A friend of mine went on a last minute trip to the Dominican Republic last year and brought back a most interesting jar of cocoa balls for me. After a lot of questioning on Twitter, it turned out that this wasn’t for hot chocolate but for a Caribbean chocolate drink they call cocoa tea.

Cacao Balls from the Dominican Republic

I believe this is pure processed cacao, complete with cacao butter, in ball form. From what I gather online, they also come in sticks, which, though less aesthetically pleasing, are easier to grate.

Cacao Balls

Well, after many months of procrastination, I finally thought about making us some cocoa tea and opened the jar. I cobbled together a set of instructions based on what I found online and what was on the side of the jar. In a small pot, I placed half a stick of cinnamon, a bay leaf and grated in about 1/8 of a nutmeg. In went 500ml of semi-skimmed milk and the whole pot was set on a medium heat to simmer.

Spices

Meanwhile, I grated up one of the cocoa balls (each is about the size of a walnut). When the milk was simmering, the grated cocoa was added and whisked in until well combined. As there’s no sweetening in these balls of cacao, some sugar was also added to taste (about 1-2 tbsps, I think).

A Grated Cocao Ball

Finally, a little bit of cornstarch slurry gave the thin mixture a little thickness.

Cocoa Tea

The result was delicious! Not too sweet, a bit bitter, very deeply chocolaty but not in a cloying way. I might try to grate the cocoa ball a little finer as we were chewing a little on the larger cocoa nibs but this was not unpleasant. If you do manage to find cacao like this, do try it!

While at the market in Catalonia, my eyes became somewhat fixated by a little bag of shrivelled looking nuts at a dried fruit and nut stall. Upon inquiry, I learned that they were xufes (or xufles or tigernuts in English or chufas in Spanish), the little tubers from which the milky drink orxata is made. Lucky for me, the stall had also posted a selection of recipes on their wall, one of them being for orxata so quicker than you could blink, I had my money on the counter and the little package of xufes in my handbag.

Dried Tigernuts

Back home in London, one night I set them soaking in cold water, to be processed into orxata the following night.

Soaked Tigernuts

The next night, I ground those xufes down using my mini chopper (in batches) and then mixed them with water and sugar (the tubers are already a little sweet). I then went to town on that mixture with my stick blender. Afterwards, I strained and bottled the mixture and let it chill in the fridge for a bit.

Straining the Orxata

I was extremely happy with the outcome! It was thick and milky and just as fresh as those I drink at the orxateries in Barcelona. Sure you could buy a bottle of the stuff from shops like Garcia and Sons on Portobello Road but they don’t taste fresh and you can’t control the amount of sugar in the drink. Of course, I can go on and on but the reality is that I have no idea where to buy dried tigernuts in London. Has anyone come across them here?

The Final Drink

Orxata
This will make around a litre. The recipe can be scaled easily.

200g dried xufles
water for soaking
800-1000ml water
100-150g powdered sugar
zest from 1/5 of a lemon (optional)
a little sprinkle of cinnamon (optional)

Soak the dried xufles in cold water overnight.

The next day, drain the xufles and then grind them together with the new water (800ml – 1000ml depending on how thick you like it). A stick blender isn’t going to do it – you either need a powerful blender or do it in batches like me in the stick blender mini food chopped attachment. Once you have all of it grinded to a paste, you can then continue with a stick blender. Add in the sugar (to taste) and the lemon and cinnamon and continue blending.

Strain through at least 2 layers of muslin and chill the resulting mixture for at least an hour (or even better, overnight). Serve!

Nine ladies dancing!

innocent12daystitle
innocent12days

That’s the day of the 12 days of Christmas assigned to me by Innocent Drinks – the 9th day…which happens to be today. I was one of the 12 bloggers invited to develop a mocktail (that’s a non-alcoholic cocktail if you’ve never come across it before!) using one or more of their juice range. To help, they even sent over a very nice box of mocktail making goodies for inspiration and a supermarket voucher to go get my ingredients.

Innocent Drinks Inspiration Box

I had nine ladies dancing to use as inspiration. Immediately, I thought of Christmas parties and after dinner discos and the need of a refreshing drink to quench one’s thirst. And how appropriate for me too – I don’t drink alcohol and much prefer a mocktail!

Christmas, Christmas, I love Christmas markets! A drink I associate with Germany, land of amazing Christmas markets, is apfelschorle – a 50:50 mixture of apple juice and sparkling water. I reckon it would be just what nine ladies dancing require to wet their whistle.

It was time to jazz up apfelschorle into something a bit more festive though – a bit of rosemary and lime would do the trick. And here’s the mocktail I ended up with after lots of happy testing: An Apple-Rosemary Refresher.

Innocent has turned it into a beautiful recipe card (pdf) that can be downloaded by clicking on the photo below.

recipe

Otherwise, here’s the recipe again:

An Apple-Rosemary Refresher
serves 1-2.

