Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I will not ever be "Baking Off" by Sam

It's the same every year when that season rolls round - you know the one.

"Don't you watch it? I would have thought you'd be entering!"

No and NO. I enjoy baking as a creative activity. I wouldn't if I were being filmed and standing in front of judges.

Perhaps my dyslexic childhood is at the root of this. The only competition I ever won in school was one for having a nice smile. Usually, competitions were entered in a grim spirit of I-know-I-won't-win, I'll-be-last-again, but they're-making-me-play kind of wartime grit - one must soldier on*.

Hobbies are for fun. I don't go to them to be judged. I bake in the sure knowledge that as long as I put in butter, sugar, flour and eggs, that whatever I make - as long as I don't absolutely burn it - will be tasty. Under-baking things is a pardonable sin: you can put it back in the oven to fix that. Things I make may have a soggy bottom. Perhaps my cake'll be lopsided.  It may not rise. Icing sugar is a great help to the mis-shaped cake, and lest we forget: this is HOME-MADE.  Imperfection is a sign of authenticity. I expect that the friends and family I feed my cooking to will go "Cor! Thanks!" in the manner of Enid Blyton characters.

GBBO and its ilk, to me, act to take yet another area of human endeavor and apply a lens of perfectionism to magnify flaws. WHY? Average people suddenly decide it'd be fun to jump over crazy technical hurdles in the name of gaining five minutes of fame. It's not my idea of entertainment, no matter how nice Mel, Sue, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood** are.

The other thing I despise about the show is the aura of kitsch "Kath Kidson" everything baking has been cloaked in as part of the show branding and thus in cookware shops up & down the land. I'm sure this series is why, in recent years, I've received a plethora of china bake wear from family and friends. Hand-painted polka-dot ceramic tablespoon measures are all well and good, but I know damn nicely I'll break them on the first outing. I have kept my stalwart plastic companions and passed on the ceramic variants. The single use pastel-covered cupcake boxes are still in their packaging: I think they're above the microwave. I gave most of the biscuit cutters to my sister, her kids may get a kick out of high-heeled shoe cookies?

I even received a "GBBO Decorating Masterclass" book as a gift (I think that one was December 2013).
Perhaps someone has the time and patience to make a 'four and twenty blackbirds' themed cake, but it's not me. The book is on a friends' shelf now - and whilst I'm sure it looks good, I highly doubt it's the book she turns to for a last minute birthday cake (let's be honest - this is the type we usually make).

I'm happy to applaud GBBO for bringing baking back into people' front rooms, but I don't think that the technical challenges they present are inspiring for the average home cook. They're a sugar-turret iced-castle dream, one for women (or men) who want to be grown-up princesses, living in aprons, singing as they bake, churning out home-made cakes which can compete with Harrods.

I have never seen a full episode of GBBO. I know I'm being harsh. I know perfectly nice, clever people who enjoy the show and perhaps even aspire to be on it. That's fine. Just don't make me watch it. It's like seeing my favorite childhood story turned into a three-hour opera, sung in Italian.

And lastly, a plea: please, whoever you are and whenever you read this: don't buy me any more silicone muffin cases. Ever.

*If I were a religious woman, I'd praise the lord daily that I will never, ever have to go through another day as a primary school pupil.

**I know that's not his real surname. With his fake tan and baking superstar tours, it seems apt

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tea for Geeks? Tea for Me!

So, we got offered some tea to taste by a company called 'Tea geeks'.

Tea Geeks!!!

How could we say no?

They kindly send through two packages. Let's start with the packaging: it's a small brown padded envelope with foil inner and one of those high-end plastic bag closings. Do you know the kind I mean? Not quite a zip lock, but the next best thing.  Anyway... I like it. It keeps the tea nice and fresh and is easy to store. Possible getting-lost-in-back-of-cupboard potential, but more efficient than a big box for my tiny cupboards. My packs are 100g which might be tea-taster-sized rather than a commercially purchasable quantity. Still, I think this would do a good few cups.

So I'd give the packaging 8/10 overall. I'm deducting two point because I know that foil-plastic-metal laminates are a bugger to recycle (I'm afraid it's not just tea I am geeky about).

