I have been teaching my afternoon tea baking lessons since the new year now, it's flown by and I have met some AMAZING students in each kitchen that I have visited, I am one very lucky lady! My test students started with me last year and I taught some amazing people then too, including a Japanese Pop Star called Mai Kuraki and the lovely Mark who wanted to bake his wife (my lovely friend, Debbie of Debbie Wallwork Photography) a birthday cake as a surprise and he has since been baking treats for his family and thinking about how to teach the boy scouts, of which he works with voluntarily, how to get baking! I can't tell you what a great feeling that is to know how much good my lesson may have done for my own community! Since my run of test students, I have been teaching individuals and couples, families and even groups how to bake my own recipes and treats all geared towards their very own afternoon tea table. With my lessons, I like to teach in people's own homes so that they can learn to be comfortable and confident in their own environment, ensuring that they know how to get the best out of their own ovens, baking equipment and even the temperature in their home. Yes, this can in fact affect a bake or two, so it's these reasons that make me passionate about showing my students in the comfort of their own gaff. I have learnt so many tips chatting to my students as we bake, combined with helping to judge at this years' Cambridge Bake Off and I have also enjoyed a little afternoon tea geekery with my students, teaching them my passions in afternoon tea etiquette so that they can dine "politely" when their friends and family join them to nibble on the treats we whip up afterwards! I've had a blast meeting all kinds of people and baking in some stunning kitchens and homes over the last few months and I want to showcase some of my most favourite lessons with you here to show you what I have been up to... Jane's Family Baking Afternoon Jane booked me for her auntie's 80th birthday celebrations and used it as an excuse to get her auntie, along with herself and 2 other family members to get together at a central home for them all in Histon, just outside of Cambridge. We baked for 4 hours (a half day workshop) and put together quite the afternoon tea feast. These lovely ladies learnt how to make my own version of a carrot layer cake, as well as the vanilla Crème patisserie tartlets with fresh fruit that always went down a storm at my afternoon tea events. We also made a chocolate & fruit tiffin and they all sat down to enjoy their treats with finger sandwiches and loose leaf tea with their men folk after I had left. It was a lovely session and for me it was great to see 3 generations of a family in the same room, all baking, gossiping, hugging and laughing together, it really was a pleasure to be a part of it and I came away feeling genuinely honored to be a part of their life for that time. In fact it reminded me of the closeness my own mum and aunties used to have growing up as a kid and the buzz in the kitchen with the chuckling and mickey taking was all part of the fun, it was a very successful baking lesson and one I'd love to be part of again in another family home. Sarah's Cambridge Bake Off Prize After the huge success of the first ever Cambridge Bake Off, I was very lucky to meet some amazing and very talented contestants throughout the process, one of which was Sarah Crosby. She was a finalist for this years' competition and as part of her prize for coming in close, she won a baking lesson in her home with yours truly. I hopped off to her home in St Neots one Friday morning in the sunshine and helped her to prepare some afternoon tea layer cakes for a friend of hers who was about to have a hen party in London that very weekend. Sarah had picked my Retro Sweetie Cake & my even more seductive Caramel Ritz Cake of which is host to a secret ingredient to keep diners guessing around the table. I had great fun catching up with Sarah away from the crowds of contestant and supporters that we had crowding round at each heat of the bake off and we put the world to rights with our baking talk, she was a perfect student and her cakes were turned out and decorated perfectly within the 2 hour window we had allowed. She had also won a tour of Barkers Bakery in Cottenham and had enjoyed a chat with the owners that morning too, so she was buzzing with all things baking by lunchtime. I will be helping to judge next years' Bake Off too and I cannot wait to meet even more and equally talented contestants! Daisy's 10th Birthday Baking Party I had been contacted by the mum of a local 10 year old girl who had decided she wanted a baking party for her upcoming birthday and I was the lady who could help them make it happen. We met for a cuppa in our local coffee shop and talked through her likes and dislikes and drew up a menu to