For the rosemary syrup:
125ml water
60ml sugar
3-4 sprigs rosemary

100ml Innocent apple juice
100ml sparkling water
5ml lime juice
ice

First make the rosemary syrup. Put the syrup ingredients in a small pot and place over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring slowly to a boil and then turn off the heat and let cool.

Mix together 30ml of the syrup with the rest of the ingredients (except the ice). Pour over ice and serve.

All 12 days of Christmas mocktails will be made into a pdf booklet and I’ll link to it here after all days are complete. Thank you very much, Innocent Drinks, for this – it was fun to come up with a new mocktail recipe!

We’re obviously very dedicated to the Christmas market. Last weekend saw my friend and I take a train to Birmingham to check out their Frankfurt Christmas Market. We arrived at about 1pm and left by a 7pm train (times are approximate!). It was quite easy to find – it’s all located at the centre of the city, just outside the Bullring. We encountered stall upon stall upon stall of German food, drink, and Christmas gifts and decorations.

Giant Christmas Pyramid

The eating started as soon as we saw a stand selling freshly fried potato pancakes. We opted for a dollop of oniony sour cream on the side and munch away we did. I was surprised by the addition of some kind of grain to the potato base but it added a good crunch to the fried fritter.

Potato Pancake

As soon as the last bite went down, we queued for bratwursts – one white and one red, both to share. I love both – the milder white and the punchier smoked red.

Bratwursts

Gluhwein for Roxanne and hot chocolate for me. And yes, we kept our mugs as souvenirs (you pay a deposit for it).

Hot Chocolate

There was room for a shared pretzel…

Pretzels

…and two kinds of fried doughnuts too. The quarkbällchen was made with quark, the German fresh cheese, and a paper cone of schmalzkuchen was freshly fried and dusted with lots of powdered sugar.

Quarkbällchen

Frying

They all went down much too easily.

Schmalzkuchen with Powdered Sugar

Schokokuss (chocolate kisses) were purchased to take home. While everyone was queuing to buy packs of 10 or 12, I’m glad I showed restraint and only purchased a couple (they’re filled with marshmallow inside…soft, sticky, intensely sweet marshmallow).

Schokokuss

It was with a little difficulty that we put down our final savoury bites for the day – they had to be frankfurters! That photo below shows mine – I swear there’s a frankfurter underneath all those pickles and crispy fried onions.

Frankfurter

Overall, a most successful eating day!

At Night

Other edibles to look out for are the 1/2 metre long bratwursts, the cheese skewers that are battered and fried, hot chocolate spoons, roast pork shanks, huge roasting hams, cream cakes, and a huge variety of Haribo.

It’s a long journey on a slow train on a Sunday and is probably more manageable on a weekday or Saturday. If you’re utterly in love with Christmas markets, then it’s possibly worth the travel but otherwise I’d recommend visiting if you’re in the region!

All my photos from the day can be found in this Flickr photoset.

After a relaxing afternoon visiting the Lama Temple and the Confucius Temple (blessedly across the street from each other!), Blai and I went off in search of a teahouse nearby, an activity we were both quite keen on doing. I did try looking for the one recommended to me by David of Jing Tea but somehow missed it and ended up at the Confucian Teahouse almost directly in front of the Confucius temple.

Not that this teahouse was inferior in any way – we adored the peace and quiet afforded by it. A menu listing quite a few teas was offered, all at different price points. We chose both an oolong (recommended to get the full teahouse experience) and a 1970 aged puerh – the latter was being prepared in the photo below.

Tea Hostess

I dislike the use of the word ‘ceremony’ when describing how the Chinese prepare their tea only because it feels like the correct way to enjoy it, even everyday. I wish all my tea was served with a teapot, a separate tea jug, a tea strainer and tea cups. The separate tea jug might feel like an extra piece of pottery but it means that your tea won’t oversteep in the teapot. And all that pouring of hot water all over the place means that the pottery is heated and will keep your tea hotter for longer. All very practical!

For the Oolong

And that’s exactly how our teas were brewed and presented to us – in a separate glass server. The oolong was lighter in colour on the left and the puerh with its rich smoky flavour was darker and in the jug on the right.

Oolong and Puerh

While the puerh was served in one teacup, we had these two for the oolong.

Sniffing and Drinking Cups

The taller is a sniffing cup while the shorter is for drinking. They weren’t used for the puerh as it’s not as aromatic as the oolong. The tea is first poured into the taller cup, you sniff it and smell it before inverting the shorter cup on top of it. Flip the two quickly and now all your tea is in the smaller cup (or all over the table) from where you can drink it. We were also shown how the still hot sniffing cup can be held over your eyes for a mini steam bath!

Tea

This was the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of Beijing and we whiled away a couple of hours here – your tea won’t run out in this time! Its quality means that it can be re-steeped many times. The Confucian Teahouse also sells all of the tea making paraphernalia and the tea itself, both of which make excellent presents or souvenirs.

