Monday, December 10, 2012

Tea Time Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays

Yay, I finished writing my manuscript for my new tea book so, I am now back to blogging!   I hope to share the process of my book with you as I go through each step so stayed tuned.  But, in the meantime, I couldn't think of a more perfect topic to write about during this holiday season than BAKING and pairing homemade treats with delicious teas!

I love to bake especially during this time of the year.  Each year I always make homemade goodies to give to my neighbors, our mail lady, and friends.  However, in the last few years, I found out from my doctor that I have a sensitivity to wheat. So, I try to maintain a gluten-free diet, but at the holidays I have always struggled.  Therefore, I "cheat" and then I don't feel my best at all.  But, for some of you cheating isn't even an option!

Well I don't have to "cheat" anymore since I received Jeanne Sauvage's GLUTEN-FREE FOR THE HOLIDAYS: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats cookbook.  This book is way more than just a cookbook. It is what I would call a primer for gluten-free baking as well.  Baking and enjoying homemade treats with my tea has a whole new outlook! 

Jeanne and I share a few things in common such as the same literary agent and now the same publisher, Chronicle Books.  I later discovered we also share a love of tea.  When I was in Seattle last year teaching a tea class, she took me to a local tea shop and we had a great time chatting.  Lucky for me, I even got to preview some of the photos for her now published book. 

 Being diagnosed gluten intolerant after  her daughter was born over a decade ago, Jeanne didn't want to quit her love of baking, so she figured out a new way that fits her diet restrictions AND her taste buds!  For those of you that need to stick with a gluten-free diet, you know that taste and texture can be a problem in baked goods.  Well, not anymore.  Here are two great recipes from Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays.  You will want to buy this book ASAP, to try out the other 58 recipes in the book plus read the primer that is included to help you navigate the gluten-free world of baking.  She also includes some basics such as yummy yeast rolls and bread too!

To Get Started here is, Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (Makes 4½ cups / 660 g)

1¼ cups/170 g brown rice flour

1¼ cups/205 g white rice flour

1 cup/165 g sweet rice flour

1 cup/120 g tapioca flour

scant 2 tsp xanthan gum

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown and white rice flours, sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, and xanthan gum thoroughly. Transfer the mix to an airtight container. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 weeks or in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

I used to make cutout cookies with my kids every year for Christmas when they were little. We used the same cookie cutters that I grew up with which made the baking even more special. It was always the cookies the kids left for Santa. This recipe would be great with a cup of green Japanese Sencha or a black first flush Darjeeling! I do think Santa would enjoy a little cup-of-pick-me-up with his cookies too! Here is Jeanne's gluten-free recipe perfect for all the gluten-free Santas.

Cutout Cookies (Makes About 30 cookies)

Cutout cookies are a must for the holiday season. The wonderful thing about this dough is that it can be cut into any shape or size that a particular holiday requires. I make the dough year-round and use cookie cutters that suit the occasion. The cookies are fun to decorate. When my daughter was a toddler, we painted the icing on the cookies instead of piping it. Painting the cookies was so much easier. Now that she is older, it is a wonderful way for both of us to get creative when decorating the cookies. Each cookie can be a masterpiece.

2 cups / 280 g Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (please see separate recipe)

1½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup / 115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup / 200 g granulated sugar

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp grated lemon or orange zest (optional)

Tapioca flour for dusting

Colored sugar for decorating (optional)


2 cups / 225 g confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

4 to 6 Tbsp heavy cream, or more if needed

Food coloring in various colors (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, using a hand mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. Add the lemon zest (if using). Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.

Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes, or for up to 3 days.

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Remove one dough disk from the refrigerator. If the dough is rock hard, let it warm up a bit. Place the dough between two pieces of waxed paper and roll to ⅛ in/3 mm thick.

Using cookie cutters dipped in tapioca flour, cut out as many shapes as possible. Using a spatula, place the cutouts on the prepared sheets, spacing them at least 1 in/2.5 cm apart. Roll out the dough scraps and repeat the process until all the dough is used or the cookie sheets are full. The dough is best cut when it is firm, so you may have to return it to the refrigerator before cutting more shapes.

Sprinkle the shapes with colored sugar (if desired or leave them plain and decorate with icing after baking). Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheets for about 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Let the sheets cool completely and repeat with the remaining dough.

While the cookies are cooling, make the icing. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Add the vanilla and 4 Tbsp of the cream. Whisk until all the ingredients are combined and smooth. If desired, add more cream to make the icing thinner. If you want to color the icing, divide it among small bowls and tint each bowl of icing with a different food coloring. Using a small paintbrush per color, decorate the cookies. Place the decorated cookies on the wire racks to let the icing set.

