The English are obsessed by tea. This is particularly apparent to an outsider like me. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone at my work make a cup of coffee, yet we do endless ‘tea rounds’ all day. Back in New Zealand, getting a coffee machine in the office was a much planned for and talked about event, and resulted in heated discussion around the coffee machine, about the coffee machine, which beans to use in the coffee machine, who would clean the coffee machine and how we ever coped without the sacred coffee machine. Not so in London. It’s all about a nice cup of English Breakfast, with milk and sugar.
Not that I am complaining. I enjoy a cup of tea. I particularly enjoy the English tradition of a proper afternoon tea, which involves taking tea beyond the level of milk and two. While doing a little research for this blog post, I discovered some information about the traditions of tea. I thought that any posh tea with pretty china, and scones, was called a ‘high tea’. In fact, ‘high tea’ is taken after 5pm, whereas afternoon tea is, well, the afternoon version.
I recently met a friend, one plain and uneventful Sunday, for afternoon tea, at a café called High Tea of Highgate. This café is one of the tea-and-cupcake revival set, with pretty china, girls in frilly aprons with up do’s and red lipstick, and white-frosted tea cake on pink stands. They are usually full of women, these cafes, with the occasional out-of-place and awkward looking bloke tucked into the corner of a table.
We had ‘Cream tea and scones’ for £6.50 each. Two warm scones, with a small tub of Cornish clotted cream, and jam, served with tea. The afternoon tea tradition is all very girly and lovely, and is all the better now that I am in England where they have Cornish clotted cream instead of just cream.
When I got home, after seeing all the pretty cakes, I was inspired to do some baking to take into my work. I made lemon slice. This delicious lemon slice has three layers – a thin, crispy, meringue-like top, a lemon custard centre, and a shortbread base. It’s a recipe I have used for years, and is very easy to make.
Lemon Slice Recipe
1.5 cups plain flour
¼ cup caster sugar
1 cup caster sugar
2-3 lemons (depending on how lemony you like it), the ripest and juiciest you can find. Lemons from your own garden are by far the best.
¼ cup plain flour
1 Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease and line with baking paper a slice tin, or cake tin if you don’t have a slice tin (I don’t have one and just used a cake tin). Use a smaller tin, so that you get a good layer of lemon custard on the top.
2 In a food processor, place the butter (cubed), flour and sugar. Process until the mixture is a breadcrumb consistency.
Having only recently moved cities to London, I don’t have a food processor, so I had to rub the butter into the flour by hand (the old fashioned pastry-making way). This is achievable but I don’t recommend it. I would use a food processor in a flash, if only I had one.
3 Pour the breadcrumb mix into the prepared tin, spread out and press down firmly all over. Place this in the oven and bake 15-20 mins until it is starting to get lightly golden on top. While this is baking, make the topping.
4 In a bowl, place the eggs and sugar. Whisk together well. You want this to be nice and fluffy, because this helps create the texture of the slice. I give it a good whisk until my arm gets sore, then take a break, then go back, take a break, go back etc until you need it– you can’t over-whisk it!
On a whisking break, zest the two lemons. Juice the zested lemons into a bowl, remove any pips and set aside.
5 Just before the base is ready, add the lemon juice and zest to the egg & sugar mix. Whisk this together briefly, add the flour, and whisk until well mixed.
6 Turn the oven down to 160c, pull out the base and put onto a work surface. Quickly pour over the topping, and carefully place back in the oven.
7 Bake for 25-30 mins, though keep an eye on it in the last 10 mins. You want it to be starting to get golden on top, but the custard to be set.
8 Allow to cool, then cut into squares and dust with icing sugar.