Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My first afternoon tea menu

I've finally done it!   My first afternoon tea menu has been created, implemented and served - yay!!

le menu

I created this tasty tea assortment as the result of partnering with Kim Murphy, the activities director at Heron Manor, a local assisted living facility just down the street from my home.

Kim contacted me several weeks ago with the idea of putting on a royal tea for the residents in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday.  I was all ears.

la table

I was responsible for all the food planning, preparation and set up, and Kim kindly provided the tables, linens, assorted tea cups and saucers (many of which belong to a 97 year old resident there!), place settings, tiered servers and rose nosegays.

Everything but the fig spread and the strawberry jam was made by my own two hands.  I love that. 

orange cranberry and lemon scones

finger sandwiches

sweet treats

salted caramel, chocolate and lime ginger shortbread
It was a grand time.  There were a handful of men in the largely female audience of 25 attendees.  Some of the ladies donned lovely hats or tiaras in addition to dressing up for this queenly occasion.

Kim had chosen Earl Grey tea with vanilla and lavender, as well as a lemon herbal tea to serve alongside the goodies.

I spoke briefly about the practice of afternoon tea, and Kim presented some interesting facts about Queen Elizabeth along with showing a series of royal photos covering her life and reign.

A lovely afternoon with even more lovely people.

And so it has begun.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Strawberry pistachio feuilletés

Forever scheming about ways to use ingredients I have on hand, whether in the freezer or cupboard, I hit upon feuilletés, puff pastry cases filled with whatever your little heart desires.

Our local grocery store, Meijer, has recently started carrying local Michigan, greenhouse-grown strawberries, which look world's better than the usual year round California giant, and often anemic looking, berries.

not bad for "out of season" fruit

I also had some pistachio paste on hand and decided on a pistachio pastry cream filling topped with fresh strawberries and pistachio crumble for this particular adventure.

I rolled out my puff, cut squares and fashioned the turned-corner feuilletés as seen in the photo below.  I popped them into the freezer while heating the oven to 425ºF.

Once the oven came up to temp, I brushed them with a little milk, sprinkled on some vanilla sugar and baked them with an overturned cooling grid across the top of the sheet pans - this technique keeps the puff even as it rises.

After about 10-15 minutes I removed the cooling grids and continued baking until nicely puffed and golden brown (another 10 minutes or so).

just out of the oven

love those layers!

I had made a classic crème pâtissiere au pistache earlier that day.  I added a bit of whipped cream to lighten the chilled pistachio cream.

Once the feuilletés were cooled, I simply pushed down their centers to make room for the filling, piped in some pistachio pastry cream and topped them with slices of strawberry.  Pistachio crumble finished them off, along with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Et voila!

These made for a delicious flaky, buttery, creamy, fruity, crunchy treat after a traditional Easter dinner of ham, cheesy potatoes, asparagus, strawberry spinach salad, carrot souffle and more.

Tasty.  Now just get into YOUR kitchen and create your own version of feuilletés!

Yes indeed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hot cross buns

Last week, as the days ticked by before Easter, I kept thinking about the hot cross buns my mom used to buy at the Fremont bakery when we were kids.  They were always a treat back then, and, since I hadn't eaten one in years and had never made them myself, I thought it was high time.

There are a variety of stories about the history of these buns, a topic I'll let you research for yourself.

Popular in many countries, particularly with the Brits, these lightly spiced, yeasted, fruit-studded sweet buns are traditionally served during the Lenten period leading up to Easter, particularly on Good Friday.

They are usually baked with raisins or currants mixed into the dough, although some recipes suggest other dried fruits or candied citron.  I considered dried tart cherries and apricots for a somewhat more modern switch, but ultimately went with currants, orange zest and spices.

As usual, I did a bit of recipe research, including checking out Joy of Cooking (which has been sitting on my cookbook shelf for years).  Joy's recipe is basically a Parker House roll with a few tweaks.  I found a few other sources and compared amounts of sugar and egg, opting for less of those two ingredients in creating my own version.

Let's go!

les ingredients

Here I'm working in my mom's kitchen since ours is currently under renovation.  Just a couple more weeks, and I'm back into the baking swing at home.  Can't wait!

This dough is a straight forward direct dough, meaning there is no starter, pre-ferment, poolish or sponge (for all you bread bakers out there).  It comes together easily, is on the moist side once mixed, and kneads up into a luscious, soft, silky dough.

First I briefly microwaved 3/4 cup currants in 1/4 orange juice to plump them up, then let them cool.

