Pittsburgh, PA gingerbread house display, (c) Elizabeth Stubna

Pittsburgh, PA gingerbread house display, (c) Elizabeth Stubna

As we get closer to Christmas, the demand for holiday foods grow, especially the sweet ones. While sugar cookies are baking and gingerbread houses are being constructed in the US, over in the UK people are whipping up or purchasing Christmas cakes.

The German stollen cake (Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen in German), Italian panettone, the French bûche de Noël (also known as Yule Log Cake) all share the same thing with the British Christmas cake. They are all their own nation’s variants. One day I hope to delve into the other Christmas cakes but today I will be comparing the British and American. The American version is not called a Christmas cake but the plain and simple fruitcake, which is sadly not as celebrated as the British version since it does not suit the American palate. Much like its English counterpart, the American fruitcake has candied fruit, peels, spices, and is also usually soaked in brandy or other liqueurs, sometimes even alcohol free. There are popular fruit cake companies in the US but many Americans have either not tried a good fruitcake or even tried one in general. Whenever one does sample a piece, many don’t fancy the taste and simply just chuck it in the bin or pawn it off on someone else.

The American fruit cake is usually frowned upon and even considered a joke because people often re-gift it or give it as a joke, thanks to a quip by the late Johnny Carson. He joked that there was only one fruitcake and it was passed down from one generation to the other. He is sort of right with that one. There has been a history of fruitcakes that have lasted for generations. I remember reading a story of a 70 year old fruitcake in 2011 that sold for over $500. It was owned by a family who bought it Christmas week in 1941 but kept it until the 1970s when they returned it to the company from which they bought it. As of this writing, the fruitcake is STILL unopened in its original tin and everything! The alcohol helps preserve the cake which helps keep it moist. As it goes, everything gets better with age!

© April Turner | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© April Turner | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The Christmas cake in Britain is made with candied fruits, peels, spices, and “marinated” in brandy or liqueur. The difference with this is that this cake is usually frosted and decorated very beautifully for the holidays. They are in many shop windows and in popular British retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Marks and Spencer. Some people even make their own. According to the British, it’s not Christmas without one on the table! The Christmas cakes are usually made at least two months in advance for the cake to obtain a good flavor and to moisten, much like a good wine or cheese!

And we can’t forget the icing! Unlike the American fruitcake, many British Christmas cakes are frosted with a snow white icing. I am sad to say that I have never tasted an actual English Christmas cake with frosting (forgive me for saying frosting here and there), but from what I have seen so far, they look so beautiful but I want to gobble it up because it looks so sweet! It often looks like cream cheese icing to me, but I know it’s not. There are people who outdo themselves when it comes to decorating Christmas cakes. The most common one I have seen is usually topped with little holly berries and leaves or ribbons on the cakes, yet many of them look like mini winter wonderlands. It’s probably no wonder why the British respect that cake so much

As I compare these two similar yet different cakes, it baffles me as to how the Americans don’t like fruitcake. Is it the nuts? The candied fruit pieces? Or the brandy? The British eat Christmas cake just fine. It’s crazy how on one side of the pond a simple cake can go from one of the most respected things about the holidays to one of the most ridiculed and misunderstood.

~CD

Editor’s note: I love American fruitcake. I can eat a whole one myself in a matter of days!

IMG_3766This is basically a recipe for a sherry trifle but you can adapt it to your own taste. The layers are simply soaked cake, fruit, custard, and whipped cream. So you will need;

8 Sponge Boudoir Fingers or 4 small buns (sponge or pound cake)
2 tablespoons of sherry
Jelly of your choice, I used pineapple
1 small tin of fruit of your choice, I used sliced pineapples
Ready made custard/pudding OR 1-1/2 tablespoons of custard powder + 3/4 pint of milk + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint of fresh double cream (heavy)

IMG_3746Break the sponge fingers or the buns into four and place in the base of a glass dish, pour on the sherry and leave the sponges to soak up the sherry.

