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Apple Cider Scones

I’m going to Disneyland today! Confession: I go a lot. Like a lot a lot. Like “I am a Disney addict” lot. But today is a special trip because we are heading off to the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party! It’s a special event made even more special by the sheer amount of cool people watching opportunities and the exclusive fireworks show. But about that people watching…

Apple Cider Scones

Apple Cider Scones

Normally I am not a huge dress up in costume kind of girl, but I love admiring all the guests’ creative costumes! My favorite are the full family costumes like the family I saw last year with the mom as the Queen of Hearts, the dad as the White Rabbit, the son as the Chesire Cat, and the little daughter was Alice. Cue the “awwww” moment. This year my mom and I are actually dressing up (last year I just made us Halloween hats) and I can’t wait to show off Mom’s amazing sewing skills with my dress 😀

Ham and Swiss Tea Sandwich

We definitely have enough recipes here to fill a second and third tier of an afternoon tea, but I do recognize that there is a…um…severe lack of first tier fillers? The dot dot dots and question mark are my writing way of giving you all a sheepish, almost embarrassed look. Whhhaaaaattttt? Yes, I’m sorry, but I love baking so much and am way more likely to recipe work mid-morning (when it’s too early for lunch and therefore tea sandwiches) or mid-afternoon (when I’ve already eaten lunch and therefore want dessert over tea sandwiches). So I blame the clock for the lack of savory tier recipes. You aren’t buying that excuse are you? Sigh. I tried.

Guess I just need to give you a tea sandwich recipe I’ve had in my back pocket for a little while now.

Ham and Swiss Tea Sandwich

Ham and Swiss Tea Sandwich

White Chocolate Chip Scones

Basic doesn’t always mean plain or boring or bland or simple or unsophisticated or straightforward or adequate or unadorned or spartan or…okaaaayy I need to stop using the thesaurus because half of those synonyms aren’t even making sense anymore. I guess I just want to instill in you that an easy recipe of 6 ingredients with only a few minutes of real work can be amazing.  Because it can be. I only speak the truth 😉

White Chocolate Chip Scones

White Chocolate Chip Scones

Review: The T Room

It all started when some friends and myself needed food after a round of mini golf and found ourselves driving past a tearoom that wasn’t on my To Review list. So when my best friend and fellow tea aficionado came back from a trip to England, what better way to catch up than over afternoon tea at this little find?

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First Impressions and Service

Review: Steampunk Coffeebar and Kitchen

Welcome to an alternative Victorian age, where the Industrial Revolution has permeated society’s machinery and the supernatural may or may not exist. Welcome to the Steampunk Movement. Originating as a sub-genre of science fiction, steampunk has become an entire culture that combines Victorian styles with accents inspired by machinery and steam-powered anything. Think Sherlock Holmes (not the BBC version with the beautifully voiced Benedict Cumberbatch), The Time Machine, the 1999 Will Smith movie Wild Wild West, and the new stage show at Disneyland “Mickey and the Magical Map”. Oh, and it’s the name of one of my favorite local coffee shops that hosted its first afternoon tea.

 

Owners of Steampunk

Owners of Steampunk Coffeebar and Kitchen

First Impressions and Service

I’ve been to Steampunk in its usual coffeeshop/delicious brunch incarnation multiple times, so I already knew to expect very talkative, enthusiastic, and friendly people. Even though the tea was put on by an outside company, my expectations were met! All the servers and chefs were dressed in true steampunk fashion. Their costumes were incredible, and almost felt like a Hidden Mickey hunt because so many of them had Disney Steampunk pins as accessories. Steampunk and Disney is a much more common combination than you’d think!

