Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tea and artisan bread (attempt #1)

This past Saturday, B and I went to an English afternoon tea at the Carlton hotel in central Zurich (available from 2:30 to 5 pm, Wednesday through Saturday, September through May, CHF 39 per person). I went to a proper British tea when I visited friends in Manchester, England, 9 years ago, and I've been trying to recapture the wonder ever since. In the US, my efforts were usually stymied by the lack of clotted/Devonshire cream with the scones (butter is not the same, fake American tea places!), so I wasn't sure what to expect.

We saw and heard no Brits, so I couldn't quiz anyone about the authenticity (not that I would have - how do you start that conversation?). But we quite enjoyed ourselves. They had a lovely and quite varied selection of sandwiches and sweets, with usually one piece per person, although there were extra mini cucumber sandwiches (I took care of those). The food was good, although I did expect slightly higher quality at the Carlton (assuming that Carlton is the same one as in 'Ritz-Carlton'). The tea menu was decent but not extensive, with around 25 types on the menu.

I'm ready, serve me.
There was some confusion, since B first tried to order some iced tea and was told that it was not part of the Afternoon Tea options. However, about ten minutes after serving us, the table one over from us, occupied by around 6 German-speaking ladies, were served - and they all received iced teas. It wasn't a big deal, but such occurences do not instill confidence about the quality or knowledge of service.

I chose a chai - not terribly traditional - and in what is most likely sacrilege for both the Brits and the Japanese, B chose matcha, the green tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. It was too bitter for me, while B didn't mind it - although it did not pair well with the food options.

Matcha. I just finished a book last month that involved a lot of traditional Japanese ceremonies, so I was excited when the waiter used a bamboo whisk to make it. I hid my weirdly inappropriate reaction well, I think.
Scones, the centerpiece of the tea, were served separately than the food tower, and B and I ate them all (2 each) before I realized I had failed to take a picture. The accompanying jam and cream were definitely the highlight for me, and I drowned my scones in them. The scones themselves were soft and warm, but felt like they had been reheated. They were mini scones, so not much more than a few bites each. However, we did walk out quite full and felt no need for dinner that night.

The tower of food. I had already removed several sandwiches from the bottom in my hunger. I am SO BAD at remembering to take pictures. B and I both agreed that the best sweet was the one almost entirely hidden by the cupcakes, in the back of the second tier. It was pastry with a chocolate glaze on top and custard in the middle.

The cream and jam containers. We ran low on the raspberry preserves, even with only four mini scones. It was that good. Also tasty - the super mini berry tartlet in front.
We enjoyed ourselves, but I'm not sure we would return, and I probably wouldn't bring any visiting family/friends unless they had a specific urge to go. Maybe my search for a proper English tea just means that B and I need to schedule a weekend trip to London. Sounds like a good excuse.

Also on Saturday, I set up my first attempt at artisan bread. I used this recipe because it had tasty add-ins and involved no kneading. I didn't let my dough rise for 3 hours - by 2.25 hours it had overflown my largest mixing bowl (note to self: get big-ass container for future preps), so I had to deflate it some and then stick it in the fridge for the overnight step. I was a bit worried that the next morning would reveal a dough blob oozing its way across our refrigerator, but it actually didn't rise much in the fridge.

The next morning, post removal of cling wrap, which took a good portion of the dough with it.
 I was particularly excited to read about her approach to humidifying the oven for baking. I've read multiple places that having a humid oven is key to getting a contrasting, truly crispy crust, but no practical way to approach this. Professional ovens have built-in spritzers, and home approaches I've read usually involve a spray bottle and carefully timed superfast oven openings. I love bread, but I am also lazy.

So this woman's approach was perfect. She suggests putting a metal (not glass) pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven before turning it on for preheating. Our oven comes with one wire rack and one metal tray, so I just put the metal tray in the bottom and filled it with water.

The dough was still REALLY sticky after overnight refrigeration, so I used a lot of flour and did some minimal kneading (I just...can't seem to give it up) before separating into loaves. Unfortunately we had no cornmeal, so I just sprinkled flour on the tray instead - which kept the loaves from sticking, but also meant that we had no crust on the bottom. I was a bit concerned because, after her suggested resting time (30 minutes) pre-baking, the dough was still cold. It turned out just fine, but I think I might let it rise more next time.

Overall, the humidity approach totally worked! Also, through the magic of visible steam, it allowed me to see that our oven doesn't close entirely on the left side and this may be why I have struggled with temperatures/cooking times in this place (I've said it before, but WE CANNOT MOVE SOON ENOUGH).

It tasted even better than it looked!
Three days later, we have only half a loaf remaining. Even B, who isn't overly fond of things made with flour (he claims the flour gets between him and whatever taste the food has), has eaten a half loaf or so. Next up - the roasted garlic/rosemary version!


  1. If you ever want to talk artisan bread, hit me up! I could talk about bread for hours, and bore people all the time by doing that. Two things -- artisan bread is a much wetter dough in general. And one of the most helpful hints with the humidity -- if you get a cast iron dutch oven combo cooker, you cook the first half with it closed (keeping the steam inside), and then open it for the second half, where you get your final browning. TARTINE is a great book about at-home techniques for artisan bread.

    Look forward to hearing more about your experience with it. :)

    1. Thanks for the book recommendation! I've known about the dutch oven technique for a while, but unfortunately a that item is pretty far down on the list of kitchen wishes (behind a blender and food processor), and they are expensive anywhere, but I haven't been able to stomach the prices here yet to seriously consider it. We'll see what our budget looks like post-move and furniture-buying.
      And yes, I will definitely keep you updated on future attempts! I have a bread baking book that I am just starting to delve into, it's really fun.