On to the beverages in question!

1. St Margaret's Hope

A black tea. I brewed it lightly. The flavor is nice and deep. It has a bitter edge: I think in one mood I'd find this pleasantly astringent. In another I might call it unpleasantly medicinal. What can I say - I'm just fickle. I think this tea would work well to cut through something like a sticky and overeager Christmas cake. Drinking it with something light like a meringue or violet scented cupcakes might be a mistake as it would overpower subtle flavors.

I'd give it an 8/10 or a 4/10 depending on my mood. Fickle. I am so fickle.

2. Ginger and Lemongrass

This is one of those herbal mixtures which looks brilliant when you open the packet. Because it's loose leaf the chunks are nice and large and you can actually TELL that you have real dried lemongrass, ginger and (I suspect though I am not 100% sure) chamomile in your cup. The smell is lovely - it's like one of those lemon-scented soaps or candles you always want to eat. Or I do. But I don't. Anyway... it brews to a pale lemony-green infusion. The balance of flavors is good: the ginger is warming without being overpowering and the lemon is light and refreshing. This is another one I could see myself drinking this winter: it seems the perfect thing to come home to when it's cold. It tastes like it should be full of Vitamin C and the fragrant fumes feel like they would soothe sore sinuses. I was too lazy to brew this properly.

I'd give this a 10/10. I sometimes find that ginger teas can be over-eager- this one is just right.

Thanks for the tea, I appear to be all set for Winter. :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ringtons Tea Tests

Ringtons Tea contacted to test a few of their teas. I invited a couple of friends around for tea and cake to put these teas to the test. Here are our thoughts:-

Decaffeinated Black Tea

Janine: "I made this tea in a teapot and left it to brew for 3 mins as instructed on the packet. We all drank the tea with milk. It tastes very light and is easy drinking with no bitter after taste. A very smooth brew. As I am pregnant this would be a perfect tea for everyday. For a stronger taste you would need to leave it to brew for a few more mins. I'll try this next time."

Beth: "Refreshing, perfect for any time of day but especially before bed. I would be happy to buy this tea."

Helen: "A very nice tea, not too strongly flavoured so easy to drink. Nicer than some other decafe teas I've tried."

Earl Grey

Janine: "I brewed the tea for 3 mins in a teapot as instructed. We all drank the tea with milk. I'm not usually a fan of Earl Grey and would never choose to drink this tea as I usually find it to be over powering. However this one was again easy to drink, not over perfumed/strong in taste. It had a light taste with no after taste. Again worth trying with a longer time to brew. Not one I'd buy buy but one I'd happy to drink again."

Beth: "Mild, calming and not overly perfumed. Ideal for afternoon tea. Tried with milk but it may be a stronger taste if drank black with lemon."

Helen: "Not my favourite type of tea generally but this one is not too over powering. An almost smokey flavour."

English Breakfast Tea

Janine: "I brewed the tea in a teapot for 5 mins to allow for a stronger taste. We all drank the tea with milk. It is again a very refreshing taste with no bitter after taste. I would be happy to buy this tea and drink as an everyday tea."

Beth: "Similar taste to the decaffeinated tea. Fresh tasting, ideal for breakfast or tea and cake occasions. Very drinkable.

Helen: " Pleasant tasting, nothing too remarkable but easy to drink any time."

Peppermint Tea

Janine: "I brewed the tea for 2-3mins in a mug. As you don't add milk to peppermint tea we drank this just as it comes. It has a lovely mint aroma to begin with and tastes as good as it smells. Refreshing and mild in taste. Great as a digestive after a large meal or just as a refreshing drink if you fancied something different and naturally decaffeinated. "

Beth: "I found to be crisp, refreshing and energising. Again, good at any time of day but especially early morning or mid afternoon when in need of a pick-me-up! I'd happily buy this tea!"

Barry: "Nice, pleasant peppermint tea!"

