Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Never-Ending Tea Party

I am neither professionally trained, nor do I harbour any illusions as to the lot of a pastry chef. Just attempting some ambitious dessert for some ambitious dinner party is taste enough - all that blood, sweat and tears, imagine it intensified and multiplied over an intimidating scale, add an artery-popping dose of stress...I get the picture. Not that I find the process joyless - far from. What is happiness if you don't get to know pain a little better?

So imagine my reaction when Chubby Hubby and S asked if I would cater an event they were organizing on behalf of Gryphon Tea Company - I think the best way to sum it up would be to say I was as excited as I was freaked out by the prospect. Despite the fear factor, I took the plunge in the end for a very simple reason - I really like the product.

When it comes to matters of presentation, my personal inclination is towards the bold and graphic rather than the cute and precious, but keeping the Alice in Wonderland theme in mind was surprisingly easy. In fact, I'll go so far as to confess that I wholeheartedly embraced the twee and thoroughly enjoyed the excuse to revel in the girlishness of it all.

Not wanting to take any chances, I went with tried-and-tested recipes which I then tweaked to fulfil the requirements in the looks and size department. But taste and looks aside, the recipes chosen for the tea party menu would also have to meet a very pragmatic criteria - not having kitchen facilities at my disposal at the venue, all items had to be prepared ahead of time, keep well, travel well, and require the minimum of fuss in terms of last minute finishing.

The Devil's Food Cupcakes with White Chocolate & Espresso Topping, and Vanilla Cupcakes with Truffle Cream Topping are based on recipes from Michael Recchiuti & Fran Gage's Chocolate Obsession. Ultra-moist, they were also eminently suited to being up-sized or shrunk.

The recipe for Straits Chai Spice Bundt is adapted from one in Marcy Goldman's The Best of, which I've previously written about (PS: The whimsical little flags were a stroke of sheer genius on S's part.) As for the Raspberry & Chocolate Cake, the original recipe can be found in Alice Medrich's Bittersweet - cocoa-rich and laced with fresh raspberry puree (which also ensures a very soft and tender crumb), it's one of those wonderful cakes that seem to taste best when left to rest overnight. In other words, ideal for the occasion.

Notice a recurring motif? It goes without saying Linzer Cookies would feature (I like the recipe from Carole Walter's Great Cookies). The delicate, friable texture comes from the addition of sieved hard-boiled egg yolks and ground almonds, while the rich flavour is thanks to cinnamon and citrus zest. Besides the classic sandwich with raspberry jam and tiny shapes (a nifty by-product from stamping out windows for the top half of the cookie sandwiches, which I decorated with coloured sugar), I also made a few large, Christmas ornament-style numbers for dramatic effect. The fun bit comes when giving the cut-outs a stained glass effect - there are many recipes which will tell you it's as easy as crushing some hard candies to fill the cut-outs and letting the oven do the rest. What they don't usually tell you is that some candy melts beautifully, others don't - definitely a trial and error process. For fool-proof shimmering crystalline panes every time, check out the method in The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion - bring mixture of sugar and corn syrup to hard-crack stage (300 to 310 °F), colour and flavour as you wish, then use syrup to fill the cut-outs; the syrup cools and sets into candy centers.

The rest of the cookie assortment: Chocolate Shortbread, Checkerboard Cookies (both recipes adapted from Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited), and Orange Vanilla Shortbread (from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking). My favourite cookie of the bunch (the Lavishly Lemony ones, also from Carole Walter's Great Cookies) happens to be the one I didn't get a chance to take a picture of - I took these photographs after the fact, of "spares" I'd left at home. W, as it turns out, liked them as much as I did.

Catering for 20 to 25 people was made manageable as small group sessions were staggered throughout the day. What this also meant was that the never-ending tea party, mid-way through the veritable Groundhog Day, felt like the day that would never end. For sure, I'm in no rush to go call upon the decorative values of sweetheart paillettes, sweetheart nesting cutters or sweetheart molds anytime soon (and you won't catch me listening to Chris Isaak). But would I do it again? In a heartbeat. The planning, the build-up, the process, the adrenaline rush - there's nothing like it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

stunning, all of it! i love the juxtiposition of the upsized and shrunken, it's really cool. as always a beautiful photoshoot. i think one of these items alone would take hours. how lucky are those who attended.