Add 10 grams instant yeast to 240 ml (1 cup) tepid whole milk, along with a pinch of brown sugar and let sit for 10 minutes or so until foamy.  Whisk in 75 grams melted (but not hot!) unsalted butter, 1 egg yolk and 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract.

In a separate large mixing bowl whisk together 390 grams (3 cups) all purpose flour, 50 grams (1/4 cup) brown sugar, zest of two oranges, 3/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp powdered ginger and a few fresh grates of nutmeg (or more according to your taste).

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the liquid in.

yup - wet and dry

Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until moistened and the dough comes together in shaggy ball.

Drain the currants and briefly knead them in.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 8 minutes until the dough becomes soft and elastic.

I love kneading by hand and getting a real feel for the dough, but you can also knead in a stand mixer with the dough hook for about 4-5 minutes.

finished kneading

Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl . . . .

cover and let rise in a warm environment for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours until about doubled.  I planned it so I could go out for my daily walk during the rise.  Not a bad deal, eh?

after the first rise

Now divide the dough into 15 pieces of sixty grams each (about 2 ounces) and form into balls.

Place them in a buttered 9x13 pan . . . .

cover with buttered plastic wrap and let rise about 45-60 minutes until puffed and touching.

after the second rise

Heat the oven to 375ºF.

Brush the rolls with egg wash or milk and bake about 25 minutes until nicely browned.

right out of the oven - smells great!

Once cooled a bit, gently pull the rolls apart and finish cooling them on a wire rack.

looks just like a good roll should

To make the icing I mixed 1 cup confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, yielding a consistency just right for piping.

Steve, Mom and I couldn't wait too long for the first taste test - it just HAD to be done!

Soft, lightly sweetened, citrus scented, spiced pillows of goodness indeed.

Not bad for my first hot cross buns.



Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Afternoon tea at the Townsend Hotel

a medley of petite treats

After a lovely week of warmer weather and sunshine, spring is doing its best to hold sway, even though this week looks to be cooler and intermittently rainy.  But you know what they say . . . . showers bring spring flowers and all that.

early primroses blooming in our little courtyard

This past Sunday Steve and I took a drive over to the other side of the state to pay a visit to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan for their afternoon tea.  As I consider how I might go about offering such an enjoyment to small groups here in Grand Rapids, I'm always up for seeing how different places manage that particular delight.

Birmingham is a northern suburb of Detroit.  Due to the pouring rain, we weren't able to stroll around the ville, but as we drove through the main business district, we sensed an upscale community with an array of interesting shops and eateries.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, the hostess introduced us to Laura Klein, the tea director.  Laura and I had communicated by email in past weeks, and it was good to finally meet her in person.

We were ushered into the tea room, a lovely muraled space with a fireplace, fireside sofas and several traditional tables which were all set for tea.  Steve and I chose a cozy spot along the wall with a nice view of the fireplace across the room.

ready and waiting for guests

There were orange cranberry scones already in place on Wedgwood's Oberon pattern china - soft autumnal colors which blended very nicely with the overall decor of the room.

Mascarpone cream and house made lemon curd were in place as accompagnements for the scones . . .

in addition to small jam jars of Dickinson and Bonne Mamam (our favorite "store bought").

The Townsend offers Harney and Sons teas, and the Earl Grey won out over the raspberry herbal for us.  Ginger, our server, was immediately at hand to pour, and she kept our cups topped off throughout our stay.

Laura stopped at our table often and was very willing to share her tea expertise, answering my questions and giving me advice and tips on how one might proceed in developing an afternoon tea concept.  Her best advice - as you start out "keep it simple"!

Once our tea had been served we started in on the scones - crisp exterior, moist interior and a noticeable orange essence, although I felt the baking powder taste was a bit too forward.  The mascarpone and lemon curd pleasantly complimented the orange-cranberry.

Soon the tea sandwiches and sweets were delivered . . . .


offering a generous and traditional assortment (with some Townsend twists) of finger sandwiches and petite sweets.

Below are salmon/egg salad/crème fraiche/caviar on wheat and beef tenderloin/citrus horseradish cream/watercress on rye . . . .


followed by chicken salad/maple walnut butter on puff pastry, hummus/cucumber/tapenade on pita and asparagus/boursin topped with quail egg on white.

My favorites were the asparagus/quail egg and the chicken salad, although the beef/citrus horseradish was pretty tasty as well.

I found the hummus/cucumber/tapenade too briny, but I must admit I'm not a huge olive/pimento fan.

The sweets medley consisted of chocolate covered strawberry, white chocolate raspberry teacup, chocolate glazed éclair and orange flavored teacake, providing a pleasant spectrum of textures and flavors.