Steampunked Servers

Steampunked Servers

The tea was scheduled to start at 4:30 and I arrived exactly on time. This may have been an event that it was better to arrive fashionably late as they weren’t quite ready for tables to sit yet. A few of the tables in the back of the restaurant were still being used for sandwich assembly. It made it pretty confusing as to where to sit or what to do. There wasn’t a hostess and no assigned seats despite the tea being a ticketed event. Things felt a little chaotic. Easy solution for next time is to preassign tables or have one employee play hostess once people arrive to direct/explain things. Other than that, throughout the two hour event (and after it was officially over but we all stuck around talking) the servers were amazing and engaging and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

 

Décor

Steampunk (if it’s capitalized assume I mean the coffee shop not the style) already has a very distinctive décor every day. The walls are a bright blue that somehow manages not to blind you or be too obstrusive and serve as an eye-catching backdrop for works by featured artists. On a non-tea day the artwork alone serves up hours worth of talking points for you and your friends over Mexican Mochas. The tables are mixy-matchy complete with pipes for legs. Lots of that bright blue, lots of bronze, lots of brass, and lots of fun. There was no added décor for the tea event, but the patrons dressed up in their finest steampunk attire alongside the employees almost felt like extra decoration! It also can get pretty loud in there (all that metal doesn’t really absorb sound) but that actually made it feel more exciting and fun and you can still hold an easy conversation.

Steampunk Coffeebar and Kitchen

Steampunk Coffeebar and Kitchen

Steampunk is very much a coffee shop and café, not a tearoom. But as long as you aren’t expecting a ton of lace doilies and floral arrangements, you will find it a fun location. Remember, this is a themed tea! I’d have been really disappointed if they had broken away from their roots in the steampunk movement.

 

Tea Selection

Chef Justin Bastian (owner and head chef of Midsummer Night’s Confections) creates his own tea blends and served five of them throughout the event. Tea is brewed loose leaf (1 point!) and the servers walked around with fresh pots of all different teas, ready to immediately refill your cup. If the server at your table didn’t have the tea you wanted, they went and got a fresh pot of the one you did! A few times the teas were overbrewed and the servers would tell you it was one tea when it was really a different one (quite a shocker to drink a lemongrass tisane when you were anticipating a raspberry black tea). Those are just kinks that will be worked out at the next event. As for flavor, the teas were all amazing! I tried all five and had a hard time making up my mind as to my favorite. I might have had 12 cups of tea over the meal. Each tea was a unique twist on a traditional tea flavor and were made up of tea leaves, dried fruits, herbs, and other flavorings. Nothing was artificial. Everything was delicious.

A quick rundown of the teas:

  • Lavendar Grey: Earl Grey Moonlight, Irish Breakfast, Assam, Lavendar, Marigold flowers, a very robust black tea that was one of my favorites. Lavender is a very pronounced flavor in this tea.
  • Gaslight Floral Chai: Pu-erh Tahiti, Chocolate Chai, Spearmint, Hibiscus, Cornflowers, another robust tea, strong chai notes are mellowed out with the spearmint and flowers, excellent with a touch of sugar.
  • Viscount’s Strawberries and Cream: Assam, Wild Strawberry, Cream, Rosehips, another favorite, more mellow black tea, strawberries and cream flavor very pronounced. The chef said some people actually mix the clotted cream into this tea! I wasn’t adventurous enough to try that. Excellent dessert tea!
  • Minerva’s Raspberry Caramel: Ceylon Sonata, Caramel, Rooibos, Jasmine, Orange Peels, Raspberry, an unexpectedly delicious combination, great option for a dessert tea, enjoy as is or with cream and sugar.
  • Chamberlain’s Tisane: Chamomile, Lemongrass, Lemon Verbena, a good caffeine free option, but I don’t like chamomile so personally didn’t like this tea.

 

Food

IMG_5247When I say everything on this menu was homemade, I mean everything, down to the mayonnaise in the chicken salad. The theme of the food seemed to be “Slight Twist on Tradition” mixed with “What Flower Can I Put In This (insert food item)”. Everything was well balanced in flavor, fresh, and well-portioned. This tea was a set menu of savories, scones, and desserts. All the food was brought out at once and it was up to your discretion as to which order to eat everything.

Sandwiches

Ham and Apple

Ham and Apple

The ham and apple jam on squaw bread was a nice change from the more common pairings of ham-and-cranberry-sauce and ham-and-cheese. The apple jam stood up to the heartier ham slices and the squaw bread was soft with the right amount of flavor. Personally, this sandwich felt too large, but really that is only because it was a pure half of a sandwich instead of two fourths. Mathematically the same, presentation not so much. While tasty, this was the most forgettable item on the menu. It was more of a standard fare that just filled up a slot on the menu.