suit her specific taste buds - the planning of this was almost as much fun as the execution! I joined Daisy and 7 of her friends at her gorgeous home in Papworth and we baked up her birthday cake (their own version of my retro sweetie cake) along with some carrot cake pops decorated with colourful confetti and my oreo truffles of which the ladies had a huge amount of fun taking it in turns to get messy and make - there was a lot of satisfying giggling and conversation around the kitchen. We put the ladies into two smaller teams, one controlled the baking and decorating of the cake initially and the second group controlling the baking and forming of the cake pops and truffles. They all dipped in and out of each recipe and got to have a part in everything that joined the table which was great to make happen, as it meant nobody was left out and they all got to swirl some buttercream piping onto the finished birthday cake. They were a pleasure to bake with and I certainly felt as though they enjoyed it as much as I did, hearing from Daisy's mum the next day saying that they were still buzzing and were all gossiping about it at school the next day, it makes me so chuffed to hear that sort of feedback - and how these ladies weren't buzzing after all the sugar around their stunning afternoon tea table, well I have no idea! Cara's Special Surprise Baking Lesson I knew Cara from my previous place of work and she had mentioned to me that she had a best friend joining her and her boyfriend in Ely for a couple of weeks during the summer and she would be traveling all the way from South Africa to see them. She had a whole 2 weeks of special plans for her and was going to show her more than a good time including a trip to Download Festival, Punting on the River Cam and an afternoon tea baking lesson with Miss Sue Flay. So I wheeled my suitcase of baking equipment up to their apartment overlooking Ely Cathedral and taught these ladies how to make not only my Oreo Cheesecake truffles, but also my Honeycomb & Caramel Layer Cake in readiness for a picnic they were planning later that day. I had a whale of a time teaching these two ladies how to bake and they educated me on South African recipes and food brands, which was fascinating for me as much as I had hoped my lesson would be for them. These ladies were nuts, not scared to make a mess and so much fun to work with, they listened to everything I said and weren't scared to get stuck in, make a mess and be creative. Even Cara's boyfriend dipped in from time to time, steeling himself away from his computer games whilst he let these two catch up and make a mess. He was a star, even helping me with the washing up throughout the session. This was one of my most fun lessons to date and will be sad to see Cara head back to South Africa this month, but so happy for her at the same time - Bon Voyage lovely lady and keep us updated on your baking exploits once you are home! To read about my afternoon tea baking lessons and book your own baking party or workshop, simply click here. And to have a read about my afternoon tea etiquette training and workshop offering, simply click here.
Monday, 30 September 2013
Friday, 27 September 2013
As you may know by now (and if you are new to my blog, welcome and you will very soon learn!) I have a rather unhealthy infatuation with afternoon tea, Downton Abbey and with all things well mannered.
And with these passions, I plan to share my thoughts after each episode over the coming weeks with you.
The fourth series of Downton has just hit our screens in the UK and the fans, myself included here, were giddy with excitement at the emotional advert played weeks before the first episode aired (what on earth will happen to Lady Mary now that Cousin Matthew has passed away unexpectedly?!), what else other than terrible "talent" shows do we have to look forward to this autumn?... I rest my case.
Downton Abbey is based on the aristocratic "Crawley" family and their servants in their country estate in Yorkshire, complete with tears and tantrums and the odd death thrown in for good TV viewing, it's stupendously addictive. From the inspiring evening wear and dinner party tables, through to the etiquette and service from the family, staff and their visitors and even the one liners and quips from the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) that would have anybody chuckling who cared to give it a go.
So to my wafflings on this episode, following the hilarious scene of Mrs Patmore looking more than peeved that she is about to be replaced in the kitchen by this new electrical whisk of which has appeared on her worktop. It wasn't seen as a help, but more a hindrance as she was made to feel that staff, including herself would be replaced with machines... if ONLY she could see us modern day goddesses in the kitchen, she would know she had nothing to fear!
