Sunday, October 30, 2011

Madeleines for Autumn Tea

Lemon Madeleines

Madeleines. What could be better than fresh-baked lemon Madeleines for a Fall Tea. The furnace has been on for several weeks. There's already frost on the ground. Now the annual leaf rake-up starts. Who wouldn't welcome a warming cup of tea as a break from raking leaves. And why not invite your Mom to tea? I recently took along my Madeleines pan  to my mother's house so she could watch me whip up Madeleines. Her grandaughter's name is Madeleine. I wanted Mom to enjoy the namesake with hopefully better quality and freshness than Costco's yummies.

There are "secrets" to making good Madeleines. After pouring over many recipes, some good and others really not good at all, I decided there really is a lot of technique involved in these little wonders.  Baking does take practise. It takes analysis and correcting from mistakes to get the results you want.  I'm not formally trained in baking. No doubt if you are in a school or working in a food processing environment, you'd learn a lot. I've only baked a few batches. I know how to fluff them up and how to make them crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. I am still working on how best to dust the outside lightly with icing sugar.
Displaying the Madeleines is also a challenge. First, I recommend that you don't pile them one on another as in the first photo or you lose the visual impact of  these scalloped-edged treats. Also, if serving without tongs, your guest's fingers might touch another cookie and (heaven-forbide) contaminate the display for others. I found a large round plate works well, an oval glass plate or a tiered plate even better. Separate the cookies out so guests can lift them by pinching the sides between the fingers. Its a dainty thing. Your fingers won't get sugar on them.
I have found that when you are serving tea, having the freshest best baked goods possible adds to the enjoyment of tea. Also, if your mother is at your table, she will know the difference and tell you with a scowling look, biting into a stale dry biscuit. " Dear," she would say,"Have you tried baking them with less time?" Sure, I thought about that. The lesson here is - don't serve anything at tea that your mother would disapprove of.

Try incorporating some leaves, pine cones late fall flowers into a table setting. Bring the outside in to harmonize the environment and to celebrate the season. I picked nastursium and marigolds from Mom's garden as a token of the season and to honour her work with the garden during the summer. We found a favorite vase that hadn't been used in a long time. Nostalgic perhaps, but our parents have been doing things year over year and understand the ways of tea. Doing tea using traditional methods is to honour them and our ancestors. I think back to my family who built houses in the late 1700's here in Ontario as Loyalists and pioneers. They settled the land and made families. They contributed to developing the land and were leaders in their community. They became educated and their offspring became judges, lawyers, accountants and business and community developers. They had tea. Mom still has the cutlery and the modest china they ate and drank from. I have teacups from both grandsmothers estates. Using them for tea, is an honoring of the past. Consider a Tea for Autumn and honour the family and your past. Make life special.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summer 2011

The summer has been very hot and dry until now, early August. The ring of pansies photo was taken earlier before the season changed and tastes of drinking the spring's fresh green teas turned to sipping long iced teas. There haven't been too many days in the back yard. The humidex has been in the high 30's and even higher. Tea plants enjoy high humidity but are fussy about their soil, drainage and amount of rainfall. Still, new growing regions are found every year in countries such as Bolivia  and Argentina that are not the traditional countries one thinks of for tea plantations.
I have a thought that maybe these new tea countries will embrace traditional tea culture. Their tea industry orders equipment and labour from countries of  traditional tea producers.  Perhaps, tea art will be transplanted as well as the little tea cultivars. Perhaps their nations will find merit in producing tea as it is high in antioxidants and perhaps their populations will become healthier. Perhaps the world will find peace.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Spice Tea - Customize Your Tea

The ever popular Chai Tea, a spice tea originating from India is perfect at this time of the year when cold winds and the  dampness of winter sinks into bones. A warming spice tea is perfect to enlighten your spirits and rekindle your body heat. There are recipes you can make on your own, using a black tea such as Assam, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamon, black pepper, anise, and other spices. Each recipe is determined by your own preferences.

I shop regularly at a large grocery store which most people would say is international, but I'd say it ecclectic. There are wonderful products. Fruits and vegetables I've never seen before. Imagine seeing a persimmon, a kiwi, or a mango for the first time,or tasting a fresh date, first time ever! In the tea and coffee aisle, there are packages I can't read because the language is foreign to me. There, I found a package of Tea India Orange Pekoe tea bags, an Assam tea that brews to a strong malty tea. There was also an Tea India package of Cardamon Chai Tea, made from Assam tea and cardamon. When I opened the package at home, the aromatic cardamon filled the room. I knew there was something special here. Cardamon is also a digestive, something I should take regularly.

When I made the Cardamon Chai tea, I felt there was something missing, a taste profile. I just felt it was empty of flavour, other than the cardamon. On an impulse, I added a slightly crushed stick of cinnamon to provide a sweetness and to round out the tea. This is what I needed. Cinnamon is used to help lower blood sugar by slowing digestion and thus prevents a sudden rise in blood sugars after a meal. Cardamon is used to help with stomach issues such as gas, digestion, heartburn, and to alleviate kidney disorders, sexual dysfunctions, lowers cholestral, alleviates muscular spasms etc...... So now I had a customized Winter Spice Tea. I added milk and a sweetner.

I check the Tea India web site and noted  that this tea was recommended as "the ideal choice for calming your anxiety and soothing those nerves right after your mother in law’s phone call.". Poor mother-in-laws...they sure get a bad rap. Not all are meddling, are they?

And, the good news is that Tea India Cardamom Chai contains 185 mg of Flavonoid Antioxidants per serving. It seems the more spice, the more flavonoids. As for caffeine, in lab tests Tea India Chai teabags of approx. 2.3 gram tea bags contain 67 to 78 milligrams of caffeine.Coffee has double at about 120 milligrams of caffeine. Remember the effects of tea-caffine, your body reacts differently than coffee-caffine. Coffee gives you a quick perk and falls off just as quickly. I know, because I used to drink 9 cups a day. With tea, your system ramps up slowly and the effects are sustained longer. I know because now I drink a lot of tea! So, overall, spiced tea is healthy and a wonderful addition to your winter diet, especially after a morning of shovelling snow!


As I often suggest to clinets, add, your own flavours to enjoy the tea. I liked the convenience of a tea bag. It was a simple as steeping the tea with a small peice of cinamon stick. The result was just the right pick-up and sweetness to the tea to round out the cardamon.