Tea and Scones with Pat and Debs

Keep Calm and Bake These Scones

Pat and Debs live on opposite sides of the ocean. They’ve never met one another, but both of them know how to bake  (they really know how to bake) and both of them love and appreciate  a proper cup of tea. Pat used to own a popular, successful tearoom back in Maryland. Debs, an American expat living in Devon, owns the popular, successful blog Debs Dust Bunny.

Once upon a time, early in my tea journey when I lived in the States, I had a dream of opening a tearoom. I used to make Pat’s day drive Pat bonkers with question after question about how to run a tearoom. She was – as she still is – gracious and kind and always more than happy to share her knowledge and expertise with me. We even met in person when she traveled all the way down to South Carolina to help me with a tea event. Tea friends are the best.

That tearoom dream of mine never came to fruition – but I did gain something invaluable from Pat: her scone recipe. It is flawless and perfect and the only scone recipe I have ever used. It has never failed me.

Recently, Debs has been experimenting with scone recipes and blogging about her results, so I knew that I just had to share Pat’s scone recipe with her. If you’d like to see how it turned out (and get a copy of the recipe for yourself), pop over to Debs Dust Bunny and read all about Pat’s Decadent and Delicious Scones.


The Victoria Sponge – its history and a recipe

Victoria Sponge Recipe

The Victoria Sponge is a sponge cake sandwiched together with raspberry jam and dusted on the top with caster sugar*. It is a quintessential English teatime treat and became popular during the reign of Queen Victoria. You will encounter a Victoria Sponge in most tearooms in England. It will be a friendly encounter. I have rarely met a Victoria Sponge I didn’t like.

The ingredients in a traditional Victoria Sponge (sometimes called a Victoria Sandwich) – eggs, flour, sugar, and butter – should be of equal weight; the eggs are weighed in their shell. There are a number of Victoria Sponge variations including using strawberry jam instead of raspberry; adding buttercream or whipped double cream instead of just jam; and dusting the top with icing sugar rather than caster sugar.


History of the Victoria Sponge


It is widely written that the Victoria Sponge was Queen Victoria’s favourite cake.  That may well be true, but I was listening to English food expert Clarissa Dickson Wright on telly the other night and she said that the Victoria Sponge originated at the nursery tea. She explained that afternoon tea cakes in early Victorian days would have consisted of a fruit cake and a seed cake. For safety reasons, it was believed that children should not eat a cake containing pieces of fruit or seeds, so the light, harmless Victoria Sponge was created as their teatime treat. It wasn’t until later that the Victoria Sponge made its way to the adult tea table.


 Finished Victoria Sponge batter Pour batter evenly into prepared tins Cool sponge cakes on wire rack

Buttercream Spread jam on one cake, buttercream on the other, then sandwich together Victoria Sponge

Ever since seeing the cute Victoria Sponge recipe in Betty magazine, I have been wanting to try it and this past week-end was the perfect opportunity. The directions were very straightforward and easy to do, and the cake turned out beautifully. I only had one hiccup with the recipe as written and that is that it yielded way too much buttercream for the cake – and I carelessly used it all. (Mr. Tea says that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.) Next time I will eat the extra buttercream myself halve the amount.


A slice of Victoria Sponge and a cup of tea


Here is a page with the Victoria Sponge recipe in case you’d like to give it a go. Do you have a Victoria Sponge story or recipe you’d like to share?


*An authentic Victoria Sponge, according to The Women’s Institute



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Lemon Cake recipe from The Tea Rooms in London

Lemon Cake using recipe from from Secrets of the Tea Rooms Those of us who love frequenting tea rooms (you know who you are), just can’t help ourselves from obsessing over their decor, teapots, cups and saucers, and food. And although we wouldn’t dream of ever giving up the pursuit of the perfect tea room, we do enjoy re-creating one or more aspects of our favourite tea room once we’re back home.  Whether it’s sourcing their beautiful china for our own tea table, buying a tin of their popular house blend, or having a go at trying to bake their cakes or scones, we want the tea room experience to go on within our own familiar habitat long after it has ended at the one away from home.

The Tea Rooms, 153-155 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH

The Tea Rooms, London

But when it comes down to baking that cake or those scones, the problem is that some tea rooms want to keep their recipes a secret. Drat. Luckily, some tea rooms don’t mind sharing their recipes and even go so far as to publish them. The Tea Rooms, Stoke Newington Church Street, London is one of those, and I recently had a chance to review their cookbook, Secrets of the Tea Rooms – Recipes for Traditional British Cakes and Savouries.

The Tea Rooms, 153-155 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH

The Tea Rooms, London

The Tea Rooms opened in 2007 and are owned and operated by mother and daughter team Anne Wilkinson and Isabelle Allfrey; Isabelle is a professional chef. The tea setting is traditional (LOVE those bentwood chairs), with an emphasis on quality homemade cakes and confectionery. Who wouldn’t like a cookbook filled with quality recipes from a tea room with a professional chef, huh?


