Of course everything stops for tea and cake! Tom Parker Bowles brings us the great British classics – and some tasty new treats.
Ah, tea. Soothing and uplifting, a salve and a sharpener, the morning jolt and the evening’s end. It’s not so much mere drink as national obsession, a fragrant religion, shippable meditation, succour in a cup. Unashamedly democratic too, poured from silver teapots and battered urns alike.
Despite tea being so stained into our national history, it only reached these shores in the middle of the 17th century. At 25 shillings a pound, it was expensive enough to be locked away in tea caddies (with the key held by the lady of the house), making it an exclusively aristocratic tipple. Nowadays, though, it’s the most widely consumed drink, after water, in the world.
In tea, just as in wine, terroir is all – that unique combination of climate, geography, soil and altitude that together create the dazzlingly diverse and distinctive flavour profiles of tea across the world. From the lofty slopes of Darjeeling and the highlands of Kenya to the more tropical sultriness of Assam, Sri Lanka and Yunnan, this all-important terroir gives tea its character, flavour, personality and charm.
And tea’s not just a cup of char. Rather afternoon tea, a meal in itself, a glorious tradition, one of Britain’s most enduring culinary gifts to the world. Cucumber sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, ginger cake and Welsh cakes drenched in butter. As Henry James said, ‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.’
Unusual in the best possible way: delicate, tea-scented and very easy to make.
Known as picau ar y maen in Welsh, meaning ‘cakes on the stone’ (they were originally cooked on a heated bakestone), these are incredibly easy to make (perfect for children too), endlessly versatile and deeply delicious. You can serve them hot or cold, with butter, jam or ice cream, as a mid-morning snack or as a stand-alone pudding.
Vegan pecan and cherry brownie
Squidgy, fudgy and moreish, this is not so much a ‘vegan alternative’ as a brilliant brownie in its own right.
These are a very delicate take on the biscuit classic, and quite fragile too, which is why you need the piping bag. But they are pure edible nostalgia, the custard cream of your childhood dreams.
Ginger cakes with whipped chocolate ganache
Ginger, golden syrup, treacle and chocolate… what’s not to love? You can make these using individual loaf moulds, but a 12-hole muffin tin or a single large loaf tin would work just as well.
Fresh baked from the oven, classic British scones are one of the great scents on earth. You can add a vanilla pod, split and scraped into the sugar before mixing, to add a lovely lift. As to which comes first, jam or clotted cream, that’s your call.
Earl Grey panna cotta with caramelised mandarin
Courgette and thyme scones
Pick of the pots
Chosen by YOU interiors expert Charlotte Page.
TROPICAL – £38, oliverbonas.com
PASTEL – £35, laredoute.co.uk
Now buy the book
Our recipes are from Fortnum & Mason: Time for Tea by Tom Parker Bowles (Fourth Estate, £20). To order a copy for £17.60 until 2 May call 020 3308 9193 or go to mailshop.co.uk/books. Free p&p on orders over £20. All the teas listed here can be bought at fortnumandmason.com.
Recipes: Roger Pizey, Executive pastry chef at Fortnum & Mason. Photographs: David Loftus.