Cucumber Cream Cheese

Cucumber Cream Cheese

Every tea has to have a cucumber sandwich, right? This cucumber sandwich was perfection. There was the perfect ratio of cream cheese to cucumber; the cucumbers were cut into thick slices so you actually felt the freshness and taste of cucumber instead of those watery shreds so many tea sandwiches use. The bread was a beautiful, thick French bread that had an actual crust to it! Yes tea is supposed to be a light food affair, but sometimes the airy white bread that is normally used with cucumber sandwiches makes you feel like you are eating…well…air. This sandwich had substance and therefore has my approval. Oh and the cream cheese, I could eat it all day. In the flower theme, the cream cheese was a rose-mint cream cheese that wasn’t too floral or too herbaceous or to tangy, just well balanced and not overpowering to the cucumber.

Strawberry Chicken Salad

Strawberry Chicken Salad

Alert the presses because I had chicken salad, with mayonnaise, and LIKED IT. With so many examples of my anti-mayo rants in these reviews, I am as shocked as you that I had no problem with this chicken salad. The mayonnaise is a housemade olive oil-based mayo which probably explains why I liked it. Strawberries added to the chunky chicken salad was an inspired touch, and the fresh basil leaves add that floral plant note more sandwiches should have. The bread was a white bread, but it had more weight to it than a Wonder Bread. It was still light enough to let the chunky chicken and fresh chopped strawberries shine. I would have liked more strawberries though!

 

Brie and Apricot Croissant

Brie and Apricot Croissant

The coup de grace was the warmed croissant with thick slices of fresh brie and homemade apricot jam. I can’t describe the cheesy, tart, sweet, buttery fantasticness (a new word I am coining only for this sandwich) with enough justice. They broiled or baked the croissants before they delivered them so the cheese was all melty and the jam was beginning to caramelize and now I’m craving it all over again. This was the standout savory options by far!

Scones

Currant Scone

Currant Scone

Out of the three courses, the scone course was the weakest, though still better than some of the other places’ I’ve been to that shouldn’t even call what they serve a scone. The first was a small currant scone that was a little overbaked. The bottom was too brown and the rest was a little too dry, but the flavor was spot-on British. There were nice layers to the scone as well. Bake a little bit less and it would be perfect. The second scone was a pretty big lemon-lavender scone that I know my dad would have loved. The lavender was almost too subtle (I really like floral flavors though) and the lemon was robust both in the scone itself and the lemon glaze poured on top.

Lemon Lavender Scone

Lemon Lavender Scone

This texture was better, lighter, and not overbaked—a good combination of dense and light. The clotted cream is the closest thing you are going to find to authentic, British clotted cream in an American kitchen. It was thick, creamy, not sweet, and a perfect accompaniment to the scones though the scones didn’t need it. The chef’s partner is Welsh and wouldn’t let him use the sweetened whipped cream so many teahouses claim is clotted cream. I approve of her, and of his clotted cream. Gold Star!

Desserts

Neapolitan Cupcake

Neapolitan Cupcake

Cutest thing ever was the Neapolitan cupcake baked directly in a teacup.  One of the moistest chocolate-vanilla swirl cupcakes I have ever tasted, swirled through with fresh strawberries and topped with the perfect amount of chocolate-vanilla-strawberry frosting. I have nothing to say about this other than pure perfection that I could eat everyday.

Butterscotch Cookies with Salted Caramel Frosting

Butterscotch Cookies with Salted Caramel Frosting

The second dessert was a butterscotch shortbread sandwich cookie with salted caramel frosting. The cookie softened over the course of the meal so by the time you bit into it it was soft and firm at the same time. And the frosting wasn’t too sweet at all! In fact, considering the main flavors were butterscotch and caramel, this cookie wasn’t a cavity-inducing sugar high in the slightest!

 

Steampunk and Chef Justin did a phenomenal job with their inaugural afternoon tea event. The food was fantastic, the setting eclectic and fun, and the people were so personable and friendly that I walked out of the tea feeling more like I was family than a customer. I can’t wait to see this event continue to improve and become one of the must-do events of Los Angeles.