In fact, it got me thinking back to my own childhood and the more basic baking equipment that even I had access to, there were certainly no swish kMixers or microwaves out there when I was whipping up butterfly cakes with my mum.
I used to hate baking with my parents when I was younger, only over recent years have I become obsessed with baking and afternoon tea, believe it or not! The reason I hated the task so much as a child was the instrument of torture (or what I used to think looked like so) in the form of the MANUAL hand whisk - It looked like a dentists drill!
It was a recipe for a dead arm and I could never quite get myself in a posture that allowed for a successful whisking without my entire right side going numb from winding the handle so fast, so I wasn't personally a fan of baking when it was suggested for this very reason!
With that, I am going to share a very indulgent, yet simple recipe that requires hardly any whipping up (any of you out there with old fashioned baking equipment will be happy to note!) for your very own "Downton" inspired afternoon tea:
THE GIGGLE CAKE
Said to be a Cambridgeshire recipe (from the fenlands in fact) and is a boiled fruit cake, but boiled in butter. I told you it was indulgent, but the perfect loaf cake to go with a good strong cup of tea.
350g/12oz/2 cups mixed dried fruit
125g/4oz butter or margarine
175g/6oz/1 cup soft brown sugar
250g/8oz/2 cups self raising flour
Pinch of salt
2 eggs beaten
225g/7.5 can chopped pineapple – drained
125g/4oz glace cherries – halved
Put the mixed dried fruit into a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 10-15 minutes the drain well. Put the butter or margarine and sugar into a large saucepan and heat gently until melted. Add the drained mixed dried fruit & cook over low heat, stir frequently for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a mixing bowl, leaving to cool. Sift the flour and salt into the dried fruit mixture and stir well. Add the eggs, mixing until thoroughly incorporated, then add the pineapples and cherries to the cake mixture and stir to combine. Transfer to a greased lined 1kg/2lb loaf tin and level the surface. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degree c/350 degree f/gas mark 4 for about 1 hour. Test the cake with a fine skewer – if it comes out clear the cake is cooked – if not return to the oven for a few more minutes.
Thursday, 26 September 2013
I was recently asked to write a feature for Local Secrets, a fantastic online guide to what's going on in and around Cambridge, the topic being my top 5 afternoon tea spots in the Cambridgeshire countryside. This was a tricky one, as there so many superb venues outside of our City, but I decided to share some of my newer finds throughout this piece and here on the blog I'm also sharing these notes with you, my food & etiquette-loving readers. As we Brits cheer ourselves up during tough economic times with a sweet fix and a brew we've picked five of the best afternoon teas in Cambridgeshire to indulge your taste buds. Dainty finger sandwiches, fluffy scones and mouth-watering profiteroles and raspberry macaroons are being served up alongside loose leaf tea and freshly ground coffee in an abundance of family run tea rooms, trendy hotels and even an old thatched-roof post office. It seems the great British pastime of afternoon tea is having a revival with all budgets and tastes being catered for, be they modern or traditional… Photo by Debbie Wallwork Photography Teacake at Shepreth This pretty little tearoom is situated in an old post office, a grade II listed building complete with thatched roof, making this a perfect setting for a pot of Darjeeling and a big wedge of homemade Victoria Sponge or fruit tea loaf. The wide menu offers a great selection of loose leaf teas and coffees, sandwiches, seasonal cakes, fluffy scones freshly baked every day as well as provisions, such as bread, milk and free-range eggs. Sipping from mismatching china, watch the world go by in a comfortable fireside seat or a cosy al fresco table in the rose garden. Teacake couldn't be more welcoming if it tried. Read my full write up here. The Angel Hotel This trendy four-star hotel in the centre of Bury St Edmunds overlooks the picturesque Abbey Gardens, apparently host to a complex corridor of secret tunnels, running under much of this historic market town. Afternoon tea here is luxurious and needs your full dedication; enjoyed leisurely by the grand fireplace seated in a leather wingback chair, surrounded by cushions. A huge selection of finger sandwiches precedes a warm fruity scone with the usual accoutrements and a grand selection of dainty cakes. Oh the cakes! A perfectly bitter lemon