Exploring, sipping & delighting in all things tea.
Just put the kettle on. One lump or two?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest Post * When is a tea dress not a tea dress?

Guest post written by Kathryn Sharman of Kat Got the Cream.

When I think of tea dresses it usually conjures up an image of Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller in the film The Edge of Love (if you still haven’t seen it yet, get the DVD and do so soon – it’s a feast for the eyes and ears!). Anyway, these two beauties spend much of the film whirling around in some great frocks and it’s worth watching just for the fashion inspiration (although the male leads Cillian Murphy and Matthew Rhys aren’t hard to watch either).

To my mind tea dresses are usually short-sleeved and knee-length - any higher and it's not really demure or practical enough. They often have a v-shaped neckline and cinched waist and, while they can be plain, should be made from some lovely floral print fabric. They should always be feminine, comfortable, flowery, chic and nostalgic. Tea dresses suit nearly everyone and are the ultimate in versatility. You could wear a tea dress to the office one day and to a wedding the next (depending on your accessories of course).

This may all seem like stating the obvious. After all, there's been a resurgence of the tea dress in recent years thanks to new takes on the old style by retailers such as Cath Kidston and even Pearl Lowe's collection for Peacocks.

However, this is what the tea dress style has become over the years. The tea dress we all identify with is the one of the WW2 and post war era. It's what Land Girls wore to dress up in, when they swapped their wellies for heels.

But the original tea dress or tea gown, as it was known, first came into being with the invention of tea itself. Not the drink - that was discovered a very long time ago. No, the tea we all refer to even now as afternoon tea. This tradition was first started in 1841 by Anna Maria Stanhope, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. You may have heard of the anecdote.

In those days, luncheon was served at noon and dinner was served at about 8 or 9pm so all the hard working ladies of the gentry would get famished by the afternoon - must have been all that promenading and sketching and secret novella reading. So, rather than faint with hunger (though that was a very cool thing to do at the time) clever old Anna would have a plate of sandwiches and cake and a pot of tea brought up to her room, where she could have a crafty snack.

Then Anna realised it would be much more fun if she invited a few of her best gal pals to join her for a bit of a 'scoff and goss' party. As you can imagine, the idea soon caught on. But given this was the 19th century, they would have been wearing something that was still a far cry from Sienna or Keira.

Nearly a hundred years later, the tea dress was still a very 'proper' outfit as Emily Post explains in her 1922 book, Etiquette. The tea dress is one that, 'is a hybrid between a wrapper and a ball dress. It has always a train and usually long flowing sleeves; is made of rather gorgeous materials and goes on easily.'

Back then a tea dress was a woman's at-home dress for informal entertaining and was characterised by unstructured lines and light fabrics. More importantly, the length would have been much nearer to ankle than the knee.

Thankfully we can now all wear our tea dresses how we like and where we wish, whether it's with a pair of Hunter's at Glasto or spruced up for a job interview with killer heels. Hey, we could even wear one dressed down with a cardigan and flats for, I dunno, maybe a chat and a cuppa with the girls? I'm sure Anna would have approved of that.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tea & Bakes * Macarons * By Made With Pink

We've been ever so busy here at Isle of Tea Towers recently and after an influx of guest posts, (we thought it would be ever so very silly to refuse them), especially when they look so amazing and as delicious as these beauties do!

Hello, I'm Andrea from the baking blog Made With Pink. Two and a half years ago I moved to the UK from Canada, and brought my North American taste buds and recipes with me. I'm a self confessed hoarder of bakeware, cook books and any pink kitchen gadgets I can get my hands on. You name it, I have it.

It was shortly after I moved to the UK that I was flipping through a magazine when something caught my eye. Something magnificent that I'd never seen before. It wasn't a pair of designer shoes or a pretty dress - it was a cookie! But not just any cookie. These cookies were colourful fancy little things with pretty ruffled edges. I scoured the page to find out what they were called and where I could get them. Macarons. I'd never heard of them before - except for the American coconut haystack kind (aka macaroons). I immediately googled macarons to see how I could make them.

At that time only a few websites & blogs popped up that actually featured recipes for macarons, each of them explaining how finicky they were to make. Age your egg whites, fold the batter until it flows like magma - (no more than 50 strokes), don't make them on a humid day, let the piped macarons rest on the counter for 45 mins, etc. It seemed as if the odds to make these pretty little cookies were stacked against me. Never the less a few days later I decided to bake my very first batch of macarons. I did all of those things I mentioned above (except for the jazz), and you know what? My macarons actually turned out pretty darn good for my first try! They had the frilly little feet and everything! I was thrilled with them, and gloated to myself that they really weren't that hard to make! Well, fast forward 2.5 years, and I've made dozens of batches of macarons, but sadly only about 50% of them have actually turned out well enough to even be called a macaron. I didn't know what I was doing wrong. My beginners luck had run out shortly after I made my first batch, and it seemed like each batch I made was completely hit or miss - even if I used the exact same recipe as the time before. Macarons started getting increasingly popular on the blogging and baking scene, and I was constantly reading new blog posts and trying new recipes out. I got pretty discouraged after a while, and to be honest I probably went a good year without baking another batch of macarons - until now.