5:06 am, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

stunning, all of it! i love the juxtiposition of the upsized and shrunken, it's really cool. as always a beautiful photoshoot. i think one of these items alone would take hours. how lucky are those who attended.

5:07 am, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It all looks absolutely amazing! I only wish that I could have been a tea party invite so I could have sampled these wares. Of course, I could just have my own...after I finish buying all these books that you've mentioned ;)

I think my favourite is those the large Linzer cookies with the sugar windows, mostly because the idea of doing that would never have occured to me! Bravo :D

5:45 am, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


J, everything is magnificent. And I love that you went with tried and true recipes for your first catering "job." It's an excellent point because I think sometimes we let our minds run away with all the possibilities and end up buried in details in particular with new recipes.

It's all just too beautiful!

5:49 am, October 08, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

J - you're truly an artist - these are all delectably cute & tempting! I just wish I had been at the party to try them all:)

7:26 am, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It all looks so delightful!! I love the heart shaped cookies with the stained-glass effect! The Raspberry & Chocolate Cake looks incredibly inviting - love the mould too! Wonderful!!!

10:38 am, October 08, 2006  
Blogger Veron said...

October is my chocolate month , I might give that rasberry and chocolate cake a try since it looks so yummy in your photograph!

10:46 am, October 08, 2006  
Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

These were simply amazing. Thanks so much for helping us with the event. Hopefully, this is a fabulous start to Gateaux Fabulous, the coolest bespoke cake and pastry shop in the region!

11:05 am, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your creations are gorgeous! I have always enjoyed your posts and your creations, but this really takes the cake! *pun fully intended*

I'm wondering what oven brand are you using at home? Am moving into a new place soon and am deciding which brand to buy for my oven. Thx!

1:59 pm, October 08, 2006  
Blogger Audrey Cooks said...

Hi J! I have been silently following your gorgeous posts. They are all so intimidatingly beautiful! and so, so time consuming. I must say u r the best so far when it comes to delicate, tedious and precise perfection! not to mention great photography skills! Cheers

3:53 pm, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It all looks so wonderful.

4:54 pm, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aiyo! i read blogs at nite, and now i need to find supper!

simply fab!

9:41 pm, October 08, 2006  
Blogger Cathy said...

Jocelyn it all looks really great and I'm sure it tasted even better. I'd be curious to hear more about the decision processes - did you have complete freedom in your choices or did they give you some guidelines? Also how did you decide how much to make?

10:10 pm, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh...the raspberry ones look delicious especially those "stained glass effect" ones.... could you count me in next time if you need help for such an event... i would love to take part in a chore or two...but most importantly... get to sample a cookie or two... :)

10:29 pm, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a stupendous collection of cookies and cakes. And I have to say that S's flag made that cake look so perfect. I mean who doesn't think Alice, the Mad Hatter and Wonderland when they think tea party.

Really great all around!

11:09 pm, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, you never cease to amaze and wow me. I'm pretty sure all the guests were wowed too!

All these creations are amazing. I love those cookies! I very much like the girly touch. Bravo.

11:57 pm, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Joycelyn, this is just how I imagined what a tea party in Alice in Wonderland would be, everything is SO pretty! I've tried adding hard boiled egg yolks into biscuits and was amazed how delicious they were. I can imagine all the guests went home feeling warm and happy, what a lovely party you created.

1:10 am, October 09, 2006  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Those are the cutest tags for the cake. I love that. I've just discovered your blog and will come back again and again! Your blog is wonderful.

1:34 am, October 09, 2006  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Fabulous! Every single one of them! I especially adore the Linzer cookies!
Great job J! Baking for people is always such a joy and you know it!

1:41 am, October 09, 2006  
Blogger *fanny* said...

I can only agree with Grace - you're my idol too.
I have to admit i'm fond of the cute/aliceinwonderland look.
I love the xmas ornament-style cookie. It looks so good.


2:43 am, October 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic. What a great idea and you could not have been a better choice. You are a talented cook and baker, so, pas de surprise, all looks delicieux!

