Tag Archives: afternoon tea

High tea, post-colonial-style, at Raffles, Singapore

View of Raffles
Last time we visited Singapore, we were arriving from India, barely recovered from a nasty dose of food poisoning garnered in the picturesque squalor of Kerala’s backwaters and were so relieved to be in this generally clean, orderly city with its reliable food hygiene. This time round we were coming from amiable, underpopulated New Zealand. We did frequent one food hall in Auckland for a bit of Asian food, but Singapore really is an amazing place for such affairs, known here as hawker centres.

I love hawker centres. For a few dollars and you can indulge in all sorts of Asian goodies – predominantly representing Singapore’s mix of Chinese, Malay and South Asian/Indian ethnic groups, but also Indonesian, Japanese, Thai and more.

Singapore really is an amazing food city.

Not that it’s all about the hawker centres though. The city boasts eating options in all price categories and styles. Indeed, our first morning we had breakfast in a place called Prego, which was a pizzeria by night and had walls covered in Italian sayings (such as “A tavola non si invecchia” – at the table, one doesn’t age). Elsewhere are fancy cake shops, restaurants with French or American-trained chefs, fusion places, and a gazillion other eateries tucked away in the endless malls, quaysides, hotels and science fiction developments. (Wandering around the Marina and some of the malls was like being in the sets for Logan’s Run or THX-1138, and entering the Marina Bay Sands – a trio of skyscrapers with what looks like a giant ship laid across the top – gave me a flashback to playing Halo 3 ODST.)

Then of course there’s the colonial heritage. Which of course means Raffles.

Raffles Tiffin Room

Named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), the founder of Singapore, Raffles is the quintessential 19th century remnant of the British Empire’s endeavours in Southeast Asia. It started life as a modest harbour-side bungalow in 1887 then went on to expand into an array of white, colonnaded, neoclassical buildings that seem to cover at least an acre and, miraculously in a city of thrusting capitalistic redevelopment, managed to survive the wrecking ball purges of the 20th century.

We’d had discussions with various friends about visiting this place, but the fact that we were in a room in a modern hotel across the road, overlooking the Raffles complex, decided us that we just had to go, despite the costs. But would it be? A bar? Which bar? An evening Singapore Sling? No – it had to be high tea in the Tiffin Room.

Raffles Xmas cakes w Santa

I love afternoon tea and high tea. It’s my favourite form of party (okay, when it sprawls into the evening and some boozing that’s even better). I love to make cakes, scones and biscuits. We’ve had afternoon tea at various venues over the years, but this had to be the most storied. And certainly the most expensive. The Raffles cake stand and buffets set us back way more than the combined cost of all our other Singapore meals put together. They’d even bumped up the price about 30 per cent to celebrate Christmas. Yay.

And although the food itself wasn’t exactly the most refined – there were no fine pastries, no choux, no macaroons – it was still lovely. What you were really paying for was the venue – a beautiful high-ceilinged room – and the service – dozens of staff moving between the tables, removing your used plates to make room for another trip to the buffet, topping up your teacup so you end up consuming litres, and generally being very courteous. If slightly haphazard with their info – our first guy got his scones and mince pies mixed up, called marzipan “cookies” and flapjack “fruitcake”.

It was all good fun, though I had to restrain myself from starting to refer to the staff as “My good man” and wishing people a “Frightfully good Christmas.”

Anyway, we started with a cake rack, with white sliced bread triangular cucumber, salmon, egg etc sandwiches, crusts removed of course, mince pies (nice crusty pastry, mild mincemeat) and a white chocolate high-heeled shoe, dyed red, and filled with brandy flavoured whipped cream. Oookay. This latter didn’t seem so popular with the other diners; I felt kinda sorry for whoever laboured over them in the kitchen.

Then there were several buffets – one with dim sum, one with an array of cakes and scones, one with fruit, and even one with a variety of iced teas.

