I don’t like tea. I’ve never liked tea, can’t drink it and I just cannot get my head around the nations obsession with the stuff. I realise I’m the only person in Britain who thinks like this and will probably end up in Pentonville for crimes against patriotism, but I am right. Give me a vanilla latte or frothy cappuccino any day over an insipid cup of tea. I’m prepared for the hate mail.
It came as somewhat of a surprise to me then that I found myself knocking back a vanilla chai latte, and on pondering what chai actually was (if something sounds exotic and foreign then I’m a sucker for it, whether I know what it means or not) discovered through Wikipedia that it was actually a form of black tea. Yes, in a latte, you can imagine my confusion and also the horror that despite everything I stand against when it comes to tea, I found myself very much enjoying some. It helped allay my fears that it tasted absolutely nothing like tea. For those unfamiliar to Chai tea, it originates from India and uses spices like cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. In a vanilla latte it tastes very similar to a carrot cake although I can’t quite 100% work that out for certain. Its my new favourite hot drink and you can find tubs of Chai powder in the tea and coffee aisle, give it a go.
The best thing about discovering a new ingredient is finding ways to use it. This is what led me to bake up a slightly adapted version of Gizzi Erskine’s chocolate and Earl Grey cake when I had some friends over on Sunday. For someone who dislikes tea so much I’ve sure used it a lot this past weekend, I know, I’m a huge hypocrite. You can find the recipe for her cake in Kitchen Magic, I’ve never made it in its entirety but it looks absolutely fantastic. I turned this cake into cupcakes and instead of making a chocolate icing and an Earl Grey cream, topped half of them with a simple vanilla buttercream and the other half with a vanilla chai buttercream. Icing these cupcakes nearly gave me an embolism by the way. The buttercream was pretty thick so when I attempted to use my new piping bag set I ended up squeezing the bag too hard resulting in an explosion as the bag split. Suffice to say, the piping bag got binned and while my cupcakes look nowhere near elegant or sophisticated, seeing the bag in my bin did wonders for my stress levels. What with the buttercream being so thick, spreading it on the cupcakes meant the cakes crumbled at times and looked like something a child with poor motor skills would make. These cupcakes have the perfect texture, are moist, light and very chocolatey. I could only really make out the tea flavour on cupcakes that had no icing on whatsoever (I got fed up of ruining cupcakes pretty quickly) and the chai buttercream, whilst being absolutely gorgeous, detracts somewhat from the chocolate & tea flavour of the cupcakes themselves. Saying all that, it really is having your cake and eating it with the chocolate cupcake and the hints of carrot cake lurking in the icing. If you’d like to try this yourself simply add 1 tbsp of chai powder into every 2 tbsp of vanilla buttercream.
I couldn’t have such a heavy emphasis on tea in all this baking and not include some homemade scones, courtesy of Nigella’s HTBADG, aka, The Best Cookbook Of All Time. After all, it was sunny and I have a lovely garden, afternoon tea just seemed like the British thing to do on such an occasion. Although with the heat we quenched our thirst with squash and kept the tea in the cakes. As of yet I have no table but a duvet cover on the grass sufficed! I’d never made scones before but I can tell you now that I will be making them all the time, they are so ridiculously easy to make. Why anyone would ever buy those dry, heavy lumps in cellophane from the shops when they are a cinch to make from scratch and taste so dreamy whilst still warm from the oven I have no idea. They are ridiculously light for something that consists mostly of flour and butter. I’m not sure there’s another recipe that so eloquently highlights how simple and tasty home made baked goods can be. If you’re a beginner to baking these would be a great place to start: easy, tasty, moreish and guaranteed to get rave reviews from whoever you feed them to. Smothered in clotted cream and jam, there is nothing better to eat while enjoying a brief spell of English sunshine. Nigella calls these ‘Lily’s Scones’ in the book: Lily, whoever you are, I salute you.