Make up the jelly using 1/2 pint of boiling water and top up with 1/2 pint of cold water (or a the juice from the tin of fruit with water to bring to 1/2 pint). Cover the sponge pieces with the fruit, in my case pieces of pineapple.  When the jelly is cool pour gently over the fruit and sponge and leave to set.  Meanwhile make the custard and leave it to cool.

If you are making your own custard, blend the custard powder and sugar with a little milk and then add the remaining milk and microwave IMG_3763on full power for two mins. Stir and microwave for another two mins. Pour some cream on the top of the custard completely covering the top and leave to set. By pouring cream on top you prevent a skin forming.

When the jelly is set mix the custard and cream together and pour the custard on top of the jelly.  At this point you can keep the trifle in the ‘fridge for a few days.  Just before you want to serve whip the double cream up and spread on top of the custard and sprinkle hundreds and thousands on the top.

~JBIMG_3764

mexicoOver the recent years, I have been learning new Christmas traditions and rituals in other parts of the world, particularly the UK. In one of my recent posts, I talked about Christmas crackers which was something new to me. Growing up in California, Christmas was a totally different thing. For one, we didn’t have snow unless we went up to the mountains and the ski resorts, so our holidays were usually perfectly sunny and clear or gray and rainy. With my dad being from Mexico and having spent a Christmas one year with his relatives, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with tamales until midnight on Christmas day when we got to open our presents. Then after the births of my nieces and nephews, we started doing Christmas presents late in the day instead of the morning because we waited for my oldest sister to arrive from her husband’s family’s traditions. We switched up the days we did Christmas. Some years it was Christmas Eve, other years it was Christmas Day. Usually it depended on the circumstances of my oldest sister.

In today’s post as a part of my holiday series, I’m going to talk about traditions. My family doesn’t have an entirely regular tradition but at least we all try to get together for the holidays. I’m trying to incorporate more tradition into my life, like eat tamales, try to watch A Christmas Story and Elf at least once a year, and to try something new, like the Christmas Crackers which the nieces and nephews really enjoyed.

MinceWhile people in the US have their own traditions and customs, the British have something a little more different. The British call Santa Claus “Father Christmas” who will leave presents in stockings or pillow cases at the ends of the beds, by the beds of the children, or by the fireplace in homes. Instead of the standard milk and cookies left out for Father Christmas, he gets a nice brandy and mince pie. Letters are written to Father Christmas but instead of being put to the post, they are tossed into the fireplace where the smoke is drifted to Father Christmas so he can read them. The people of Britain also send Christmas cards, buy gifts, sing carols. The Queen delivers a Christmas Day message to the Commonwealth broadcast from her home reflecting on the year gone by.

cakeAnother thing the British and Americans have in common is that nearly everyone bakes and eat goodies for the holidays. While the Americans make Christmas cookies, fudge, and peppermint bark, the British celebrate the holidays with mince pies, Christmas puddings, and the Christmas cake. Today I will talk about the mince pie.  In the US, these are relatively unknown but huge in Britain. A mince pie nowadays consists of candied peels, vine fruits like currant and sultanas, which is a type of raisin in Britain, and apples inside a pastry crust. These are the most common ingredients inside the mincemeat. You can enjoy them hot or cold and you can either make them yourself (a lovely recipe here on our very own blog and get the mincemeat here or even try these.

Mince pies originally had various chopped meats in them, hence the name mincemeat pie. It is believed mince pies were made to use to use up leftovers in the 16th century in order to keep the meat supply going but over the years, the recipes have been adjusted to what people know today. The pies were originally oblong in shape to represent the cradle of the Christ but they are round today and the meat has been omitted.

Next time I will discuss Christmas cake and Christmas pudding.

