TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

February 26, 2015

Ramblings: Vegan variation on a scone

Had to take off a few weeks to tend to a very sick kitty. Now that I’m not constantly running to the vet’s office and we’ve got our daily routine of food preparation and tube-feeding organized, days are more relaxed and I can go back to one of my favourite things; namely, writing about tea and tea “stuff.”

afternoon teaDuring the fifteen years (1997 to 2012) when I was editing and publishing TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory, it was a rare tea room review we received that did not include a detailed evaluation of the scones that were served: whether they were too small or too large, too hard or too doughy, or happily just right. Scones are arguably the most popular component of a traditional afternoon tea, and tea drinkers do expect them to be just the way we like them!

The first scones were cooked up in Scotland in the early sixteenth century. These were essentially griddle-baked raised oatcakes, formed into large rounds and cut into wedges for serving. Nowadays scone bakers more often use wheat flour and cut the scones into rounds with a biscuit cutter or drop-shape them into rounded mounds.

Recipes for scones generally call for butter and either milk or cream, and are served with clotted cream, butter, and jam. Someone once told me that the whole point of scones is to provide a foundation for holding as much cream and jam as possible!

While this pleases most tea lovers, those of us who follow a purely vegetarian, or vegan, diet – abstaining from all animal-based products – often find ourselves having to pass on eating scones. This, however, is changing, as more people turn to a vegan diet, whether for philosophic or health reasons. Even former President Bill Clinton – once the poster boy for double bacon cheeseburgers – not only joins daughter Chelsea as a vegan, he is very vocal in his support for this cholesterol-free dietary plan. (Please note that this is not a political endorsement, just simply an observation about a well-known American.)

scone1aA growing number of restaurants, including tea rooms, either offer vegan menu choices or will alter dishes to suit. Before you visit a tea venue be sure to either read their menu online to see if it includes vegan dishes, or give them a call to discuss your dietary preferences and see if they will accommodate you. In my own experience, more often than not the answer will be “yes.”

Vegans — or anyone who is watching their cholesterol intake, is lactose intolerant, or is allergic to eggs — can make our own scones by substituting vegetable shortening and non-dairy milk for the dairy products. I prefer using coconut or palm oil shortening (Spectrum Organics makes several varieties that are available in natural food stores and many supermarkets) and plain soy milk, although you can use vegan margarine, light vegetable oil, rice milk, and almond milk.

If you prefer a scone mix, be sure to read the ingredients carefully; many incorporate dairy products. I like the mixes from Victorian House Sconesespecially their oatmeal variety. The VHS website even features mixing instructions for a vegan variation, provided by yours truly. I also like that these scones are baked in the original wedge shape.

The following recipe for scones came to me from my friend ~Sophia. Whether you’re a vegan or not, give it a try – they’re absolutely delicious! And remember: One properly eats a scone just as one eats a dinner roll: break off a bite-sized piece, add “embellishments,” and pop it in your mouth. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

~Sophia’s Maple Scones
Makes about a dozen

2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
4 Tablespoons vegan shortening, vegan margarine, or light oil such as sunflower
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine
3/4 cup plain, unflavoured soy milk
1/3 cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B, which has a richer flavour)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375° F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment baking paper.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder.
  • Cut in the shortening, margarine, or oil with a pastry cutter until the texture is crumbly.
  • Stir in the walnuts.
  • Add the milk and maple syrup, stirring until blended to a soft dough.
  • Knead the dough for a minute or so on a lightly floured board until smooth.
  • Pat or roll to a thickness of one-half inch.
  • Dip a large biscuit cutter (or the rim of a ten-ounce drinking glass) into flour, cut out rounds, and place each round onto the parchment. Shape any leftover dough into a round with your hands.
  • Bake for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with your favourite topping.

I like to accompany these flavourful scones with an assertive tea such as a rich nectar-y Assam. Fortunately, 2014 was an excellent year for Assams, like this tippy Meleng estate tea. If kitty’s health keeps improving I’m hoping to present a round-up of my favourite Assams in the next week or two. Meanwhile, if you decide to fix a batch of these scones, do let me know how you like them.