Stollen, panettone, yule log at Raffle Christmas high tea

I enjoyed being able to fill up a plate with various national Christmas cakes – panettone, stollen and chocolate yule log. Fran favoured a white chocolate, rose, guava and champagne log thing. The stollen’s label had migrated several metres to the right, somehow, to beside a bowl of cream – clotted cream! Miraculous. A scone with clotted cream on the Malay Peninsula at Christmastime.
The German marzipan-filled enriched bread even inspired me to create this Christmas-cracker-worthy joke: “Where did you buy your German Christmas cake?” “I didn’t, it’s stollen.”

Too much tea perhaps…

What a fab experience.

They even had a harpist playing ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,’ and ‘Here, There and Everywhere’.

The only real disappointment was the fact that they have a dress code – smart casual, shirts with collars etc – but don’t enforce it enough. Call me a snob, but spending all that money, and enjoying the opportunity to dress up a bit (as much as possible when one’s lived out of a backpack for two months), it was a bit shoddy to have people in jeans, T-shirts and trainers sitting nearby. Come on Raffles – standards! Standards!

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Filed under Cakes, Restaurants etc, Travelling

Splits, clotted cream and a Roman summer afternoon tea

Devon splits, Cornwall splits

Among the few things we crave but are just impossible to source in Rome are halloumi cheese and clotted cream. For those who don’t know, the latter is a nectar-like dairy product that comes from the Southwest of England. Fran’s from the southwest and I have strong connections, so we both have clotted cream in the blood. So to speak. It’s an essential component of a proper cream tea.

I’ve always used clotted cream with scones, but it’s also used with a less well known variation the cream tea: with splits. When I smuggled a massive tub of clotted cream back home from Blighty last week, I resolved to make splits, and do a bit of a comparison with scones.

A large - nearly empty - ot of Langage clotted cream

What is a split anyway? Well, it’s basically just a cream bun, made with a basic enriched dough, split and smeared with jam and clotted cream. (Messily smeared in our case – I’m a little ashamed we didn’t do it a bit more neatly, but then I’m no food stylist and we just wanted to scoff them!). As Rachel pointed out when we were doing just that yesterday, as it’s really not unlike a maritozzo con la panna. Though with slightly more demure amounts of cream. Sort of – clotted cream is cooked, so it’s denser and richer than whipped cream.

A split and a scone

The next question involves their origins. Are they Cornish splits? Can they be Devonshire splits? Or is the Devon cream tea always based on the split’s easier-to-make cousin the scone? I’ve always assumed splits are actually “Cornish splits”, but then I started encountering recipes for “Devonshire splits”. What you call them probably just depends your loyalties. The white cross on black or the white cross on dark green? (Something that’s almost entirely irrelevant to people outside the spatting ground of southwestern England.)

And is there a difference between a Devon and a Cornwall version? Discussing splits, and Elizabeth David’s recipe, here Nigel Slater suggests Devon splits are smaller, though the recipe I based mine on was called “Devonshire splits” – and they’re quite big.

Initial dough mixture for Cornish split, or Devon split - flour, sugar, butter, milk, yeast

And why do these two counties get their knickers in such a twist anyway? After all, surely pasties and cream teas are from the West Country, not from either county in particular? Hey, I just love the West Country in general; I’ve been going there all my life and my mother’s mother’s family is from border country in northeast Cornwall/northwest Devon. Although there are cultural differences between Devon and Cornwall, there are plenty of cultural similarities too: clotted cream for starters.

This delicious treat is, frankly, from the West Country in general and neither county in particular. Especially not now in our industrial age when clotted cream is no longer produced by local farms and dairies but instead comes from larger producers like Langage (Devon) and Rodda’s (Cornwall) – both of which are available in supermarkets in both counties and beyond.

Kneading Devonshire split dough

Anyway, I’ve made scones all my life and I even did a very scientific experiment to address the important question of whether cream or jam goes on first (includes recipe). This is my first go at splits though. They were very nice, but I’m not sure they’ll dethrone scones from my tea-time repertoire. For starters, scones are easier to make (just don’t overwork the dough!) and have a satisfying crunchy crust and crumby interior, which I found preferable to the more bread-like consistency of the splits.