Steampunk

Steampunk Coffee and Kitchen

12526 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village, CA 91607

818-508-1276

$25 per person, but prices subject to change with the event’s popularity

Banana Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

I have had an inexplicable craving for coffee cake lately. Like having dreams of coffee cake, resisting ordering coffee cake for lunch every time I go to my favorite cafe, saving recipe after recipe for coffee cake, and convincing my mom that I should use at least three of the aforementioned Costco bananas to make a banana coffee cake instead of the banana bread or more banana scones she requested.

And then I go and post the resulting recipe on my blog with a (about to come) tangent about Mother’s Day being the perfect excuse to make this not-the-banana-bread-my-mom-wanted banana chocolate chip coffee cake. I’m a horrible daughter. Blame coffee cake!

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake

Tea Cakes vs. Coffee Cakes

Now that we know what teacake is, can we figure out coffee cake? As in what makes the two so different? Now don’t give me the rote answer of you serve teacake with tea and coffee cake with coffee.  We don’t like simple here, we have to go deep! So begins the battle of coffee cake versus teacake!

 

#1 Coffee cake is one kind fits all.

As we learned last week, a teacake can actually be one of three or four different foodstuffs: a cookie, a spice or sponge cake, a yeast bread, or a soda bread. But a coffee cake is always a cake. Sure it might have a crumble topping or a cinnamon swirl (drooling yet?) or added flavorings but it is always in cake form.

 

#2 Shape matters.

Even when a teacake is a cake, it usually is in a circular shape unless it was baked as a loaf cake. Coffee cakes come in squares, rectangles, bundts, circles, basically whatever shape pan the baker had available.

 

#3 Coffee has coffee but tea has no tea.

Coffee cakes can also get their name from being made with coffee, but teacakes aren’t made with tea (though you can make a teacake that is tea flavored, it is not a common thing).  Coffee isn’t in the batter of every coffee cake, however it is common enough that it might be worth asking the baker if they use coffee in their recipe. I know I’ve made a coffee cake with coffee granules in the cocoa cinnamon streusel.

 

#4 One is served at Starbucks and other coffee/tea shops. One is served at tearooms and teahouses.

Guess which is which? Coffee cakes are more likely to be sold in local or chain coffee shops, the kind you swing by for that convenient breakfast. I order tea at Starbucks (their Earl Grey is surprisingly good) but even if they serve tea I have never seen a teacake at a coffee shop. Now on the flip side, I have only ever seen any of the forms of teacakes at tearooms and teahouses. I’ve never seen a coffee cake at one of those, so maybe the makers of teacakes and coffeecakes agreed to keep some distance between them.

 

#5 Teacakes are world travelers.

Teacakes—in any of the forms we learned about—are seen in the UK, North America, Latin America, India, Australia, Sweden…basically they are well traveled and well known. Coffee cake seems to be a purely American baked good, only really seen outside the US in American style bakeries that happen to have made their way abroad.

 

Believe it or not, I’m not going to give an answer to which is better than the other, because I love both coffee cakes and teacakes of all sorts. But I definitely don’t believe that you can only have coffee cake when drinking coffee and teacakes when you are drinking tea. You can have anything when you’re drinking tea. Why should we neglect the poor yet delicious coffee cake?

Recipe: Peanut Butter and Jelly Scones

I love peanut butter. Like LOVE IT. So much so that I could probably live off it. In fact if you saw my pantry, you’d probably think that I do. There’s crunchy peanut butter, creamy peanut butter, white chocolate peanut butter, cinnamon raisin peanut butter, almond butter (yes I know that doesn’t technically count but it’s still fantastic and obsessive), dark chocolate peanut butter, honey peanut butter, banana nut peanut butter, powdered peanut butter, and there may or may not be even more jars of the same varieties because I’m so afraid to run out of peanut butter that I buy extra jars unnecessarily.

And by may or may not, I totally mean there is. What? I eat it with practically everything! It’s delicious!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Scones

Peanut Butter and Jelly Scones

So it was a no-brainer that peanut butter scones, and possibly a whole host of peanut butter based scones, would eventually show up on this site. Hey, if I can make scones out of mascarpone cheese, why not peanut butter? Okay those have nothing to compare each other to and I just wanted to justify my peanut butter obsession.