~CD

IMG_3811Sausage rolls are a typical English savoury snack and I can honestly say I have never seen them in any other Country.  They are easy to make as long as you have the ingredients.  I used a ready rolled sheet of flaky pastry but you can use shortcrust and a packet of skinless sausages.  The method is so simple, just place your sausages on the pastry and cut enough pastry to fold over.  Brush the edges with water and fold the pastry over.  Snip the top and seal the join, then brush with milk or egg wash.  Cook for 20 mins. at 200 C 400 F or Gas Mark 6.  You can either cut them before or after they have been baked as in the photo.  If you cannot buy the sausages I will make some sausage meat and post the recipe for that – let me know!

~JB

Christmas is almost here and that means fun and festive times with friends and family! Delicious food, the smell of the Christmas tree, decorations, the holiday specials on TV, and the arrival of loved ones. After the festivities comes everyone’s favorite activity: presents. Now, I love to receive gifts as much as the next person does, but I discovered as I got older that I love to give more than I love to receive. The exciting feeling of deciding what to give someone. If money is tight, I like to bake gifts. The best part, though, is seeing their faces light up when they unwrap the gifts.

Pat MugSo if you’re shopping for a tea lover (or even a coffee lover), mugs are some of the best gifts you can give. This past August, my oldest sister and I were shopping in a department store when we spotted the cutest mug for our stepmother. She isn’t much of a tea person but a huge coffee drinker and mugs are also her thing. She has a collection herself that I am not allowed to use (except for one mug that I love to use, hee hee). I knew I immediately had to purchase that mug for her (especially while I had some extra money. Never too early to start). It’s a cat that says, “I have an attitude and I know how to use it!” So I got this along with a bag of Minnie Mouse (she is a fan of her) jelly beans and that was the gift. I know she won’t eat the jelly beans but she will definitely use the mug.

I was lucky and picked this up in the summer when the holidays were 4 months away, but if you’re in a pinch for time this holiday season, just find a clever mug (Doctor Who, clever sayings, or whichever. There’s a mug for pretty much anyone) and fill it with some tea and honey sticks. A few envelopes of the Twinings Christmas Spice to warm up their holiday or the Twinings Winter Spice to soothe them into a crisp apple joy. Better yet, you could mix them both up and put a little ribbon or two. If tea is a little short, hot cocoa or sweets are always the best, especially chocolate!

Paperchase2Paperchase1One of the benefits of becoming older and wiser is that I am appreciating the simple things like tea and mugs and how big of a gift they are to me. I don’t need any fancy gifts as as long as I have tea and the comfort that comes from it along with my loved ones. The past two Christmases I received a mug each year. The first mug I received, I spotted it at Target while shopping with my oldest sister. That year I had become a self-proclaimed mug collector, so I told my my sister that I fancied that cup. It had some cute Japanese anime-like drawings of adorable little ladies on it from Paperchase Kishi Kishi (which was actually from the UK, as I read on the box) that was briefly sold at the big box store but sadly is no longer there. It was only about $5 so it didn’t cost very much but I didn’t think about buying it. I unwrapped it come Christmas and it was immediately one of my favorite gifts. The next year, my second older sister gave me a sock monkey mug with two handles on it that was also stuffed with hot cocoa mix and candy canes. It was another one of my favorite gifts of all time since I love sock monkeys and mugs and this was all in one!

Sock Monkey MugThat is one of my favorite things about mugs. It’s a pleasing feeling to learn your friends and family know you when they get you a mug with something you love on it (or in it. You might love giant mugs that are like soup bowls)! You get to express yourself and your loves/interests with them. Collecting mugs is a good hobby to take up. There’s a wide variety of mugs everywhere, so you can do a theme or mix and match. Just be careful because the collection does add up fast!

~CD

Ch StrawsCheese straws are a very popular party food here in the UK. or these used to be in the 1970’s anyway!!  They are though, making a bit of a come-back with all the baking shows we now have on TV and they do go very well with Tea.  So if you want to try something savoury with your tea then try these.  They can be made into ‘sticks’ or rounds. you can even sandwich two together with cheese or put grated cheese on top for extra flavour.  If you want them to look nice you can make one straw into a round and put some other straws inside as I did.  The basic recipe is for cheese pastry so if you did not want to make cheese straws you can use this recipe for making a pastry flan case and then make a quiche.  Recipe for that at a later date!