tart, coffee syrup soaked opera cakes, raspberry cupcakes, a chocolate profiterole on steroids with a crispy shell and vanilla crème patissière filling. Mon Dieu! Read my full write up here. Cafe Cou Cou This is a haven for cake lovers visiting Saffron Walden, with row upon row of freshly baked cakes, cookies, sweet or savoury scones, tarts, pies, shortbreads, cheesecakes and traybakes, with the option of eating in or taking away. This is a venue for the ultimate treat, with freshly ground coffees and loose leaf teas on offer there is no excuse not to sit down and enjoy an hour of indulgence. You can smell the freshly baked bread and monstrous scones as you walk through the door each morning, handmade to include plain, fruit or cheese they are truly impossible to resist. Poets House A new boutique hotel situated in a large townhouse in Ely's St Mary's Street, offers a clean and modern feel to proceedings and is an exciting new venue for afternoon tea in this part of the world. Seated in the study overlooking the courtyard, but close enough to the bar should you desire a sweet drink with your afternoon delights, you will be wowed with the colourful display on offer; perfectly symmetrical finger sandwiches with twists on the traditional fillings include cucumber and sour cream, ham and tomato chutney, as well as a choice of scones with jam, clotted cream and the intriguing addition of lemon curd. To finish, you are presented with raspberry macaroons, brownies with chocolate frosting, perfect fruit tartlets and a lavender and vanilla éclair. Luckily this venue is a hop from the cathedral, perfect for a walk to work off some of the calories afterwards. Read my full write up here. Nancy's Vintage Teashop The scent of a lemon sponge fresh out of the oven strikes you as you walk through the door and off the main streets of Newmarket, in readiness to join the long line of drool-inducing cakes adorning the countertop at this fairly new family-run afternoon tea establishment. Sweet treats on their afternoon tea tier include chocolate brownies, blueberry and elderflower trifle, raspberry macaroons, fruit tartlets, perfectly washed down with a glass of Champagne. The loose leaf tea is specially blended for this quaint tearoom, to include blends such as 'Nancy's Majest-tea' and 'Nancy's Naught-tea'. They have a great sense of humour to boot, bringing out the best behaviour in everybody, young and old, with a desire to recapture traditional standards of service in a unique setting. To read this feature in full and other superb features by many local (and very talented writers) then visit the Local Secrets Website by clicking here. And to read more about becoming a well behaved guest or host/ess at your own tea party, visit my etiquette workshops page here. You can also read a longer piece on some of my favourite afternoon tea venues here. Please Note – These are my own words and reviews and I am in no means obliged to blog or write about them or promote them if written for any external publications, I simply choose to do so. Should you wish to reference these posts or ramblings, please do contact to discuss or share your own ramblings on the topic. Any questions, please do email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, 19 September 2013
After last years Cake & Bake show and a lot of disappointed feedback from guests on how "cupcake" orientated it was, the organisers took nothing but feedback on board and they blimmin' well listened - hurrah! They have since hosted an even in Manchester, so they took all comments (the good, the bad and the ugly) on board and tweaked it after listening to what the crowds wanted in their cakey heaven. Cut to a rainy Saturday morning, a little bleary eyed even with a coffee down me on the way down, stood outside Earls Court, London waiting for our chaperone. Myself and my co-host of the Cambridge Clandestine Cake Club, Deepa (something we both do voluntarily for fun) were offering ourselves to help on the CCC stand at The Cake & Bake Show. We were met by the Clandestine Cake Club creator and my good friend, Lynn Hill, who had the stand there the entire weekend and was taking a set of new volunteers each of the days to keep the stab fresh faced. We hopped up through the VIP entrance and passed the gorgeous an welcoming Eric Lanlard who stopped to have a chat before heading off to his own stand. We were joined by the host of the Epsom CCC, Andrew for the day and we ha a blast talking, thinking, eating and breathing cake. Between recruiting new members for this international (and very secretive) cake club, we got to wander and meet some of our baking idols. Before the show opened to the general public, we got a chance to wander ahead