What Is Pu-erh?

a pu-erh brick

a pu-erh brick

Tea aficionados have been talking about pu-erh more and more lately. It goes by many names, much like a rose, such as the diet tea or the anti-aging tea. Great, right? Drink a certain kind of tea and you’ll not only stay thin but you’ll stay young forever. Could this tea be the elixir of the fountain of youth?! Let’s examine, shall we?

 

Processing Pu-Erh

Pu-erh is grown in the Yunnan province of China. The tea leaves are piled, dampened, and turned to ensure even fermentation (a lovely and appetizing article compared this process to composting). After about six months to a year, the tea is considered ripened and then dried, weighed, and steamed to prepare it for pressing.

The pressing and aging are the two signature processing elements in pu-erh. The tea is pressed into a brick and aged much like whiskey or Scotch. After years of aging, it is finally ready to enter the market and your teacup.

 

Preparing Pu-Erh for Drinking

It is possible to buy pu-erh in a loose leaf form (most tearooms that offer pu-erh have loose leaf pu-erh for ease of brewing), but if yours is still in its brick, simply flake off or cut off pieces of the cake in a vertical direction. Technically pu-erh should be brewed at 95°F for 30 seconds for a first brewing and reaching up to 10 minutes for a subsequent brewing, but I’ve brewed mine at 205° for two minutes and it has been perfect.

I treat it much like a black tea. The pu-erh I’ve been drinking is flavored with caramel and vanilla and is strong but decadent with a splash of milk and sugar.

 

Health Benefits

There hasn’t been any studies done in humans yet, but scientific studies with animals have shown a decrease in body weight following consistent pu-erh consumption. Liver health improved and cholesterol lowered. Overall body fat composition lowered as well, which is why pu-erh is called the slimming tea. The Chinese believe that pu-erh can also help cure a hangover by invigorating the spleen. I think we all need invigorated spleens so we should all drink pu-erh.

And the Water Was Hot, Hot, Hot

The process of brewing tea seems so simple: boil water, pour over tea, steep, pour out and enjoy. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is so much more than that! There is practically an art form to brewing the perfect cup of tea, and everyone has his or her own methods. We’ve been over some of them like teabags or loose leaf, steep and strain or steep and remove, milk first or last, milk at all…so let’s go one step further and talk about water.

Tea kettle with boiling water; steam against a black background.

You can’t have tea without water. Try it; I dare you (okay before you fire back at me I am excluding milk teas from this dare). Water is essential to tea! Tea is basically flavored water after all. Delicious, soothing, varied, and even healthier water but water nonetheless.

However water can also ruin your tea. Yes, by steeping your chosen tea in a water bath of uncoordinatedly high temperatures, you can essentially burn the tea leaves and be left with a bitter cup of tea that you won’t discard because that would just be tragic but you certainly won’t enjoy to its fullest. It may even result in your not liking tea, which would be even more tragic than you pouring tea down the drain!

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So let’s quickly go over the proper water temperature and brewing time for each type of tea. Sounds good?

Black Tea: Because black tea is so robust and is the most oxidized of the teas, you can actually brew this one in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Try not to pass 5 minutes or you will be past the bitter point of return (I’m a little punny while writing this, my sincere apologies).

Oolong Tea: Brew between 185-205°F for about 5 minutes. Basically allow the water to boil and then cool for 30ish seconds before brewing.

Green Tea: As we move further down the oxidized ladder, the teas should be brewed at lower temperatures. Green tea is optimal at 150°F for only 2-3 minutes. Green tea becomes bitter very quickly so keep an eye on it!

White Tea: Oddly, this tea can be brewed a little warmer than green tea at 180°F for about 4-6 minutes. Why odd? White tea is a gentler tea than green tea so you’d expect to coddle it a bit more, but there needs to be an exception to every rule I suppose.

Rooibos: Note that I didn’t label it rooibos tea because technically it’s a tisane and we are all about technicality today! This South African tea can handle it’s stuff; feel free to brew it with boiling water for longer than 5 minutes. It probably won’t get bitter.

Herbals and Tisanes: The rest of the not-teas can be brewed at boiling water for 5 minutes as well, but as there are no hard and fast rules about tisanes, feel free to experiment to your taste.

 

Now you know, now there are no excuses, and now you are going to completely disregard these guidelines because who wants to use a thermometer when preparing a kettle?

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