100g or 4 ozs plain flour with a teaspoon of baking powder
50g or 2 ozs butter
75g or 3 ozs mature grated cheese
a pinch of salt and/or mustard powder
1 beaten egg

Cheese StrawsHeat the oven to 180 C, 350 F or gas mark 4 and prepare a baking sheet with baking parchment

Mix together the dry ingredients and rub in the butter to resemble fine crumbs. ( It is always good to have cold hands when making pastry!)  Stir in the cheese and add sufficient egg to make a stiff dough, not too wet and not too dry, if the dough comes away from the bowl leaving it clean then that is about right.  Roll out the pastry quite thinly and cut some into strips and some into rounds, make some strips into rounds for serving.  Put one circle on the baking sheet  add some sliced cheese and dampen the edges with the remaining egg or water, then cover with another circle and crimp together.  Brush everything with egg wash (egg and water) or milk and sprinkle more grated cheese on top if required.  Bake for 10-15 mins, leave to cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack with a spatula.  Best served slightly warm on the day of baking or you can heat them in the microwave for a few seconds the next day.  Mine never last more than two days in the tin, in fact there are only three left now and I only made them this morning!

~JB

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I actually dye my hair with tea and coffee, between colorings. It keeps the roots from being so stark, caffeine is known to stimulate hair follicles so it is thicker, and it’s just way cheaper. Brew it strong, cool to tepid, pour over your hair, top with a thick leave-in conditioner, cover with a shower cap overnight, then wash as normal in the morning. I do this once a month or more.

Originally posted on Tea Blog:

Did you know tea has more uses than simply being a delightful beverage? Tea is used for health and beauty, around the house, and in the garden. Products that have multiple uses are wonderful. You conserve space by having fewer items that double to perform several functions and save a little money too.

Tea Has Many Uses

Ladies, you can skip your salon visit this week. You can color your hair with tea. I love this idea, because it does not damage my hair or have a dreadful aroma like that of chemically processed hair color. Another great beauty idea is you can appear as if you went tanning using tea! No tanning bed or lying out in the sun needed. All you need is two cups of brewed black tea, rosemary, sage, and a spray bottle. It is so easy; all that is required is spraying mixture onto your skin and blot…

View original 232 more words

Various Teas to Pair With Food

Tea is the new wine! Pairing tea with various foods is similar to pairing with wine. Usually people serve white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. There is a misguided perception that the color of the wine and food determine how the two are paired together. It is all about providing a flavor adventure for the palate.

Green tea is lightly oxidized forming a perfect pair with foods such as seafood, salads, and fruit. It is ideal to go with foods customarily served with white wine including scallops and  lobster. Chinese green teas such jasmine and dragonwell have a bold flavor and aroma making them an ideal match for salads and chicken dishes.

Black tea is completely oxidized giving it its rich and full-bodied flavor. It pairs well with foods normally served with red wine including meats, curries, and pastries. Black tea is an excellent complement to chocolate candy. There are several types of black teas including  flavored black tea,  Assam, lapsang souchong and blackcurrant.

Oolong tea is a cross between black and green tea. Lightly oxidized oolong tea pairs perfectly with foods routinely served with white wine. Medium to dark oxidized oolong teas form an ideal pair with foods that are usually served with red wine such as Chinese, Thai, and grilled foods.