Secrets of the Tea Room contains a variety of great sounding recipes – scones; cakes and pastries; soups; savoury pastries; biscuits and batch bakes; and Christmas cooking -  originating from family members and cookery books and adapted for the tea room. Measurements are given in imperial and metric, so the book is suitable for cooks on both sides of the pond.

Handy tips are sprinkled throughout as are colour photographs, making it an immediate winner as far as I’m concerned. There is also a brief history of tea in Britain – always a good sign.

I am certain that I will eventually try each of the recipes in this book: they are solid, traditional British tea fare. But I did have to narrow it down to just one for the blog post, so I decided on the Lemon Cake. With the days drawing in, I have been in a mood lately to drink more Earl Grey, and Lemon Cake and Earl Grey tea are an excellent pairing.


Lemon Cake

For one small loaf cake, made in a tin about 9 in (23cm) long. This loaf cake is made extra tangy with lemon syrup poured over the cake, straight from the oven.


Collected ingredients for the Lemon Cake recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms


1 lemon
5 oz (140 g) plain flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tblsp dark rum (I did not have any rum or rum extract, so I used vanilla extract)
6 oz (175 g) caster sugar
2 oz (50 g) melted butter
3 oz (75 g) double cream
2 oz (50 g) icing sugar



Set the oven to 180°C (350°F) or Gas Mark 4, and prepare a small loaf tin by greasing lightly and lining with baking paper.

Grate the zest of the lemon (the skin without the pith) or use a zester. Add the zest to the eggs, salt and sugar, and whisk together, without overworking. Stir in the cream. sieve the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture. Then add the melted butter and rum. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 7 minutes at 200°C (400°F), Gas Mark 6. Then lower the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4, and bake for a further 33 minutes.

 Warm Lemon Cake just out of the oven, dotted with holes, ready for lemon syrup to be poured over

While the cake is baking, heat the juice of the lemon and the icing sugar together, until dissolved.

Tip: Do not let the lemon syrup boil, otherwise it could taste bitter.

The cake is ready when it is springy to touch and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, but leave in the tin. Prick all over with a skewer (I didn’t have a skewer, so improvised using a matchstick) and then pour over the lemon syrup while the cake is still warm. Turn out when cold.


Lemon Cake using recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms

The Lemon Cake looked and tasted fantastic. The recipe was easy to follow, and I already had everything on hand. Baked in small, individual loaf tins, the Lemon Cake recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms would be perfect for holiday gift-giving to friends, neighbours or work colleagues, together with a festively wrapped copy of the book itself.

Visit The Tea Rooms website for opening hours and more information about their tea room, teas, bespoke cakes, venue hire, and home tea party service. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.


The Tea Rooms logo





155 Stoke Newington Church Street
London N16 0UH



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Succumb to the Crumb [Afternoon Tea Party Box]

Crumb Tea Party in a Box

Crumb, a “cake experience” company in Leeds founded just over a year ago by two young mums, make afternoon tea parties that can be delivered not only to your door, but through your letterbox. Alice down a rabbit hole? Sure. A tea party delivered through my letterbox? I was skeptical, but Crumb have convinced me that they are no Mad Hatter.


Crumb Tea Party in a Box

The parcel did indeed fit through the letterbox,
but once opened, what did I find?


Five varieties of freshly baked goodies, Crumb Tea Party in a Box

Inside were 20 slices (4 each) of exquisite home baked goodies:
Yogurt Topped Cranberry Tiffin
Chocolate Rocky Road
Nut Granola with Belgian Chocolate
Caramel Shortbread
Strawberry Sandwich Shortbread


12 individual sachets of tea, doilies, little flags, and napkins, Crumb Tea Party in a Box

Also included were 12 individually wrapped sachets of fine Taylors of Harrogate Tea, and decorative cake topper flags, plate doilies, and napkins.


It's so easy to set up Crumb's Tea Party in a Box

Denise’s Tea-for-Two party, courtesy of Crumb


After opening the Afternoon Tea Party Box by Crumb, I set up the little Tea-for-Two pictured above in about 10 minutes – with enough leftover food, tea, and extras to host a second tea party. (There’s plenty of time to plan; the baked goods have a 3-week expiration date.) The sheer convenience of it all makes entertaining effortless!

We work closely with one of the finest bakeries in the region who hand make all of our products to the highest possible standard. ~ Crumb

The slices were fresh, very tasty, and of noteworthy size. I was worried that the generously topped Nut Granola would be too crunchy for me, but it wasn’t – it was very easy to eat. My favourite was the Yogurt Topped Cranberry Tiffin. Superb! (Note: All food ingredients are listed in full detail on the back of the box.)

The Taylors of Harrogate tea selection in Crumb’s Afternoon Tea Party Box is spot on – there is something for everyone: Earl Grey, Yorkshire Gold, Afternoon Darjeeling, Delicate Green Tea, Blackberry & Elderflower (caffeine free), and Orange & Lemon.


Detail, Crumb's Tea Party in a Box

Eat me!