Confucian Teahouse
28 Guozijian Lu
(across from the Confucius Temple)
Beijing, China

Earlier this month, I noticed that Twitter was abuzz with the announcement of a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea being offered at the Sanderson Hotel for a limited time, to coincide with the launch of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film. The menu sounded equally eclectic and adorable, with pastries designed to challenge the tastebuds, and I quickly arranged a girls only tea there. One is leaving for Hong Kong soon and what better way for one of many send offs – a surprise send off really and luckily for us, she was definitely surprised and delighted. We certainly don’t treat ourselves to proper afternoon tea often enough!

On Monday afternoon, we traipsed over to the Sanderson Hotel, located just north of Oxford Street, between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road. I didn’t even know there was a hotel here; according to reports online, GQ reported the Sanderson as being the “hippest hotel in the world” and I can possibly see why. It’s rather bling. We were shown to the covered courtyard where we were told that the heating wasn’t working that day and that they’d be glad to seat us in the restaurant instead if we so desired. But there were a few giggling ladies out there and it was far from a cold day and so courtyard it was. I’m so glad we decided that – there was lots of natural light and a fountain and a little garden and it’s all just so so pretty.

They bring us all little menus but really there’s only one thing on that menu: the Mad Hatter’s Tea. £20 for just the tea or £29.50 with a glass of champagne. And it’s the hotel’s restaurant, Suka, serving expensive contemporary Malaysian food, that’s running the tea. Hmm. Oh well, nothing Malaysian about the teas and tea offerings though.

Flowering Teas

Of the teas on offer, we immediately gravitated towards the flowering jasmine tea, which came presented in a glass goblet. I think they would have been more effective in a large glass teapot as the continued steeping in the glass made it too strong after a while but they were delightful to watch as they opened! The other teas were a bit of a disappointment, just being Clipper teabags in individual pots. I did expect loose teas (Clipper does do loose according to their website) but I guess as afternoon tea is not regularly offered here, they’d have a more limited selection than a dedicated tea hotel/place. You’re welcome to all the tea you can drink and we definitely got our money’s worth with two of the flowering teas apiece plus a pot of regular tea (Earl Grey for me).

After our first teas came our tiered plates of goodies – one for each of us! Ooooh, how decadent! The cake stands themselves are gorgeous, made with vintage crockery (you can even purchase them here).

Tiered Cake Stand

At the bottom were finger sandwiches and scones. The sandwiches were presented on rainbow coloured bread, all coloured with natural ingredients. They’re your standard, extremely dainty, sandwiches but the standout for me was the cucumber with black pepper. I need to recreate these at home.

Sandwiches and Scones

The scones came with beautiful soft strawberry preserves and plenty of clotted cream. These were just beautiful, so buttery and melt in your mouth good and if any more had been offered, I probably would have burst just from these alone.

The second tier was full of pastries. These were mainly ok – a little extra thought going into each of them would have made them much better.

Pastries

The chocolate cup was filled with a strawberry mousse according to the menu but I found it to be more of a stabilised foam of sorts. That was gorgeous but the chocolate cup would have been more successful if it had been made of white chocolate (as originally stated on the menu) instead of the stronger dark chocolate.

Inside the Tea Cake

The hazelnut and passionfruit tart was also topped with dark chocolate, this time in the form of the White Rabbit’s pocket watch. The hazelnut cream was delicious as was the buttery pastry but the passionfruit was only there in the form of a tiny bit of syrup. I’m not yet convinced of this flavour combination but perhaps it would work with more passionfruit or just the removal of that and the addition of caramelised nuts for texture.

Hazelnut and Passionfruit Tart

The chocolate and raspberry crackle cupcake was topped with popping candy, something I always enjoy. Pop pop pop! Digging into the buttercream and down through to the cake, though, I found no evidence of raspberry. It was only when I was almost halfway through the cupcake that the single fresh raspberry emerged, buried under the mountain of buttercream. Not a bad combination but I did have to scrape aside some of that cream as there was much too much of it.

Chocolate and Raspberry Crackle Cupcake

Finally, the little teacup at the top of the cake stand held two intriguing lollipops. The little chocolate one was supposed to explode in our mouths and explode it did as the thin chocolate shell was full of melted mint ice cream! The pineapple one was supposed to make our mouths go hot and cold. There was a little bit of heat in the pineapple candy while the sugary layer did have something that cooled the tongue a bit, in the way that menthol cools. While not a big show stopper, I admire the attempt at kooky!

Top Tier

In all, the tea things were a bit hit and miss (though more mediocre than miss really). But for us, the real treat was just having the chance to relax for a couple hours with plenty of tea and some nice treats to keep us occupied. It was really enough for dinner too – I barely ate anything after that. I really like the idea of the tea and the attempt to keep to the spirit of the Mad Hatter and his tea and do think good on them for giving the idea a go. There’s still time to try it out too – when I first booked almost a month ago, the Mad Hatter’s Tea was only available for the month of March but I just learned that due to the popularity of it, it’s been extended to the end of May. At the very least it’s worth it just to check out the fabulous lobby of the hotel. We even rode up and down in the lift with its 3D depiction of the solar system – and then, of course, we hotfooted it out of there.

Almost Finished


Sanderson Hotel

50 Berners Street
London W1T 3NG

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