Steve had decided ahead of time that he wouldn't partake of the traditional tea, and so he ordered an omelette with potatoes and English muffin - pretty basic Sunday noon fare and plenty to eat.

We continued chatting with Laura as we sipped our tea and took some breaks between taste testing.

For the pièce de resistance we were surprised by beautifully presented trays of petite sweets, prepared expressly for us by the hotel's pastry chef.

Lavender cupcake, fresh fruit tartlet, strawberry and mango gelées in pastry shells, green tea mousse and raspberry cream éclair  - quite a selection!

While the assortment was pleasing to the eye, when it came time to taste, I found the gelées a tad too gelatinous and the strawberry and mango flavors not as fresh and natural as I had hoped.

The fresh fruit tart was delicious and the pastry shells were not at all bad for commercially stamped out products.

It's all about learning, all the time!

Laura was kind enough to send some samples of their loose and bagged teas home with us as well as "doggie boxes" of left over treats.

Our visit was a positive and enjoyable experience.  The ambience of the tea room is just right, the staff are knowledgeable and attentive, eager to please and very willing to talk about their trade with the likes of us.  The menu is well thought out and offers an array of tastes and textures.

Try it sometime and see for yourself.

Not bad for a Sunday drive, wouldn't you say?!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Orange clove bread

Another Samantha Seneviratne recipe here we come!

This one is fun and the recipe lends itself to your own flavor variations.  Go for it.

While generally not a huge fan of cloves, I figured what the heck, I'll give this one a try.  The "pull apart" nature of the finished product pulled (pun intended) me in.

This is a yeasted bread so put that into your planning agenda.

It's an easy dough to prepare and potentially requires a few hours (total) of rising time, depending on how warm your kitchen is.

Let's go.

les ingredients

Have a large buttered bowl ready.

Bring 120 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk to a boil (I did it in the microwave), remove from the heat and add 56 grams (1/2 stick) unsalted butter to melt it.  Let it cool to about 105ºF.

Blend 1 large egg, lightly beaten and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract into the milk-butter mixture.

the liquid and dry ingredients

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl) whisk together 130 grams (1 cup) all purpose flour, 130 grams (1 cup) bread flour, 56 grams (1/4 cup) sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves.

Add the milk mixture and mix with the paddle attachment ( or with a wooden spoon) until just combined.

Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed about 6 minutes until smooth and elastic (or knead on a work surface by hand for about 12 minutes).

after the mixer knead 

 I turned the dough out onto my pastry board and gave it a few quick hand kneads, formed a ball and placed it in my buttered container for the first rise.

ready to rise

My rise took about 1 1/2 hours.

During that time you can prepare the filling.  Mix 75 grams (1/3 cup) granulated sugar with the grated zest of 2 oranges and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.  Have 42 grams (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature.

Blend the butter into the zest-sugar mixture, cover and set aside until ready to use.

filling's ready!

Prepare a medium loaf pan - butter it, line it with parchment and butter the parchment.

Once the dough has doubled, turn it onto a lightly floured work surface, give it a knead or two and roll it into a 9" square.

Spread the filling over the dough . . . .

then cut into 4 strips . . . .

and stack the strips on each other, filling side up (isn't this fun?!).

Then cut the stack into 4 piles . . . .

and line them up on their sides in the prepared loaf pan.

Love it!

Now it's time for the second rise so cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap, put it in a warm spot and let it rise until it reaches to just under the lip of the loaf pan.  About an hour.

Heat the oven to 375ºF.

I forgot to take a picture before I popped it in the oven so I quickly snapped a shot at the start of the bake.

Bake until nicely browned and puffed, about 30-35 minutes.  If the center sections seem soft, bake a few minutes more.

et voila!  C'est fini!

I must say the aroma during baking was delightful, clove or not.  I couldn't wait to give it a try.

First let it cool about 15 minutes, then lift it out by the overhanging parchment and finish cooling on a rack.

The sections pulled apart easily.  The interior had a soft, tender, sort of sweet-roll-like characteristic and the orange-sugar filling added just the right citrus note.  And the clove wasn't bad either!

Steve liked the texture but didn't care much for the clove.  Oh well.

I like the dough for sure - easy to mix and handle and nice texture.

Next time I'm thinking of replacing the orange zest with lemon zest and the clove with perhaps a bit of coriander and ginger.  And maybe buttermilk instead of milk.  One could throw in some chopped dried cherries, raisins or apricots too, depending on your flavor profile.  Or some finely chopped nuts.

You make up your own and have some fun!  You can do it.