white and red all over? A chocolate and cream scone topped with strawberry jam!

Did you laugh? I know you probably didn’t. I know I’m not that funny. Sad Face Moment.

If you did laugh at my joke, that means you get scones! Though since I’m not a cruel person, if you didn’t laugh you can have scones too. There is no reason in the world to deprive a person of enjoying a scone, particularly when chocolate is involved.

Zebra Scone atop a cream and a double chocolate scone. It's a Scone Tower!

Zebra Scone atop a cream and a double chocolate scone. It’s a Scone Tower!

This recipe came around when Mom and I made double chocolate scones and had some leftover double chocolate scone dough after rekneading and recutting the scraps. As it so happens, we also had some leftover cream scone dough for the same reason. It was my humble mother who doesn’t give herself enough credit who came up with the idea to combine the two scraps, and Zebra Scones were born.

These scones have the same great texture and rise as my go-to cream scone recipe but the flavor has an extra richness from the dark chocolate throughout. Anything with chocolate immediately lends itself well to something fruity and red, so these are a natural base for some strawberry or raspberry jam. Plus, since the cream portion is a tad savory and the chocolate half is a bitter dark chocolate, the sugar in the jam is a delicious treat.

And I dare you to come up with a better joke than mine 😉

Zebra Scones

Zebra Scones

Zebra Scones (Chocolate and Cream)

For cream scone dough:

Ingredients

  • 200 g self raising flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 50 g ultrafine sugar
  • 150 mL heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 220°C or 450°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Sift together flour and salt. Add sugar and mix. Incorporate the whipping cream and knead until ingredients form a dough. Continue kneading until dough has just become smooth. Cover with a dish towel and set aside.

For the double chocolate dough:

Ingredients

  • 100 mL heavy whipping cream
  • 60 g dark chocolate
  • 200 g all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 50 g ultrafine baking sugar
  • 80-100 mL water

Pour cream into a microwave safe bowl. Break chocolate into pieces and add to cream. Microwave on high for 1 minute, stirring afterwards until the chocolate melts into the cream and is smooth. Set aside and allow to come to room temperature.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and mix.

Pour in the chocolate cream and mix until dough is beginning to moisten and cream is incorportated. Stir in just enough water to fully combine dough and knead until smooth.

Knead together the two doughs (cream scones and chocolate scones) until you get a swirled/striped/speckled/zebra effect. You do not want the doughs to fully blend with each other or else you won’t get the fun color contrast.

Roll out dough onto a floured surface. Pat down to desired thickness (1 cm) and use a floured scone cutter (5 cm) to cut scones and place on baking sheets. Bake scones for 6-8 minutes until risen and browning on top slightly. Remove immediately to cool on a wire rack.

Top with a sweet, red fruit jam and think of funny, possible punny, jokes. Leave said joke in comments under recipe because yours are just that much better than mine.

E.T. Scone Home!

True Clotted Cream

I rant quite a lot on this site about tearooms labeling stiffened whipped cream as clotted cream. So I figured I’d better explain what I am looking for when I review something named clotted cream.

th-3Clotted cream is associated primarily with the south-west regions of England; these counties are the origin of the names Cornish Clotted Cream and Devonshire cream (after County Cornwall and County Devon). Though a lot of people use the names interchangeably, they are not technically the same because one has to be produced in Cornwall using Jersey cows and the other has to be produced in Devon using…Devonshire cows? Both are the thick, creamy, almost butterlike spread that wonderfully top a scone. Typically it has 55% milk fat, hence your ability to stick a knife in it and the knife to stand straight up. This stuff is thick!

True clotted cream at a tearoom!

True clotted cream at a tearoom!

Clotted cream is made by indirectly heating full fat cow’s milk (the Cornish say that the Jersey cows produce the creamiest milk and that is what sets Cornish Clotted Cream apart from the rest) using a water bath or steam. Then the heated cream is left in shallow pans to cool slowly; as it cools the cream clots at the top. This literally clotted cream is finally skimmed off the top of the pan and onto the top of scones everywhere.

Photo credit www.thecupcakeproject.com

Photo credit www.thecupcakeproject.com

This ambrosial substance is difficult to find in the US for affordable prices. I always have a jar at my parents’ house for scone taste testing, but it is definitely an indulgence. Most tea houses in the US don’t consider it cost-effective to serve real clotted cream–neither the stuff from Cornwall nor Devon–so they serve mock-clotted cream which is usually just a stiffened and sweetened whipped cream blend and call it Devonshire cream. To be fair to these tearooms and hotels serving scones and afternoon tea, most Americans have never experienced the glories of true clotted cream and so they won’t notice a difference. But once they have, get ready for an onslaught of clotted-cream-addict emails and complaints because there really is no comparison.

Clotted cream imported from England is sold in jars at some specialty grocers or British stores. Seek it out, I promise it is worth the investment.

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