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November 21, 2013

Reviews: Tea for Chanukah

ChanukiahFirst off, I want to make it clear that Chanukah is not “the Jewish Christmas.” The fact that these two holidays generally happen around the same time of year does not mean that they are in any way related. Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of their Messiah. Chanukah is a celebration of the Jewish victory over the invading Greeks, and the miracle of one day’s worth of holy oil lasting to light up the Temple for eight days. Christians have their holiday. Jewish people have theirs.

The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas derives from the gifts brought by the three kings. There is a tradition of giving on Chanukah too, tho’ generally we give money rather than gifts, usually in the form of coins, and as a reward for studying Torah (the first five books of the Bible). One gift tradition that is shared on both holidays is giving to those in need.

wissotsky-tea

Image courtesy of Wissotsky Tea http://www.wtea.com

Giving to charities does not mean that you can’t also give a gift to friends celebrating Chanukah. If you don’t want to give real coins, you can always give foil-covered chocolate coins. For a friend or family member who is a tea lover, you might want to give them a gift of tea or a “munch” to go along with the tea.

There are many good vendors who sell excellent tea. For Chanukah, tho’, I’d recommend giving a gift of kosher tea or scones — or both! (Not sure what “kosher” means? See “The aleph-beit-gimels of kosher tea.”)

One of the original kosher tea companies is Wissotsky, which has been in business since 1849. They carry a wide assortment of teas and tisanes in traditional and pyramid-shaped teabags, and offer a number of gift collections.

SVholidayteablendtin

Image courtesy of Simpson & Vail http://www.svtea.com

For the tea lover who prefers loose leaf tea, try these two of my favourite vendors. Simpson & Vail received their kosher certification last year and offer a large selection of excellent, high-quality teas and tisanes, including exclusive blends. You’ll find another wide selection of kosher teas at Harney & Sons. Both merchants also carry better-quality teabags and pyramid teabags as well as gift boxes. One caveat is that they also carry products from other manufacturers and these may not be kosher; read the product descriptions!

VHS-scones

Image courtesy of Victorian House Scones http://www.victorianhousescones.com

Now what’s tea without yummy, delicious scones and shortbread cookies? Earlier this year our friends at Victorian House Scones received their kosher certification. Their easy-to-fix mixes come in a variety of flavours, which you can prepare “as is” or browse their recipe collection for inspirations for mix-ins. The doughs can be made ahead of time and frozen, to be popped into the oven when you’re ready to serve them — a time-saving convenience during the busy Chanukah season. They’ve also got muffin, biscuit, and pancake mixes, any of which would be welcome gifts to enjoy at family breakfasts. (Currently their chai flavoured mixes are the only ones that are not kosher, but they’re working on it.)

Chanukah begins this year at sundown on Wednesday, November 27th, and continues through nightfall on Thursday, December 5th, so you have plenty of time to order and give kosher Chanukah gifts.

Now I’d like to leave you with this story of a very special and beautiful Chanukah tea tradition.

flaming-sugar-cube-tea

Photo courtesy of npr.org

By the 1790s, Jewish people in Russia were subject to many restrictions. Most Jewish people were banished by 1799 by Catherine the Great to the Pale of Settlement — an area encompassing parts of Russia and Poland. They were forbidden to practice most of the more lucrative professions, with the result that most of the Jewish population were deeply impoverished. Only a small number of Jewish professionals — physicians, for example —  were permitted to stay in the cities. It was they who developed this lovely Chanukah ritual:  Each guest was given a glass of tea and a brandy-soaked sugar cube on a spoon. The sugar cubes were then lit on fire. The guests held the flaming cubes while they sang Chanukah songs. When the songs were finished, all of the guests simultaneously dropped their flaming sugar cubes into their tea — and then stirred the tea and drank it with great enjoyment.

This lovely tradition is still practiced in some communities, and is a fitting custom for a holiday known as The Festival of Lights.

Happy Chanukah!

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January 29, 2013

A Valentine’s Day tea gift basket

Filed under: food,scone mixes,tea,tea cozy — by JanisB @ 10:17 am
Tags: , ,

cattea-gift-basketI want to make one thing very clear: my dear husband doesn’t need a special day to surprise me with flowers, candy, or other little gifts. But in case he should happen to want to get me a nice little something for this lovers’ holiday, I’m happy to help him out with a few suggestions …

Read the entire post at English Tea Store blog.

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