Anyway. Here’s the recipe:

Makes 12 splits.

25g fresh yeast (aka lievito di birra)
300g full-fat milk
25g unsalted butter
500g strong (high protein) white bread flour (farina di Manitoba in Italy)
3g fine sea salt
25g caster sugar

Shaping balls of dough for Devonshire splits. Or Cornish splits

1. Warm the milk and butter, melting the latter and bring the liquid to around body temperature.
2. Crumble the yeast into the liquid, and give it a whisk.
3. Put the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl and stir to combine. (If you want to use easyblend yeast, add 10g now instead).
4. Add the liquid to the flour mix, and bring together.
5. Turn out and make a dough, kneading until smooth.
6. Put the dough in a clean bowl, and cover with clingfilm/plastic wrap.
7. Leave to ferment and prove until doubled in size.
8. Turn out, gently deflate and divide into 12 pieces – they should each weigh around 68-70g.
9. Form the pieces into balls, keeping them covered with a cloth.
10. Place the balls on a baking sheet, and again, keep them covered.
11. Let them prove again, for about 20 minutes, until they’re soft to the touch. (Time will vary depending on the temperature.)
12. Preheat the oven to 200C.
13. Bake the balls for about 15 minutes. Again, time will vary depending on your oven. You want them to start browning nicely on top.
14. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack.
15. When cool, slice the buns on a diagonal. Into this split (hence the name) add jam of choice and clotted cream.
16. Serve dusted with icing sugar.
17. Eat, messily. Whether you’re nearly two or 42.

Balls of dough, pre-bake, for Devonshire splits. Or Cornish splits

I clearly lied in my last post about getting back to talking about Italian and Roman beer and baked goods didn’t I? Oh well – if it’s any consolation, we were sitting in a Roman garden, drinking prosecco, getting eaten by mosquitoes and being glowered at my our oddball neighbours when we ate these.

Freshly baked  Devonshire split buns

So it was a kind of English-Roman hybrid cream tea. But probably the best cream tea consumed in Rome for a while. I don’t make any bones about saying my scones are excellent, and good clotted cream is always awesome. Plus, well, Babington’s, the famous “English” tea room by the Spanish Steps, serve their cream with whipped cream not clotted cream – which is frankly just an abomination. No contest.

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Filed under Breads, Cakes, Recipes, Uncategorized

Buckwheat muffins

Buckwheat muffins

More Dan Lepard from the essential book The Handmade Loaf. Some proper teatime muffins. It’s crazy I feel I have to refer to these as “English muffins”, as I’m English and was eating these long before US-style muffins invaded Britain.

Muffins are like yeasted buns, but are cooked on a griddle or hotplate. Alongside crumpets, muffins are wonderful teatime fare, especially when slathered with butter and jam or honey.

Dan L has added toasted buckwheat to this recipe, which adds a nice depth of flavour. Though not a crunch, as he uses 75g of buckwheat, toasted, and then soaked in 100g boiling water and 2 T of cider vinegar, which soften the seeds (they’re not grains, folks).

Make the dough by adding 1 t fine sea salt to 350g strong white flour.
Add 3/4 t fresh yeast to 200g water (at 20c), then add the soaked buckwheat.

Pour the yeasty, buckwheat liquid into the flour, and mix to a soft dough with 25g melted butter.

Give the dough two more short kneads at 10 minute intervals, forming into a ball and putting in a covered bowl in between. Then leave for an hour in the covered bowl.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 2cm thick, and cut out rounds with an 8 or 10cm cutter (Dan L says the latter, I used the former and it finished result seemed a suitable size).

Rest the muffins on a floured baking sheet, covered, for another 45 mins.

Preheat a heavy pan or flat griddle over a low-medium heat. Dust each muffin with a little extra flour, then griddle them over a medium heat for about 5-7 minutes each side. Serve warm, or cool, then split and toast.

We had them for afternoon tea along with some rather cute biscuits.

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