Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Thursday, 21 January 2010
Sunday, 17 January 2010
High Tea of Highgate is located on the pretty, and rather posh, Highgate High Street (are you getting the High theme yet?). As I spotted it, whilst trudging up the hill, my heart warmed. A pretty pink frontage with an art-deco styled, hand-painted sign, this was clearly a place with the personal touch I love. On entering that warm feeling continued: a counter laden with lovely looking cakes; a pretty pink and white colour scheme that had that old-fashioned high tea feel; shelves and cabinets filled with tea paraphernalia, jewellery and really beautiful crockery; and tea-related art on the walls. Having no idea how popular the tea room was I had booked ahead; and with only six or seven tables in the place I was glad I had - true, they weren't too busy when we arrived at 3pm but by 4pm it was packed.
Monday, 11 January 2010
In mid-December I realised with some surprise that I had never actually made mince pies. Deciding it couldn't be too much of a challenge I got to it. I made it even easier on myself by buying some good quality, ready-made mincemeat and just concentrated on getting the pastry right. You may think this is cheating, but with lots of other things to cook (including my Christmas cupcakes); shopping to do; and the general stress that that time of year brings, I was prepared to cut myself some slack.
The first recipe I tried was from the BBC Good Food magazine. It was actually designed for baking with children so I reasoned that it couldn't be too difficult. It was most definitely a "getting your hands dirty" kind of recipe. You make a very buttery pastry and instead of rolling and cutting you simply ball it up and press it into the bun tin. Despite having greased the tins I found them very difficult to get out and as a consequence they ended up looking really messy. The mince pies were a big success with everyone that tried them but they weren't quite what I was looking for. The pastry was verging on shortbread which although really tasty just wasn't the beautiful, traditional kind of mince pie I was looking for.
So just before Christmas I had another go. The Guardian featured various chefs talking about their ultimate Christmas recipes and Nigel Slater had one for his favourite mince pies. I was heartened to see that he recommended using shop bought mincemeat - hurrah, I wasn't excessively lazy! But frankly, they were a bit of a disaster. The dough was incredibly dry and difficult to work with, and the resulting pie was just not crunchy or sweet enough for my liking. The family polished all of them off and said they liked them but I was incredibly disappointed. My attempt to be the perfect Christmas hostess hadn't gone to plan at all. But I was determined not to be beaten.
Sadly, by the time I returned from my Berlin trip last week, my family had gone home and the Christmas decorations had come down. But I still had two large jars of mincemeat in the cupboard I and was determined to make a really good mince pie. This time I turned to the blogosphere. I have recently started following a number of really good cooking blogs and one of them had a recipe for mince pies. The writer made her own mincemeat but I just took the pastry recipe and used one of my jars.
Thursday, 7 January 2010
A couple of my favourites are two Vietnamese places, Si An & Chi Sing, run by the same people. So when I read about a new dessert spot they had opened, Si An Tra, I was determined to visit. But by the time I returned to Berlin on this trip I had completely forgotten all about it until I saw it mentioned in a blog I follow. I was suddenly reminded just how much I wanted to visit this place. What would Vietnamese cakes be like? How would the tea be served? What would the décor be like? There was only one way to find out.
As I made my way through Prenzlauer Berg last Sunday I became increasingly worried. It was after three o'clock and all of the cafes I passed were already full of Berliners and tourists enjoying the ritual of weekend Kaffee und Kuchen. I started to worry that I might be out of luck but on arriving I was hit with a familiar double whammy of emotions: firstly joy that there was only one of the four tables taken and therefore I could get in; then sadness that at this peak time the cafe didn't seem to be doing too well.
The cafe is small but really lovely. Like the restaurants, real care and attention has been paid to the décor. Paper lanterns hang from the ceiling and the tables seem to be supported by branches stripped of their bark. The waitress marked herself out as different to the usual Berlin waiting staff by being incredibly smiley and helpful in describing the teas and cakes on offer.
Although I had been excited about visiting, I have to admit that my hopes about the quality of the cakes were pretty low. In my experience, Asian desserts are not usually anything to write home about – certainly to my western palate anyway. But Si An Tra showed me that that doesn't have to be the case. The cakes were simply fantastic. Coffee Boy and I shared a Ban Chuoi Dua which was a dense coconut sponge topped with a coconut sauce and nuts, and a Ban Chuoi Dau Phung which he described as “hmmmnnn, banana Reeses Peanut Butter Cup!”. That was grossly unfair as, in my opinion, the aforementioned confectionary is not necessarily to be held up as the essence of good taste. This cake was lovely: it had a kind of banana bread base and a delicious peanut and chocolate topping. But as if that wasn't enough, the tea was gorgeous too. I had a Jasmine tea which came served in a fairly large bowl and was full of goodies: ginger; lime; lemongrass; longan; lotus seeds and honey. Coffee Boy eschewed his usual latte and chose a Sencha green tea which had just a hint of ginger and lemongrass.
The whole experience was really very lovely: delightful surroundings with a selection of teapots, teas, crockery and bags to look at; a really nice waitress; and fantastic goods to savour. I can highly recommend it. When we left there was no one else left in the place, which this time left me feeling nothing but sad. It would be a crying shame if they didn't make a success of this great tea room. I hope that next time I return they are doing a healthy trade, but still with one table free for me. That would be just perfect.
Monday, 4 January 2010
Usually, as you know, I would go for a lovely cup of tea, but this was an exceptionally cold day and the lure of Cafe Einstein's hot chocolate proved too much to bear. It comes served in a little jug and the accompanying cup has a lid covered in a swirl of whipped cream. The jug contains enough for two cups so prepared to be buzzing by the end of it. But just to be sure we decided to order a selection of sweet things. I, as is so often the case, couldn't refuse the Sachertorte; another of us went for the cheesecake; and two others chose the apple studel. If the sandwiches had been a disappointment, the cakes were anything but.
Saturday, 2 January 2010
I am a great believer in the healing properties of tea, but here in Germany they take that belief a whole stage further. Walk into any chemist, drug store or supermarket and you'll find a whole stand devoted to medicinal teas. I came down with a fairly terrible bought of flu over New Year a few years ago and a German friend sent me home with a selection of teas she assured me would help me feel much better. I was somewhat skeptical - this was in my pre-tea obsession days - and can't really remember if I drank them, or if I did what impact they had.