of the hoards. We met Edd Kimber who was setting up for his bread demo and he was quietly (but very professionally) panicking about the lack of ingredients and he was ever so friendly and welcoming. We also bumped into some of the 2013 Great British Bake Off crew including Glen and Rob, both who chatted with us, not giving anything away as we talked about our favourite baking show. Dan Lepard was also there, hosting a series of talks and demonstrations with the Sainsbury's stand and he came over to the stand to talk to us about cake and have us a short lesson in sourdough towards the end of the day. He was inspiring and just listening to his infectious and passionate love for real bread made us all want to go home and get baking. Deepa bought one of Paul A. Young's Marmite brownies (she said it tasted good, but I couldn't bring myself to do it haha) and he was ever so friendly, waving at us each time he walked past our stand throughout the day, everybody was just so nice and there was a real sense of community here. The cake world really is a friendly place! I had such a great day and I was in my element looking at all the stands and cakes for inspiration. It was fantastic to see Alison Appleton and her team there selling their stunning tea sets and showing off their new loose leaf tea selections and tea towel prints, we even got a taste of their green tea and a quick lesson in the science of making it (it's the temperature of the water that can make green tea turn bitter) and I "may" have spent a few pennies on a new tea set for my own tea boudoir. Ahem. I finally got to meet Sue at Tea with Tom whom I've been chatting to on twitter lately and also the very talented Charlotte White from Restoration Cake in between her workshops and was in awe of her red rose tiara, along with everybody else who met her that weekend! And talking of headwear, the colourful Ms. Cupcake also had headwear to be jealous of in the form of a cupcake tiara. I think next year there should be a cake-based headwear stand to buy these gorgeous creations. The weekend was a great success for Lynn and I think we all managed to recruit hundreds of new Clandestine Cakers. We hosted a cake competition on each of the days too and were joined by Peter Sidwell (From ITV's Britain's Best Bakery) for each day to help judge the winning cake, which won a kenwood food mixer based on taste. The winner from our day was a simple cider and apple cake and it was truly delicious, a worthy winner, with the runner up being a carrot cake flavoured picnic basket, complete with earl grey Yorkshire Tea teapot. We finished our day with dinner and cocktails at Ceviche in Soho, which was well deserved and craved after I visited their popup Supperclub in Aldeburgh earlier in the year. Roll on the next Cake & Bake Show!
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
I was recently asked to host a talk at The Alternative & Vintage Wedding Fair at the Cambridge union Society. Free reign was given, it was suggested perhaps touching on wedding etiquette, however I felt that with the feel of this unusual wedding fair as well as the fact that afternoon tea weddings are increasingly popular, a talk on afternoon tea would be more apt - especially when it comes to the things people don't realise when planning it! I'm sometimes shy and retiring, believe it or not, so the thought of talking to lots of brides and grooms was a little daunting. I got chatting to Lina of Linaandtom.com (a local photographic duo that have helped me with my own events photography over the past few years) and she suggested a co-host with her experience and knowledge in photographing weddings with afternoon tea catering. So, fast forward to a stunning and central Cambridge venue in the rain and wind, wooden panelled walls, comfy leather chairs, and an echoey bar to host our hour long talk. Lina discussed her experiences of afternoon tea catering that has worked well such as canapés and champagne to keep your guests happ on arrival through to "Great British Bake Off" inspired judging of a "bring and share" cake table for guests to take part in. I can picture the bride and groom as their own versions of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry now - such a great idea for something a little different! It's also very important to let your photographer know what you want in your photos, which elements you want focus on and the timings of your event. A photographer will naturally believe the "cutting of the cake" to happen at the end of the day, but if you are changing the more "traditional" elements of your wedding day, let them know so they factor it into their schedule for your event. Your wedding is YOUR wedding and I'm a