I recently discovered a new macaron recipe that was supposedly "fail proof" - a recipe where most of those crazy rules didn't apply, and immediately I knew I just had to try it. Three trys to be exact. Each time I managed to get at least one tray of perfect looking macarons. Sometimes I aged the egg whites, and sometimes I used fresh cold ones. They worked each time. I did however have a few issues, which I have explained in my blog here, but overall I'd say these were a great success!

I made a plain vanilla flavoured macaron and filled them with Speculoos (a subtle gingerbread flavoured spread similar to peanut butter). I also had a few extra Speculoos cookies laying around which I crumbled and sprinkled on top of the macaron shells before baking them. They were delicious, and would go perfect with a nice cup of tea!

Vanilla & Speculoos French Macarons
Slightly adapted from Brave Tart

4 ounces (115g) Almond flour, or whatever nut you like
8 ounces (230g) Powdered sugar
5 ounces (144g) Egg whites , temperature and age not important!
2 1/2 ounces (72g) Sugar
The scrapings of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla bean paste)
1/2 tsp (2g) Salt

1 Belgian Speculoos cookie - crushed up

Belgian Speculoos Spread (Peanut butter or Nutella would also go well)


< 1. Preheat the oven to 300° and have ready a large (18”) pastry bag, fitted with a plain circle tip, along with two sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

2. Process the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor for a minute or two in order to get rid of any little almond chunks. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla bean (not the extract), and salt and turn the mixer to medium (4 on a Kitchen Aid). Whip for 3 minutes. They will not seem especially foamy at that point.

Increase the speed to medium-high (7 on a Kitchen Aid) and whip another 3 minutes, then crank the speed to 8 for go another 3 minutes.

At that point, turn the mixer off and add in any extracts/flavor/color and whip for a final minute on the highest speed, just to show it who’s boss (and to evenly distribute the color/flavor). At the end of this minute, you should have a very stiff, dry meringue.

When you remove the whisk attachment, there will be a big clump of meringue in the center, just knock the whisk against the bowl to free it. If the meringue has not become stiff enough to clump inside the whisk, continue beating for another minute, or until it does so.

4. Now dump in the dry ingredients all at once and fold them in with a rubber spatula. Use both a folding motion (to incorporate the dry ingredients) and a pressing motion, to deflate the meringue against the side of the bowl.

First timers: the dry ingredients/meringue will look hopelessly incompatible. After about 25 turns (or folds or however you want to call “a single stroke of mixing”) the mixture will still have a quite lumpy and stiff texture. Another 15 strokes will see you to “just about right.” Keep in mind that macaronage is about deflating the whites, so don’t feel like you have to treat them oh-so-carefully. You want to knock the air out of them.

Undermixed macaron batter: quite stiff. If you spoon some out and drop it back into the mix, it will just sit there and never incorporate. Do this test before bagging your batter and save yourself the trouble of baking of undermixed macarons!

Overmixed macaron batter: has a runny, pancake batter-like texture. It will ooze continuously, making it impossible to pipe into pretty circles. Um, try not to reach that point.

You can evaluate your batter one stroke at a time, no rush. Essentially, the macaron batter needs enough thickness that it will mound up on itself, but enough fluidity that after 20 seconds, it will melt back down. I’ve heard people describe this consistency as lava-like, or molten, and that’s pretty apt.

5. Transfer about half the batter to a piping bag. (When your bag is too full, the pressure causes the batter to rush out in a way that’s difficult to control, making for sloppy macarons.) Pipe the batter into the pre-traced circles on the baking sheet. Stop piping just shy of the borders of the circle, as the batter will continue to spread just a bit. After piping your macarons, take hold of the sheet pan and it hard against your counter. Rotate the pan ninety degrees and rap two more times. This will dislodge any large air bubbles that might cause your macarons to crack. Sprinkle the tops with the crushed Speculoos cookies.

Bake for about 18 minutes, or until you can cleanly peel the parchment paper away from a macaron. If, when you try to pick up a macaron, the top comes off in your hand, it’s not done. Once the macarons have baked, cool thoroughly on the pans, before peeling the cooled macarons from the parchment. Use a metal spatula if necessary.

6. To fill your macarons take a large dollop of Speculoos and carefully smooth it on the bottom of a macaron before sandwiching another macaron of similar size and shape on top to create the finished macaron.