What would a tea party be without a bit of merriment, and the cute cake topper flags with sayings like Exquisite! Absolutely Scrumptious! Delectable! and Take One!  add just that.  (Can be saved to use on your own treats.)

If there is one thing I think Crumb has neglected in their Afternoon Tea Party Box it is this: their name. Everyone who leaves a tea party fashioned by Crumb will want to remember where it came from so they can order one of their own. A subtle, stylish tone-on-tone rendering of the word Crumb on the little white napkins that come in the box might be lovely.

Not long ago I wrote about another fabulous Afternoon Tea Party Box that can be delivered to your home, but the Crumb Afternoon Tea Party Box is an excellent alternative as – and this is my favourite thing about it – it can be delivered through a standard letterbox.

An Afternoon Tea Party Box by Crumb delivered through their letterbox would be a great way to surprise your mum, your nan, your sister, or your bestie.  Delivered through your own letterbox, it’s a simple way to host an engagement celebration, book club meeting, or chick flick get-together.  And as far as mad tea parties go, the convenience of an Afternoon Tea Party Box by Crumb eliminates all the madness, leaving you and your guests to enjoy teatime in wonderland.


 It’s easy to order and pay online from the Crumb websiteCrumb currently have 15 different food boxes (including a Christmas range) varying in price from £15.00-£32.00.  Delivery is free via Royal Mail, first class.


I am curious if there are any companies in the United States that offer a quality Afternoon Tea home delivery service?


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A Potted History of The Brown Betty Teapot

Denise's Brown Betty Teapots

It is a known fact that the Brown Betty teapot brews tea better than any other teapot design. This is because of the shape of the pot which allows the tea leaves to be gently swirled around as the boiling water is added, and the special clay used in its manufacture that holds heat so well.

Why is it called a Brown Betty? Well…it is brown, thanks to a Rockingham Glaze.  But why “Betty”?

In the 1800′s no self-respecting house in England was run without at least one servant. As “Elizabeth” was a very popular name at that time, odds were that you had a servant named Elizabeth. And Elizabeth – shortened to Betty – would have served the tea. Some believe that the special brown teapot came to be known as a “Betty” or a “Brown Betty“. But no one knows for sure.

Cauldon Ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent hold the exclusive design rights and are the sole producers of the Brown Betty teapot. They have been making Brown Betty‘s since the end of the 17th century. (Stoke-on-Trent is the historical home of English ceramics and features on the Tea in England banner.)

I have always owned a Brown Betty. At the moment, I have a 2-cup personal size, and a larger 6-cup size for when company visits.  Based on my experience with a wide variety of teapot designs, I definitely believe the Brown Betty produces an excellent pot of tea – but the quality of the newer models by Cauldon are sometimes less than perfect.

Should you decide to buy your own Brown Betty, don’t be fooled by imitations! An authentic Brown Betty will have a small [removable] Union Jack sticker on it,  and the bottom will be marked, “Cauldon, Made in England”. The newer ones are also stamped “©Original Betty”, and carry a swing card with the history of the Brown Betty.


Markings on bottom of Brown Betty teapot. Photo courtesy of www.gravelandgold.com


If you own a Brown Betty, do you think it is the best teapot for brewing tea?

Teatime in the Garden (Centre)

Jamie Oliver Green Fingers Mug - Click to buy

You would think that someone like me, a tea enthusiast, would have green fingers. After all, tea comes from a plant (Camellia sinensis) and people who are into plants are usually into gardening.  (Before we go any further ….. the U.K. phrase ‘green fingers’ is akin to the U.S. phrase ‘green thumb’. I don’t know why British gardeners get five fingers and American gardeners only get a thumb, but The Word Detective thinks he knows.) Anyway, I’m no gardener (I can kill a silk plant. Can you?), but folks here in the U.K. spend nearly 5 billion pounds every year on garden products – that’s a lot of green fingers, thumbs, and other appendages.


Golden Acres Garden Centre, Heather Plants


There are close to 3,000 garden centres in the U.K.


Golden Acres Garden Centre, Laura Ashley Wellies


Several years ago, when large DIY chains started to drop their prices, garden centres fought back the competition by adding a different type of merchandise to their basic stock of plants, fertilizer and garden tools.


Golden Acres Garden Centre, Kitchenware Display


Soon, things like statuary, gifts and home interior products, cards and stationery and books, toys, outdoor clothing, holiday items, and more were filling the shelves of garden centres.


Golden Acres Garden Centre, Cream Tea


Garden centres quickly became leisure destinations – and many of them added on-site cafes and/or tearooms.


Golden Acres Garden Centre, Treats

 (As I am writing this post, I am DYING right now for one of those custard tarts.)


Golden Acres Garden Centre, Toasted Teacake


Garden centres are now very, very, VERY popular places, especially on Sundays. And why not? They are bright, airy, filled with lovely things to buy – and a great place for tea.

I took these photographs at Golden Acres Garden Centre in Wiltshire. That was me above in their cafe, reading my book, eating a Toasted Teacake.

And hey – if you’re a tourist, a visit to a local garden centre would be a unique addition to your itinerary. Thumbs of all colour welcome.