This lovely lady offers beginners and advanced afternoon tea baking lessons in her stunning London Townhouse, only a stones throw from Primrose Hill and as a country girl visiting on a very rare visit to our capital, I was in awe from the minute I stepped out of the tube station. The houses here are more than houses, they are homes. And when I say homes, the sort of luxurious homes that you can only read about in my favourite country and home magazines.
With lots of posh cars littering this area, I knew right away that there would be a super little coffee shop somewhere on these roads, as I had arrive 45 minutes too early to start knocking on my hostesses door... So I wandered in the drizzle and sure enough, passing (and ignoring in my pursuit for something better) a Starbucks, I rounded the corner and found an independent bakery stroke coffee shop filled with amazing smells and every variety of bread, cake, pastry and coffee known to man, with approximately 4 tables for customers to sit at.
This was the sort of coffee shop I have only personally read about and chuckled to myself, the ones where the group of 10 mums sat next to me on the communal table where they were all off to their personal trainer after their skinny latte. They were in that coffee shop to sniff the cake and not touch, so kept staring at me as I tucked into a cappuccino and full fat, most stunning crisp-on-the-outside, yet soft-in-the-middle almond croissant I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying! I didn't care that I being watched, it was worth every calorie after my stressful commute from Cambridge : )
Off I then hopped, trying to rope in my brolly as it turned inside out in the wind, to my baking lesson, arriving at the very same time as my fellow student for the day who was just as sweet as our tutor. She was a Japanese lady, not a stranger to Giuliana and her baking lessons, she has been a few times prior and was here to join me in the more specialised baking lesson, which moves on from her afternoon tea basics.
Today we found ourselves sat at Giulianas huge kitchen table chatting to her as if she was an old friend from the very start. She has such a warm personality, she hugs you the minute you walk through the door and makes you feel at home in this lovely green kitchen (of which was decorated by her sons friend who became an interior designer & told her to trust him on the colour, of which she did and is very pleased with as a result she told us : )
The kitchen is not a show kitchen, it is loved and used, you can tell. It's full of mismatching china, teapots, photos, thank you cards, you could stare in awe for hours and it made me smile at just how family orientated this kitchen is. You can tell its the hub of the home, as a bakers kitchen should well be.
On the menu were 3 afternoon tea treats, the first was a family favourite in Giulianas' household, The Ritz Torte, of which appears at every birthday table with candles without fail she proudly told us. It was stunning, and I have made it several times since, with it's salted meringue base, a secret ingredient gives this dessert a taste like no other (but I shall keep you guessing as to what is in this delicious concoction ; ) and once cooled, given a generous stopping of whipped cream and grated chocolate. It's new addition to my own afternoon tea table for my friends and family and the love for this will keep on going!
We then had great fun trying out different zesters and squeezers for the lemons in fruity and simply stunning Lemon Curd recipe. Some of the equipment we played with had been picked up in the US whilst on our hostesses travels, one of which I have since found in a local shop and very quickly whipped up as its a life saver when it comes to lemon squeezing! Lemon geekery was had with this simple method, using (no apologies made here!) the microwave - who knew Lemon Curd could be SO easy to make?!
We then stopped for a break, sitting down to tea , Giuliana played "Mother", teaching us exactly where this phrase came from and poured us each a teacup full of loose leaf tea, serving a plate of home made shortbread made by the previous days' students which was to die for.
We were very relaxed by then, with the chilled out background music helping us to feel even more at home and moving on to the Cheese Scones, with just a pinch of Paprika and plenty of mature cheddar, amongst other delicious ingredients. We formed them into bite sized treats and enjoyed them fresh out of the oven, served alongside a fresh afternoon tea feast of cold ham, leaf salad, salsa and herb butter to spread onto our warm scones.
Once we had set the world to rights, discussed our love of afternoon tea and travel (what a wealth of advice from two of the most well travelled and cultured ladies in London on this day it was too!) as well as discussing the fun she has had over the years with foreign students and teaching them the perfect English tradition of afternoon tea and how to make it. Giuliana loves what she does, even modestly shares her fun stories of how she has even appeared on Japanese television doing what she is most passionate about, what a hoot!
I had decided to finally treat myself to a visit to Giulianas home as a special treat to myself with a recent bonus I received in my day job. I can honestly say it was the best day I've spent my money on for a VERY long time and one I want to relive again in the very near future, as she just has a way of making everything so exciting and new. She doesn't talk down to you and she treats you like a son or daughter, lovingly imparting her afternoon tea wisdom and baking skills on you for the day. Nothing is too much effort and she cuts corners like the best of us....and isn't scared to admit if she has found a shortcut or trick that makes life faster & easier. I love her for just this alone.
I was allowed to take some of our hard work home with me, which just about made it on the train for my family to try and they were chuffed to pieces that I did! It was a hands on day, we took it in turns between us both as students to try everything at least once, sharing our thoughts and experiences, tips and tricks, everything and anything from getting egg shell out of your mix to which teas to serve with which dishes. With a Japanese influence in the room that day, I learnt so much more than any local baking class could have offered me in Cambridge and I may be as bold as to say I learnt many things from my fellow student here that money just couldn't buy. And what a gem she was too : )
I can also honestly say that I made two very lovely baking friends here and I will be seeing them both very soon in fact, as they both have booked to come to my Etiquette of Afternoon Tea event in September, which I am so very excited about. I cannot wait to see them again and share the lovely William Hanson with them both!
Giuliana has also written her own book on afternoon tea, with recipes, history of tea, etiquette she has learnt and much more and it is one of the best books on afternoon tea that I have ever read. I'm not just saying that, I cannot believe that I haven't come across is before and I urge anybody who loves baking and/or afternoon tea to gain a copy of this little treasure immediately!
For more information on Afternoon Tea Lessons, visit her website here:
Miss Sue Flay