firm believer in having & doing what YOU BOTH WANT and not what your guests EXPECT you have. It should also be a day of delicious food to help you celebrate your first meal together and whats better than afternoon tea?! If this is the feast that you choose for your guests, here are my top ten tips on what to consider whilst plotting: Firstly, have a good old think as to why you are going for afternoon tea. Is it to "save money"? by not having a bigger meal? - Be wary of hidden costs and addictive buying and adding to the table, props and the like can become pricey, so beg and borrow (I wouldn't condone stealing!) where possible. Tabletop games and giant games keep guests quiet and make for fun photos, or why not create little scrolls as place settings with a list of "afternoon tea etiquette" tips on how to enjoy your treats?! Afternoon tea is FILLING when done right. But it NEVER looks enough... To get it right, think of yourself sitting in a tearoom and having a tier in front of you. At what point do you fill up? For me, it's usually at the scones. Transfer this to YOUR wedding table and mentally go through the running order of your menu, you will soon see how filling it is going to be. Are you hosting your wedding at a venue? If at a venue, check that you are happy with the catering and service options on offer and if you need flexibility, will they allow you to have exactly what you want? Check before you book! If going DIY, especially in a village hall or similar venue, consider not only clean toilets and parking, but chairs & tables, crockery & cutlery and most importantly a good working kitchen. You will need a fridge, sink, oven, counter space and if serving tea, an urn! Some village halls can be stunning, but have terrible facilities, so do your research. Who will be your washing up fairy? There are some unglamorous elements to afternoon tea and the dirty dishes are just one of them. If going for DIY, keep this in mind and pay "non attending" guests or a "profesional tea lady/team" to help - don't ask invited guests or family as this will ruin THEIR experience of your big day. This will be money well spent and shouldn't be a worry for you on the day - You can always speak to Miss Sue Flay about this service, ahem, shameless plug. If going for a picnic style wedding, consider the parkland around you. For example, if you decide that a quiet picnic on a "Cambridge Common" is a great idea, do be wary that you aren't allowed to pitch a tent or gazebo without permission, of which is very difficult to gain. You should also be aware of cattle sharing your field, they can sniff out a picnic from a mile off and won't be as polite as most passers by, trust me, they can be persistent! Jam jars are perfect to serve traditional lemonade or iced tea with a pretty lid screwed on. Or you could use them for pre-prepare food and carry to your table with ease and they look fantastic on a table filled with a cupcake or colourful cheesecake. You could also fill them with crumbles, trifle, ice cream sundaes, prawn cocktails or pasta salads, you might even go for a roast dinner in jar for something different. Don't overlook the scones, these can be the most pleasing element of an afternoon tea table when served in the right way. You could go for a "DIY Scone Station" complete with jams, creams and curds, even fresh fruit for a colourful focal point. Or you might be penny pinching and want an idea for a favour that doubles up as an edible element of the meal, wrap a scone with a mini pot of jam on cellophane and ribbon for a simple gift for your guests to eat there or take away with them for later - this also makes for easy transportation and serving. Tea doesn't have to be boring for your guests! Set up a tea hatch filled with teacups and teapots and get them to sample lots of new and exciting teas, educating & entertaining them with one easy idea. There are companies out there such as Kandula Tea who sell a fantastic pink tea and Teabox Online who serve tea blends such as whiskey & ginger or rhubarb & custard. Don't cut back on your photographer or an events organiser. Should you be going for the DIY approach, hire a "professional afternoon tea lady" such as myself to ensure the smooth running of your afternoon tea catering. For more information on my offerings, visit www.misssueflay.com or drop me an email and I will happily help you with an adhoc consultation or a full on events service for your own afternoon tea or event at Hello@MissSueFlay.com Not forgetting my afternoon tea etiquette workshops, of which may make for a fun and sophisticated hen party celebration or wedding advice if this is of interest to you both. For more information on Lina and Tom, click here.