Afternoon tea is my kind of thing. Sure I went through a tomboy phase when I was little but ever since then it has been girly girl stuff. Even Mr NQN had to laugh when we first saw Little Britain's unconvincing transvestite Emily Howard on TV and pointed out some similarities. Firstly, I should preface it with the most important dissimilarity is that I am not a bloke dressed up as a lady but I do like to do ladies things. I even got dressed up as Emily Howard for a Little Britain party that we were holding with friends Teena, Phillippe, Gina and Hot Dog although my retinas are burnt from the sight of Phillippe in tiny Union Jack crop top and micro shorts (I'll spare you the image).
I think Emily would have certainly approved of the concept of Afternoon tea. And like Emily would, I squealed in delight when I received my own copy of The High Tea at the Victoria Room cookbook. It was an afternoon tea I had been to last year and the Victoria Room is a place where I felt that my "special needs" would be accommodated and I was in the company of kindred folk. Hats, heels and dark nail polish abounded and it was like I had stumbled upon my own secret society. The food was lovely too so I was curious to see how this book would be. I flicked through it and the first item that caught my eye was the Lavender Shortbread and not only were they pretty but they were a cinch to make and before I knew it, they were made.
These shortbreads are gorgeously crumbly and buttery. I made them for my mother's birthday (SWLB=She-Who-Loves-Butter) and her first comment after biting into them and nodding was "Mmm you can taste the butter". I omitted the lavender oil as I didn't want it too strong in lavender, after all a butter lover should mostly taste the butter, but of course if you do love the aroma, by all means lavender away! You could also use rose, lemon, orange or vanilla or any other flavour that takes your fancy.
Back to the book. It's a square hardback with an image of cupcakes with some embossing on the front and there's an introduction to the history of high tea including scone etiquette (eek I've been doing it all wrong, apparently you are never to slice it in half horizontally or from top to bottom, rather break a piece of much like bread), tea etiquette (Ladies and Gents, you lift the cup and saucer together - phew!) and goes onto the correct finger placement, napery, cutlery and dress. There's also a very stern warning about tea bags_ "It is widely known that no such device (teabag) must enter any respectable High Tea Party. Tea should be brewed using loose tea and served in a teapot"_ which of course we all knew. There's also a fascinating explanation as to why milk used to be added in first but I shan't spoil the surprise.
So with that lesson dispensed I look through the rest of the book. The sections are broken up logically-there's one for sandwiches (chicken with wild herbs and lobster tail with lime aioli and fresh coriander look divine), scones in 8 flavours including a gluten free recipe and a savoury recipe, 6 recipes for cupcakes of course , home made preserves including butters and creams, cakes, muffins and slices, tarts, biscuits as well as a "not so sweet" section with pasties, sausage rolls and corn cakes (and a rather fascinating olive, halloumi and rosemary loaf that I want to make) and ends on what else but cocktails! The pictures are lovely and prettily styled on Limoges and other fine bone china although there aren't quite enough pictures for my extreme foodlust. You know me, it's all about the food porn ;).
I also appreciated that the measurements were given in metric, imperial and cup. I did notice that an item in the ingredients list for this lavender shortbread recipe was out of order of using it (oh dear, have I become a pedant?).
Achievability: 4 out of 5 all relatively easy basics for bakers.
Usability: 4 out of 5 (if you like "Ladies things!")
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Food porn score: 3.5 out of 5. Not quite as many photos as I'd like but the ones that are there are beautifully styled.
Post it note tabbed recipes: 13
Gift book: Yes, absolutely. But not for burly blokes you do understand ;)
And I did mention a giveaway didn't I? Thanks to the lovely people at the Victoria Room I have four copies of the book to give away along with a gorgeous Victoria Room teaspoon in a roped pouch just like in the image above with each pack worth $39.95!
All you need to do is tell me what is _your _favourite High Tea treat****! Simply add your answer as a comment to the story. The competition ends at Midnight AEST 30th April, 2010. You can enter this once daily. This competition is open to Australian residents only.
The lucky winners are:
**Enjoy your prize!
Best of luck!
Adapted from High Tea at the Victoria Room
260g or 8oz or 1 1/4 cup butter, cold and cut into cubes
125g or 4oz or 1/2 cup castor sugar
250g or 8oz or 2 cups plain flour, sifted with
125g or 4 oz or 1 cup rice flour sifted with the flour above
2-3 drops lavender oil
40g or 1.5 oz or 1/4 cup castor sugar
2 dried lavender flowers
You will also need a cookie cutter.
**Buyer's tip: Use lavender that has not been sprayed with chemicals. You can buy dried edible lavender and lavender oil at The Essential Ingredient or from suppliers of culinary lavender.
Makes 24 shortbread depending on shape
Step 1 - Preheat the oven to 160C/310F. Grease and line 2 baking trays. Cream together the butter, sugar and lavender oil until light and fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer. On the lowest setting or with a spatula, work in the flours. Do not overmix. Add a teaspoon or two more milk if you need the mix to come together.
Step 2 - Roll out to 1cm thick between two sheets of baking paper. Cut into whichever cookie cutter you like and prick all over with a fork. I trimmed the edges of the shape too to get a clean outline. Refrigerate for 15 minutes before baking for 10-12 minutes until light yellow but not quite golden.
Step 3 - While biscuits are baking, process the sugar and dried lavender flowers until ground and fine. Once biscuits are done, remove from the oven and sprinkle with ground sugar and lavender. Cool completely before removing from baking sheet.