Green Tea with Citrus

Janine: "I brewed this tea for 4 mins in a mug! As you don't add milk to green tea we drank this just as it comes. Without drinking it I first thought the tea would taste too over powering due to the strong citrus smell. I was however pleasantly surprised to find it had a mild taste, just right in fact. I haven't drank green tea for a while due to the bitter taste you often find a lot of them have yet this tea again is very mild and smooth, easy drinking and one I'd be happy to buy and drink often. A true surprise to find another green tea I like (the other one is Rooibos Tick Tock Green Tea). "

Barry: "On first impression there is a very strong smell of lemon. On tasting you can mainly taste the lemon flavor but not in an unpleasant way. It reminds me of drinkable lemsip."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mmm Flapjacks 

Baking Mad recently contacted teaandcake to tell us about the Baking Mad website which has lots of yummy looking recipies. I decided to taste test their flapjack recipe for an afternoon tea I was having with friends.

Flapjack Ingredients 

226 grams Butter or margarine
170 grams Golden Caster Sugar (Billington's)
340 grams Porridge Oats
0.25 tsp Salt
3 tbsp Golden Syrup (Silver Spoon) large

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F or gas 4. Line a tin with baking paper, the tin should approx measure 28cm x 18cm x 3cm or 11in x 7in x 1.2in method tip

In a large pan gently heat the butter or margarine and golden syrup. Heat until the butter is all melted, do not boil. (Using a wooden spoon is advised)

Remove pan from the heat and add in the oats, sugar and salt. Mix very well until all the oats are covered.

Put the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth evenly into the corners.

Bake in the oven for approximatly 15minutes, then turn the tin around and bake for a further 5 minutes. Bake until golden brown. method tip

Remove the tin from the oven and allow to cool for a short while. With a palette knife lightly mark out into 18 pieces before it sets. Cut up when cold.



Despite having to pop to the shops for more porridge oats when I needed to add them, and forgetting to take them out the oven on time (ooops!)... they still tasted really good and went down well with friends. They even improved with age as they got a little softer (may have been due to being slightly over baked in the first place!).

I'd like to bake them again - but next time I'd try adding a little more butter and golden syrup just to see the difference!

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Guilt is a nasty thing. And I have been suffering.

Late last year, the nice folks at Whittard sent us some teas to test. But I was busy, then I got a stomach bug, then I had a Christmas shopping panic, flu, a holiday...

 The tea has been waiting in my Kitchen. Chastising me. Every time I stepped in there.

 NO MORE! New year, new start. I've got the kettle on and I've brewed up three mugs at once to show you how serious I am.  Here we go.

1. Whittard Assam
I'm a big fan of Assam. Did Whittard know this? Anyway - the nice, round teabag brews up well and goes a good malty brown colour. It's got a really smooth taste with quite a strong (but not unpleasant) tannin-y aftertaste - a bit of sharpness. I think this would be a good staple cup to get you through the working day. Yes - I like it. I've just drained the cup.

2. Whittard Orange Blossom Tea A loose leaf tea! This stuff was a pleasure to open & smell (even if I split the package & spilled tea everywhere). The black tea is in quite large ebony coloured flakes and there are big bits of dried, zesty peel. I liked this - it's very reassuring in a world of chemically-derived flavor additives to see that an orange has really been involved. I brewed this tea in a hurry and didn't warm my pot - so the resulting tea is a bit pale. The orange scent comes through. And the flavors pair well together. I added my usual spoon of sugar - this may have been a bit of an error. It enhances the orange and makes it taste a bit like you're drinking tea whilst eating orange jelly. Next time I think I'd cut my usual sugar & be happier with the cup. The tea doesn't seem to be bitter so I think that would be safe enough. I imagine this would be a good tea to drink black, if your proclivities run in that direction. it's quite a refreshing cup - I can imagine it going well with a weekend breakfast of pancakes.

3. Whittard Green Tea
A confession - I don't like green tea. So I packaged this one off to Janine. However, since she has a baby to look after and has moved house and I haven't reminded her, the results are not back in yet. We'll update this post when we have her feedback.