Store the cookies in an airtight container, between layers of waxed paper, at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Not everything in this cookbook is sweet.  If you are looking for a savory tea time treat, how about trying these cheese crackers.  They would pair nicely with a cup of malty astringent black Assam tea or if you like smokey black  Lapsong Souchong that would also be nice!

Cheese Crackers and Straws (Makes 60 or more crackers or straws)

Cheese crackers and straws are terrific party snacks, especially for New Year’s Eve. They are simple to prepare and get rave reviews from guests. Sometimes I make them with cheese only, and sometimes I add a pinch of cayenne for a little kick. You can also experiment with your own choice of herbs and spices. The recipe here calls for both Cheddar cheese and Parmesan. If you like, you can use Cheddar alone, by replacing the Parmesan with the same amount of Cheddar.

1½ cups/210 g Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (please see separate recipe)

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

½ tsp dried herb such as thyme or rosemary or ground spice such as cumin (optional)

6 Tbsp/85 g cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2½ cups/175 g grated Cheddar cheese

1 cup/70 g grated Parmesan cheese

1 extra-large egg

¼ cup/60 ml milk

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas mark 5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, cayenne (if using), and dried herb (if using).

Pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and both the cheeses and pulse until evenly mixed with the dry ingredients, about 1 minute. The dough will look like wet sand with pebbles. Add the egg and pulse until incorporated. With the motor running, pour the milk through the feed tube and blend until the dough forms a ball. (Alternatively, you may mix the dough by hand, using a pastry cutter to combine the dry ingredients and the butter and cheeses. Then, with a wooden spoon, stir in the egg and milk. The dough will be very stiff.) Divide the dough into two equal portions.

To make cracker rounds / Place a portion of the dough between two pieces of waxed paper and roll to ⅛ in/3 mm thick. Using a 2-in/5-cm cookie cutter, cut out as many rounds as possible. Using a spatula, place the cutouts on a prepared sheet, spacing them at least ½ in/12 mm apart. Roll out the dough scraps and repeat the process until all the dough is used.

To make straws / From a portion of dough, pinch off a marble-sized piece of dough. Roll into a ball and then put on a piece of waxed paper and roll into an evenly shaped cylinder about 5½ in/14 cm long. Place on a prepared sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used, spacing the cylinders at least ½ in/12 mm apart.

Place the sheets on the middle and lower oven racks. Bake until the crackers or straws are brownish around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. They will be moderately crunchy. Let the crackers or straws cool on the cookie sheets until you can pick them up, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

The cookbook makes a perfect gift for your gluten-free friends or for yourself.  Hurry so you have plenty of time to try lots of different recipes during the holidays.  You might want to check out Jeanne's blog called Art of Gluten-Free Baking for more wonderful recipes. Let me know which recipe in the cookbook is your favorite!

Happy Sipping and Baking, Lisa 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Celebrate National Iced Tea Month with Ceylon Teas From Sri Lanka

I just returned from speaking events at World Tea Expo in Las Vegas and also in Sonoma.  It was wonderful to "talk tea" with so many different folks. I am squeezing my blogs about Sri Lanka in between speaking and writing assignments so come along with me on a great summer escape!

June is National Iced Tea Month.  Did you know that Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka makes GREAT Iced Tea? I hope as you read my blog, you will know much more about Ceylon tea.

I had the opportunity to visit the Colombo Tea Auction in Sri Lanka. I was a guest of the John Keells Group which owns tea companies as well as beautiful hotels among other things.  It was a fascinating experience listening to tea being traded for distribution all over the world.   The auctioneers were hard to understand. The only way I knew they were done with one lot of tea and moving on to the next is the gavel went down.  Each transaction took usually less than a few minutes.

After the auction, our group was taken to a John Keells hotel for lunch. The hotel was stunning and modern. Sri Lanka is vying to become a tourist destination and the John Keells group is leading the way with beautiful hotels. You will see a few more of their hotels in my travel tea blogs later.

The lunch buffet was laid out beautifully! Here is just a sampling of the fruit and refreshing desserts offered!

After our "arduous" time at the tea auction and lunch, we went back to the corporate tea office of John Keells for a nice cupping session of their teas. In the photo, a man is weighing out the teas using an antique scale and coins as the counter weight on the other side. Cupping is the professional way of tasting teas. In my next book, I explain this in much more detail!  Can you guess how many times your teas are "professionally cupped" before you drink them at home?