While tea is sometimes regaled as the new wine, there are two significant advantages to switching beverages. A person does not take the chance of intoxication and a perfect alternative for those who do not drink wine. Let us not forget there is an extensive variety of tea. Brew a cup of tea with a meal and enjoy.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A classic post originally published 02.10.2009

MinceMy kitchen smells just like Christmas today, I have been making mince pies and ginger biscuits today.  For the mince pies I made my own pastry and I made Rough puff Pastry.  You can use bought pastry and you can use shortcrust or flaky or puff it is all a matter of taste.  For the home-made pastry you will need:

8 oz Plain flour
5 oz Butter
a pinch of salt
cold water to mix

With normal shortcrust pastry you rub the fat into flour but with the rough puff you just need to cut the butter up into small pieces and mix, with a knife, into the flour and salt.  Mix to a stiff dough with the cold water.  Roll out on a floured surface into a narrow strip.  Fold the pastry into three, turn a quarter turn so one of the open ends is towards you and roll out again.  Do this three times and then leave to rest for 15 mins.

mince piesFor the mince pies you will need:

8 oz pastry
Mincemeat
beaten egg
icing sugar

Heat the oven to 230 C, 450 f, gas mark 8

Grease some patty tins, I use a tray that holds 12 pies.  Roll out the pastry quite thinly and cut out 12 large rounds and 12 smaller ones.  (Re-rolling the trimmings)  Line each patty section with a large round of pastry and place a teaspoon of mincemeatmincepie into each then brush the edges with beaten egg and place the small round of pastry on top.  Cut a slit or two in the top and brush the top with the beaten egg.  Bake for 15 mins.  Cool on a wire rack and then dust with icing sugar.  Serve hot or cold with or without brandy butter.  However you serve them, enjoy them.

~JB

Loose Leaf Tea

Are you dissatisfied with your cup of tea? The reason for this may be you are making tea mistakes. Did you know tea leaves expand during the brewing process and tea can be brewed too long? Read on to see if you identify with any tea mistakes.

Mistake #1:    Several tea drinkers believe tea purchased at their local grocer is good quality. The reality is these tea bags contain dust and crumbs of tea leaves. In all actuality, tea tastes best when brewed from loose-leaf tea leaves.

Tea bags were invented 100 years as a way to send samples to customers. Therefore, the trend caught on and over the years severely affected the quality of the tea.

Mistake #2:    Using tea strainers that are too small. Most people who drink tea own a mesh infuser ball that can only brew one cup at a time. Rather than using a mesh infuser ball, it is a good idea to consider switching to a t- sac for brewing loose-leaf tea. Using a t-sac will create an improved tea drinking experience since there will be room for the tea leaves to expand releasing their flavor.

Mistake #3:    Brewing tea using tap or microwaved water. Tap water has a chemical aftertaste and microwaved has a slight metallic taste. Both of these factors can significantly affect a tea’s taste. Instead of using tap water placed in the microwave, the best choice is cold filtered water. You will notice a difference in the flavor of your tea.

Electric Kettle Starter Kit

Electric Kettle Starter Kit

Mistake #4:    Forgetting to shut off your kettle or not emptying it after each use. Unfortunately, many rust out inside or the bottom gets burned. I will admit purchasing a quality kettle can be costly, but it will pay for itself within the first few cups. To prevent your kettle from getting ruined do not leave the water boiling until it evaporates, empty the unused water every time, and leave the lid open so it can air dry.

Mistake #5: Incorrect water temperature or brewing the tea too long. Green teas need rapid steaming water and black teas need almost boiling water to brew properly. Green teas brew quickly in two minutes, whereas black teas need 3-4 minutes. Over brewing green tea makes it taste like an over cooked vegetable. Over brewed black tea has a bitter flavor.

Mistake #6:    Using cream or half-n-half instead of milk in tea. Cream and half-n-half camouflage the flavor of tea. All you need is a touch milk to enhance the flavor of your tea.

Tea Canister

Tea Canister

Mistake #7:    Tea is not stored properly. The best place to store tea is in a tea canister away from the stove. It needs to be protected from heat, light, moisture, and other flavors. Tea absorbs other flavors surrounding it. Therefore, if you place it next to cayenne pepper your tea will taste like cayenne pepper.

Do you make any of the tea mistakes? If you do, it is okay many fellow drinkers probably commit the same errors. If you are a lucky person who is a tea expert, that is fantastic. Either way, sit down and enjoy a cup of tea.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A classic OLS/ETS blog entry originally published 02.03.2009

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© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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