4. Betty's Spiced Christmas Blend
Obviously this one didn't come from Whittard - but since I'm in a rare reviewing mood, I thought I'd add it on. It was a Christmas present from the lovely Janine (T&C's resident Queen of Tea). It smells like your average Chai - I'm getting cloves from the scent. And maybe Cardamom and Ginger? The spices are so well balanced it's hard to pick out exactly what's involved. The tea is mellow and not bitter at all - so the main feeling you get when drinking this is comforting and mellow. I think there's something fruity in here, too. Orange? Or bergamont? I could check the packaging but I think that might spoil the fun. I'm not sure how different this is from a normal Chai (there could be a tea test in that!) but it's an enjoyable and relaxing cup. I'm struggling to finish it - but that has more to do with the fact that I've just downed three cups in a row than being any comment on the tea.

So! That's it. Tea is nice in all its many forms.

One item is now ticked off my guilt list. Next up: laundry pile. Watch out world, I'm on a roll...

Big thanks to Whittard for the tea samples and to Janine for being my tea-themed Christmas fairy.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

teapigs tea tests

We were very excited to be asked by teapigs to test some of their teas. Their carefully packaged offerings are usually seen in higher-end tea shops & we have often wondered what some of their more exciting creations tasted like. When we review tea we usually get a whole box of each variety, and involve friends & family via a gathering of some kind or via Royal Mail to participate. As well as being lots of fun, this give us a cross section of views & palettes to base reviews on. Teapigs obviously do things a bit differently as they sent us just 2 tea bag samples of each variety. So we gave the job of writing the reviews to our most trusted tasters, Janine (Tea) and Barry (Brew). Here's what they thought....

The teapigs packaging is very quirky and fun and on opening each packet you are presented with a beautiful silk pyramid that contains all the tea leaves to make the brew. Its a beautiful thing. An object of quali-tea!

teapigs 'morning glory' tea everyday brew
On reading the instructions it says to allow at least 3 mins to brew. I made the tea in a mug, allowed 4 mins to brew and added milk once the teabag was out. The colour was just right a mid brown colour just as I like it. Its made of 3 varieties of tea, Assam, Ceylon and Rwandan. I've not had the Rwandan tea in a mix before and I have to say the mix is lovely. There is a mild malty taste, which gives it a lovely flavor without being over powering. I can imagine if you over brew this one it would be too strong for me, but 4 mins was just right. I would recommend this tea as an everyday brew if you like a taste to your tea.

teapigs 'chocolate flake' tea
Again I made the tea in a mug and allowed 4 mins to brew. I then decided to taste the tea without milk and it tasted nice this way. It was quite a delicate flavor at this strength so if you like your tea with milk every time it may be better to brew for longer (I will do for the 2nd tea bag). It is very refreshing without milk though so would probably buy this and drink it black for a change!
The second bag I allowed 6 mins to brew and added milk. The extra 2 mins made all the difference. The chocolate flavor comes through more and it is lovely with milk too. So depending on mood I'd drink this both with and without milk.

Sam's extra comment: Janine was really kind and sent me some of these teabags. I brewed one. Whilst the chocolate came though in the smell, and the taste was sweet & rounded, I was a bit disappointed.  I said so to my boyfriend. He said: "you wanted it to taste like you were drinking a cup of tea through a chocolate flake, didn't you?". As usual where I am concerned, he hit the nail on the head. This is a very nice chocolate-scented tea. For my daydream creation of a tea-mocha, I'm going to have to get creative with a pan and a whisk. I'll let you know how that goes.

teapigs 'peppermint' tea
I made the tea in a mug and allowed 3 mins to brew. I usually drink peppermint tea after dinner or if I have an upset tummy. This was very pleasant tasting tea. A good flavor of peppermint, a slight tang, not too much or bitter. I would recommend this tea to peppermint lovers. A lovely refreshing tonic of a tea if you fancy a brew without milk.

teapigs 'rooibos crème caramel' tea
Brew drinks rooibos tea all the time... but straight - no added flavoring or milk. So he tested this tea 1st. Now he wasn't so keen on it but thought it may be better with milk! I made this according to the instruction - 3 mins brewing time and added some milk once brewed. Much like the chocolate flake tea the taste is very delicate. I think if we had more tea bags I'd like to try it again with a longer brewing time to see if I could get a stronger taste or I'd like to have tried it without milk. I think the taste would come through more that way. So the jury is out on this one – best to give it a go for yourself!