Macarons, against all pastry traditions, actually get better with age. The shells soften and become more chewy, mingling with the flavor of the buttercream too. So, while of course you can eat them right away, don't hesitate to store them refrigerated for up to a week - just make sure you bring them to room temperature before serving.

If you're new or nervous about baking macarons I've got a few other helpful tips and interesting tidbits that can be found in my original post here.

And now onto something really exciting!
Everyone knows that the key to making a good macaron is a good kitchen scale, so I was delighted when lovely folks over at Salter UK provided me with a beautiful new MyScale kitchen scale to test out. The scale is definitely the prettiest kitchen scale I've ever seen, and it's also pretty cool because you can customise the pattern on it to whatever you like.
Salter UK has kindly provided me with a 2nd MyScale to giveaway to one of my readers. If you're interested in winning this scale and reading a bit more about the features and how it can be fully customised, then pop over to my blog Made with Pink and enter for your chance to win!

*Contest closes at 11:59pm Sunday May 29th

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tea & Bakes * Beetroot Chocolate Cake

Beetroot Chocolate Cake brought to you by Sarah and Nikki.

As a post handing in of dissertations celebration (both me and Nikki are third year students, studying at the University of Hull) we thought there would be nothing better to do than bake cake, drink copious amounts of tea and have a good catch up. Nikki wanted to bake a delicious chocolate cake and i wanted to bake something plain strange, this Beetroot Chocolate cake was the perfect solution to our dilemma. Don't be put of by the fact there is beetroot in this recipe, although you can taste hints of it, it makes the cake lovely and moist.

So i thought I'd share with you the recipe!

Things you'll need -

For the cake

100g drinking chocolate
230g self-raising flour
200g caster sugar
100g dark chocolate (don't skimp out like we did and use milk chocolate, it really makes the difference to use good quality chocolate)
125g unsalted butter
250g cooked beetroot (make sure it's not pickled! otherwise you will end up with a rather funky tasting cake)
3 large eggs, beaten

For the cream cheese icing

250g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, soft
200g icing sugar

For the chocolate icing ganache icing

about 200ml whipping cream
250g dark chocolate


1. Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4.

2. Grease and line 2 circular round cake tins.

3. Sift the drinking chocolate with the self-raising flour into a mixing bowl, and then mix the sugar.

4. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over hot (not boiling) water.

5. Chop then puree the beetroot but please remember to wear an apron or stand as far away from the bowl as possible, you don't want to get spattered with beetroot goodness. Then whisk in the beaten eggs.

6. Add the beetroot mix and chocolate mix to the dry ingredients and mix it all together.

7. Put the mixture in two greased and lined tins and place in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until done.

8. Remove from the oven when done and leave to stand for about ten minutes in the tin before you turn it out onto a cooling rack. If turned out straight away, the cake may crumble at the edges as did ours, oops.

9. For the cream cheese icing. Beat all the ingredients together (cream cheese, icing sugar and butter), then spread half of it liberally on the bottom half of the cake. Stick the two cakes together and then put the rest of the cream cheese icing on the top!

10. For the ganache icing. Gentle heat the cream just till boiling point, take off the heat and add the chopped chocolate, mix until the chocolate has melted.

11. Pour the ganache icing over the top of the cake!

And bobs your uncle, you have a fabulous cake!

And of course we drank no end of tea!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We like flats

We have to admit it. We are very fond of flats. There are masses of women out there who would disagree with this, but we're especially fond of flats with tea dresses.

Now is the time to don the tea dress, brave the knobbly knees, bare the white legs and saunter into town and cream tea it up, as the weather's been glorious of late.

Ok... we mean rush into town, kids in tow, sunny on one side of the street, wind playing havoc with the knicker peep show and shoving any old thing on your feet before you leave the house. Although when it comes to it, with all the shopping to be done, we'd much rather be racing around, looking pre-tea in our little frocks with flats rather than any type of thing (is that really a shoe?!) on our foot, that can sometimes make us look like a demented chicken.

We're obviously not completely ruling out heels here. There's a time and place to dress up your TD and make the very best of what you've got, but a casual trip out calls for something a bit less... neck breaking.

Regarding the knicker peep show, we are a bit relieved that the inside-out-umbrella look didn't show it's ugly face and that is where the sweet TD saves the day. As time has gone by the trusty TD has appeared to decrease in length and the modern varieties that are around today are a lot less, what would be considered tea dresses.

However, one can still rely on finding a suitable TD for such windy days like these to preserve ones modesty. The length can be just right, to briskly skim past a snippet of upper thigh but hopefully fully avoiding full knicker coverage.

And surely it would be a bit risque for a lady who drinks tea to expose oneself in such ways.

We are not 100% sure about the risk statistics of;

windy day + tea dress (but we're pretty sure it) = pretty low on the knicker front

So a big thumbs up to the TD. (Best also wear some large black briefs and we'll all be happy).