7:14 pm, October 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pastry chef or not, this is still awe-inspiring. Well done J!

8:02 pm, October 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful, fun and playful. If you are not a professional, you certainly could (should!) be. Thanks for sharing the big day!

10:44 pm, October 09, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

Have you made that trip down to International Plaza yet?? You should...before someone else jumps on it! Alice In Wonderland never looked so FABULOUS...

12:49 am, October 10, 2006  
Blogger joanh said...

wow! so amazing!! WOW!

12:50 am, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just ABSOLUTELY fantastic! I love it. I know you weren't going for cute, but it still is pretty cute.

4:47 am, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know - I think you'd make a pretty fabulous pastry chef. Congrats on a wonderfully inventive and delicious looking gig!

7:59 am, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your attention to detail never ceases to amaze. quite the tea party

8:51 am, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These all look amazing. I am also attempting a similar project in the near future and completely understand the stress aspect of it. You've done amazingly well. The cookies with mini coloured sugar hearts are very impressive.

5:12 pm, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ahh, those are sooo cute!
almost TOO cute...;)
you've made the best tea party ever - I love everything - well done! =)

7:31 pm, October 10, 2006  
Blogger lf said...

beautifully done! i love the small decorative touches that you added.

12:21 am, October 11, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

It is so wonderful that you had the opportunity to push your creativity and your incredible skills in this way. Everything is whimsical and lovely. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

2:19 am, October 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe u shd think of going pro ? :)

11:07 am, October 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J,
I'm in complete awe! They all look picture perfect, but my favorite would be the one with the stained glass effect. I've tried something similar last christmas, but wasn't quite satisfied with the results. Maybe I just have to try harder ;)

1:16 pm, October 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been sitting here for the last twenty minutes stupefied and completely at a loss for words... This is so amazing, J! Of course I am not surprised in the least that you pulled it off, and of course I would only have expected such imagination, creativity, and finesse from you, but I am still mightily impressed. Well done! Might I sense a bright new future in boutique tea-party catering? ;)

5:32 am, October 12, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

Heart-breakingly beautiful J! And the animal cookies too are so charming...words don't do justice..

10:22 am, October 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow J, i'd love to have you at my party too :) as always beautiful products and pictures as well. well done!

2:36 pm, October 12, 2006  
Blogger andrea said...

Your cakes & cookies look absolutely too good to eat! And they perfectly capture the essence of Alice in Wonderland. :)

I'll contact you the next time I organise a dining or social event.

3:06 pm, October 12, 2006  
Blogger Jeanne said...

How utterly gorgeous! I want ALL of the cookies & cupcakes... Chubby Hubby and S know a good thing when they see one ;-)

8:24 pm, October 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you can feel free to call yourself a pastry chef. That looks beautiful!! Well done.

5:18 am, October 13, 2006  
Blogger Steffles said...

Congratulations J, your first catering job and you enjoyed it! The cookies were intricately gorgeous.

4:09 pm, October 13, 2006  
Blogger Edith said...

All these are simply gorgeous and not forgetting all those little details. It is really nice to see a passion being explored. Congratulation!

7:41 am, October 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely amazing, admire your skills indeed! You shd open a tea shoppe...

I must ask: where do you get those paper cases for your Devil's Food Cupcakes??

11:13 am, October 17, 2006  
Blogger allie said...

They look too nice to even eat it.

2:08 am, October 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are amazing!

10:21 am, October 18, 2006  
Blogger Tea4Me said...

Oh, Chai Spice Cake. How I would LOVE that recipe. Do you have it posted. It is my favorite tea and would love to try a cake with it.

Love your blog, BTW.

11:41 am, November 11, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having worked for several years as a pastry chef, I know exactly the stress you are talking about.
It isn't really the day to day routine that gets you, but the surprise order at the last minute, or the big function that really gets the blood a-pumping.
I should have known better when, in my first week as an apprentice, I found myself putting the finishing touches on plated desserts inside the walk-in freezer of a high-end restaurant.
I was freezing, my heart was racing, I was scared to death, and all I could think was "This is sooo cool!"

1:11 am, January 17, 2009  

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