teapigs 'tung ting oolong' tea
I made this according to the instruction (3 mins brewing) then tasted and popped the tea bag back in for a min or 2 for a fuller flavor - no milk required! I have to say it's a lovely brew. No bitter taste at all (which you can get with green tea especially if brewed for a while). If you don't have milk with your tea or fancy a brew without milk from time to time its very easy drinking. I would strongly recommend this one if you fancy something a bit different!

teapigs 'pure mao feng green' tea
Again I brewed the tea for about 3 mins then tasted it. This is a very nice delicate green tea... its not bitter like a lot of green teas. I then popped the tea bag back in and forgot about it for about a further 5 mins! Ooops! I found timing is of the essence as it did become too strong and a little bitter!. It is a lovely brew though if you follow the instructions and brew for 3 mins!

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teapigs have offered 15% off* at using the code BLOGGERS12 (*enter code at checkout. discount does not apply to gifts and cheeky deals as these are already discounted)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hampstead Tea Tests

The folks over at Hampstead Tea were kind enough to send us a selection of their finest for us to sample. Overall, the teas were all of an excellent qualitea. A couple appealed to some testers' tastebuds more than others....

Hampstead Assam

A popular tea with all our reviewers. Strong and malty with a mellow flavour and no hint of bitterness.

3 reviewers rated this tea at 4/4
All said they would buy again

"Very nice – a mellow tea. Lovely with a drop of milk, made a good strong cup."

"Really tasty & malty. Good follow-through taste, with or without milk"

"A good, flavourful Assam – this is a really great cup"

Hampstead White Tea

This tea split our reviews – it’s delicate and light. Fans of green tea will probably enjoy a cup.

Most people rated the tea highly and would buy again, with one dissenter.

"Very nice and smooth with no bitter aftertaste."
Cathy R

"It’s very light – almost too light."
Adam W

"I don’t seem to like white teas – just tastes like a bitter, pale green tea to me."

Hampstead Rosehip

Another tea which split our reviews. Those who enjoyed herbal or fruit teas really loved it. Others just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

The people who liked it gave it full points & would buy again, the others said 'no way!'.

"Quite fruity and has a refreshing depth of flavour (I left the teabag in for maximum steepage").

"Lovely refreshing fruity flavour"
J Whelan


Hampstead Darjeeling

Overall this was the reviewers’ second favourite tea. Darjeeling’s got less punch than our favourite (the Assam) but it’s still tasty – reviewers described it as refreshing, smooth and lovely.

People rated this tea highly overall, and most would buy again.

"Doesn’t taste of the Himalayas nor does it remind me of the B class of the DHR but it is refreshing and I would drink it again."

"This has a lovely delicate flavour."
J Whelan

"Very light, delicate taste. Good without milk. Smooth, easy to drink."

"I’m not normally a fan of darjeling tea, t’s often a bit insipid. This one is more robust, it can take a bit of milk & still has a reasonable flavour. Makes a nice cuppa."

Hampstead Oolong & Elderflower Iced Tea

Another tea which scored well with our testers. It’s a grown up elderflower cordial with a tea-y aftertaste which would suit genteel summer picnics.

Most people enjoyed this & would consider buying it again.

"I mainly go for hot drinks, so I’m unsure if I would buy this. But it had a very nice taste and served cold it is very refreshing."

"I really enjoyed this – adding the tea to the sweet elderflowers gave it a bit of body and nice contrast. It’s a very elegant drink, would be good for a genteel picnic."

Hampstead Ginger Green Tea

You’ll either love or hate this one – it split our tasters right down the middle. Some thought it smooth, refreshing and easy to drink. Others labelled it as bitter and were under whelmed by the ginger content. You’ll have to try it yourself to decide if it’s for you!

"Meh. I’d rather drink Crabbies ginger beer."

"Nice ginger smell but couldn’t taste it. Bitter aftertaste."
Cathy R

"Very light but with a ginger taste, refreshing. Very easy to drink – light tasting and not bitter like many green teas can be."
Barry & J9

"I enjoyed this – I was careful to not let the tea over-steep (as I find that green tea can go bitter if you stew it too long). I usually think of ginger as an autumn flavour but this was refreshing and surprisingly enjoyable on a warm summer day."