The special cups used are called cupping sets.  Here's our cupping sets laid out to taste delicious Ceylon teas. The tea leaves are steeped in the cup with the handle and the lid is placed on top.  After steeping, the tea is poured into the bowl shaped cup and the leaves are inverted and placed on the lid for visual inspection.  Then, let the tasting begin. It is always a treat to be able to cup so many teas at one time.  If you think "tea is just tea," you wouldn't after cupping so many side-by-side.

After a great day of tea education, we headed back to the Galle Face Hotel for dinner and relaxation time.  I mentioned in my last blog about a museum in the hotel and thought I would tell you a little about one item in it. 

Yes, this is a car in the hotel, but not just any car.  Prince Phillip of Greece was in the Royal Navy and was stationed in Sri Lanka in 1940 where he bought his first personal car  It is a 1935 model Standard Nine.  Prince Phillip of Greece returned later to Sri Lanka in 1952 as the Duke of Edinburgh after marrying Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the II.  The car is in pristine condition and quite a treasure for the hotel.

It was a wonderful second day in Sri Lanka filled with tea education, interesting and delicious food, and meeting new Sri Lankan tea friends.  A nice evening stroll along the Indian Ocean was a great way to end the day.  Isn't it beautiful?
Please follow along with me, as I take you to some interesting tea plantations in my next blog that produce cinnamon and rubber too!  Have I inspired you to visit Sri Lanka yet?

Happy Sipping, Lisa

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Welcome to Sri Lanka-Land of Ceylon Tea

I have been so excited to tell you about my trip to Sri Lanka to discover the land of Ceylon teas that I took in January . I am finally sneaking in a few minutes to share a little about it in between writing and deadlines for my new tea book.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island surrounded by the Indian Ocean.  For those of you that don't know where it is, it is located off the southeastern coast of India.  I flew from London to Sri Lanka and spent New Year's day lost in time somewhere high in the sky.  I landed early in the morning and made it just in time to the hotel to watch the sunrise over the Indian Ocean with a cup of Ceylon tea in hand.

The island was occupied by the British until the 1940s, so much of the architecture and design elements reflect a British Colonial look which I love!  The first hotel I stayed at was the Galle Face Hotel.  Here are the large wooden carved doors that are original to the building!  My first day there I spent wondering about this historic hotel as I tried to get acclimated to my new time zone.  My wondering led me to the hotel's interesting royal museum which I will tell you about in my next blog! 

Sri Lanka is ten and half hours ahead of east coast time of the United States and five and half hours ahead of London. So with the plane ride and time change, some acclimating was necessary.  What could be a better way to fight jet lag than by sitting at this pool with the gorgeous ocean view. I think I could get used to any new timezone like that!!

All of our meals were served on this large veranda that faced the ocean. The cool breeze was so inviting. My first day there of course included afternoon tea which is another great way to adjust!   The choices were endless and stretched as far as the width of the veranda.  Some of the selections included things I was familiar with such as finger sandwiches and some were unique to this tropical island's Indian influences.  It was a food adventure to try the unknown.  I also loved the assortment of fruit that was available with all of our meals such as bananas, pineapple, mango, and passion fruit. Most of them tasted much better than what I was used to because of their freshness!

 Any afternoon tea that includes chocolate mousse is a hit for me! How about you?

This hotel seemed to be an oasis for weddings which was intriguing to observe.  It was an introduction to some of the cultural differences and styles of dress for their formal affairs. I was captivated by this bride and her wedding party.  The dresses were ornate and so different than that of what I see in America.  The flowers in this simple bouquet were beautiful.  Does anyone know what they were?  I wonder if I could find them in the states. (Thanks to a reader, I found out they are Nymphaea lotus that may also be called Egyptian White Water Lily or white lotus)

I took a walk alongside the ocean in the evening and happened upon the same bride and groom getting their pictures taken while the sun was setting over the Indian Ocean!  What a wonderful beginning to my trip as I observed this special occasion from afar!

This bowl of floating flowers is what greeted me as I made my way down to the spa for a massage to ease my body of the eleven plus hour flight from London.   I was told that the small white flowers are called temple flowers. I think they are just beautiful floating in the large bowl.


Since I started my blog with the lovely sunrise, I thought I would end it with the stunning sunset that concluded my first day in this new land full of adventures that awaited me!

Come with me as I take you to Sri Lanka.  I will show you some wonderful tea plantations, interesting foods, and beautiful scenery! 

Happy Sipping Ceylon Tea, Lisa

Side Note: Next week, I will be speaking in Sonoma wine country for a private event and then off to Las Vegas for the World Tea Expo.  I would love to meet up with you in Vegas if you are attending this trade-only event.