But back to flats...

Whether it be baseball shoes, sandals, espadrilles, pumps... we like the comfort they give our little footsies and the TD can stand proudly showing off how versatile it can be, but we don't want to give too much away as we have the most excellent tea dress guest post with lots of invaluable expertise and information coming up very soon.

We must be doing something right with these flats... thanks Audrey.

Let's face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me. -- Audrey Hepburn

Yes... it does us too...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Guest Post * Lenna Loves... Tea

Isle of Tea is very excited to announce we have our very first guest post.

All the way from a village in Somerset.

Lenna, is from Lenna Loves and is very fond of cooking, baking (may have to pop back over with a sweet treat recipe for Tea & Bakes!) and tea drinking. We loved her little story, so it had to have a place nestled in our little world of Tea.

Over to Lenna...

I found my tea set in a Cancer Research Charity shop, it was marked as £40 and included a tea pot, milk jug, sugar bowl, cake plate, twelve cups and saucers and twelve tea plates. I fell in love with it, but walked away. £40 spent in these frugal times on an indulgence is a lot out of the weekly budget. But this pretty little set played on my mind and emotions. Cancer has reared it's ugly head in our family and £40 all of a sudden seemed a small contribution toward such a good cause, and I kept thinking of the joy the tea service could bring to my family over the years. A lasting memory of Saturday afternoon visits to my Grandmother's is of her allowing my sister and I to serve high tea to my ever patient Grandfather in her fabulous tea set.

So, the next day I rang the shop and said that I would be making a trip into town to collect it. I whizzed into the shop clutching a box large enough to stash my new treasure in, the kind Ladies at the Cancer Research Shop had wrapped the set in tissue paper adding to the anticipation of getting it home and unwrapping it.

The tea service, once home, I discovered is Colclough Bone Chine, Wayside Pattern (number 8581), Made In England and is totally charming. I am absolutely in love with it and each time I look at it, it makes me feel happy. Especially, when I know that it has had a past and now my family are it's future. It proudly sits in my kitchen display cabinet and it's first outing will be for a Marie Curie Blooming Great Tea Party I will be holding, it came into my life via a fine charity and feel that it is appropriate that I use it to support another.

So many thanks to our first guest poster with a heart warming post.

On another note, don't forget the first lot of dress listings finish this evening, for your chance to buy an affordable, vintage tea dress!

Right... off to make a pot.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How very rude of us...

Here we are rushing ahead with things and getting all over excited, forgetting one of the most important things of all...

So first things first... How do you take yours? Black? White? Cow? Soya? Rice? One lump or two? What colour lump?

We're talking about good old black tea. Comes in all shapes and sizes, triangle, round, square tea bags, as well as loose leaf.

Do you prefer to drink from a dainty bone china tea cup or are you a bit of a mug lover?

Teapots? We like teapots. They make us feel that everything in the world is ok when we know our tea is brewing nicely along... but we have to admit... we are guilty of chucking the tea bag into cup/mug/jar/keg/barrel (anything will do), splashing the steaming hot water into vessel, tea bag out, slosh of milk in and necking the contents within an instant (or two... to avoid being left with no tastebuds for the day).

Some people have a favourite vessel. Others aren't bothered. Some people are extremely precise about how their cup of tea is made and if it's too far this way or that, it's abandoned and labelled undrinkable. Others take it however it is, taking the bull by his horns and riding the tea-waves.

So we thought... we'd best ask...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fave dress of the week...

Firstly we would like to thank all you lovely lot for all the positive messages and sharing you've been doing. We're very happy to arrive and ecstatic from all the feedback. Chin chin!

Tea of the day has proceeded to be buckets full of peppermint tea. Ease the tums after all the celebrations of the launch after one two many all round. Good old peppermint tea and its benefits. (We'll be covering some posts on this soon!).

Our favourite dress of the week in our shop has to be...

...this gorgeous 70s vintage nautical number. The pockets, the stripes, the beautiful flattering shape ... aaaaaaaah... a perfect summer dress to sit in the sun, straw hat on head, enjoying all those teatimes of crumpets, cream teas or a slice of tea loaf or two... or maybe a cheeky Tunnock's tea cake...


Lots more beautiful dresses are on the way too...

What's your favourite tea treat with a cuppa or two?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Welcome to Isle of Tea

A most gracious of hellos to you all and welcome to Isle of Tea.

We're from over here at Isle of Tea Towers in search of all things Tea.

We still have lots to add and bits to edit, but we could not wait any longer. The suspense was making us a bit jittery and tea spillage had, so thought it was about time to say our hellos.

There's plenty more tea surprises to come on our pages and links, so have a little look around and expect to see lots more tea treats, but no need to worry as...

From http://www.cathtatecards.com
We're very pleased to meet you.
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