Afternoon Tea Week

Did you know there was such a thing? A whole week dedicated to Afternoon Tea? Well, we celebrate everything else on earth, so why not afternoon tea? And you need a week, really, not just a day, so you can sample the offerings of all the tea houses in your area.

Afternoon tea can be stiff, unimaginative, and poorly executed. It’s often expensive as well, which leaves me feeling foolish for indulging in something fancy that I didn’t really enjoy. When it is done right, however, it is divine.

Grey de Luxe, scented with Lemon Myrtle, native to Australia.

While in Melbourne, I had to try the Champagne Tea at The Hotel Windsor, the city’s longest running afternoon tea service. Very often, when visiting an iconic hotel, you come for the history and the ceremony, and hope the tea is good. Often it is not. But The Windsor was very, very good indeed. Better than good, by quite a bit.

We were greeted at the door by the most charming host, who delighted us with his explanations and accompanying witticisms. He poured our champagne promptly and with a generous hand. It was a warm welcome that put us at ease right away.

The champagne arrived first, Louis Roederer, to have with our sandwiches and savouries. While it was not inexpensive, the pricing was clear both for our meal and any additional glasses (which of course we had to have).

The savouries and sandwiches were very nice. Fresh, not soggy as happens in some famed Toronto establishments, with classic flavours done well. We had artichoke mini-quiches and a mushroom-truffle bit of decadence before our traditional trio of chicken Waldorf salad, egg salad and cucumber fingers. We were too hungry to snap a photo before we devoured the tray, so you’ll just have to trust me that they were lovely.

The tea came next with the sweets. Clearly, tea treated with reverence here, as cherished as coffee is to coffee lovers. Each selection was brewed perfectly. The signature black tea was a blend of the harvest of three Ceylon teas, with notes of honey and wet cedar. I had the Grey de Luxe, which uses Australian lemon myrtle in place of the traditional bergamot. A softer, less bitter finish, best had straight up.

Our many coloured sweet stack had a little bit of everything: apple and caramel, strawberry and rhubarb, yuzu and passionfruit, lemon poppyseed, and of course chocolate hazelnut. All quite as good to eat they were to behold, but the scones were the thing.

The scones were two distinct textures. The first was closer in texture to a traditional scone, but lighter and less flaky. The next scone was fluffier still, with slightly more distinct crumb, and heavenly flavours. Much like a hot cross bun, it was scented with a spice mixture and candied peel, but lemon rather than orange, just to remind you where you were. I found this extremely pleasing and will borrow this concept come Easter.

Oh and the clotted cream! Silky smooth, the barest hint of sour for complexity, and rich yet airy. We were encouraged to ask for seconds if we wanted them, and we did. And thirds.

As my companion said, it was all very traditional except for the palm trees outside the window, but that’s a very Canadian perspective. To Australians, this is the penultimate tea, the longest running tea service in Melbourne. Only the pandemic shut it down; it carried on through two world wars and the Depression since its opening in 1883. Christmas lunch was instituted in 1963 as the only variation from the daily schedule. Small wonder the whole event was flawless; they’ve had a bit of time to perfect it.

The Hotel Windsor was exactly what we were looking for in afternoon tea, and I’m grateful to have experienced such a delightful venue. So quintessentially Australian: proudly patriotic, dedicated to excellence and yet down-to-earth. A note to travellers: if you take afternoon tea on a Tuesday through Thursday, you are eligible for a discount on a room.

Wishing you happy sipping this Afternoon Tea Week!

Caramel & Almond Meringue Roulade, Revised

Of all the desserts I’ve ever made, this one has received the highest reviews and praise from family and friends. The absolute crowd favourite. And that includes crème brûlée and the River Café’s flourless chocolate cake. Mascarpone fluffed with whipping cream, bittersweet caramel, toasted almonds, all folded into a craggy, cracked meringue, then covered in more caramel sauce and crushed praline. How could this NOT be the new decadent dream?

Don’t let the many steps put you off making this recipe. The caramel sauce and almond meringue can be made ahead, so that once your meringue is done, you really don’t have much to do but whip together the filling and roll it all up.

Glorious in its lazy, soft rolled form. This dessert is heaven itself.

This recipe was given to me by my lovely friend Jan, who cut it out from a magazine. When I lost my physical copy the night before a party, I frantically messaged her and she kindly photographed it and sent it. Once armed with the document, I was determined not to lose it again, so I also photographed it and saved it. Thank goodness, because the digital copy she sent me has disappeared once again into the ether.

Now that I have the name, I performed an online search and found that it’s an LCBO recipe! Which makes sense, because Food & Drink recipes rarely let me down. I have made a few modifications, however, that I think are crucial to its success.

I have tried the egg washed toasted almonds several times, and they can easily turn tacky and gluey, unless you’ve got a lot of extra time to dry them out in the oven. It is far easier just to use plain toasted almonds, but I have made them into a praline by making extra caramel, which hardens on the almonds and is crushed into powder to be dusted on top. There is usually leftover for another dessert. If you like the idea of the crispy almonds toasted in egg white and sugar, then add a splash of water to the egg wash to dilute it a little. But because this dessert isn’t overly sweet thanks to the mascarpone, I say add some crunch and and burnt sugar with the easy almond praline.

I have also doubled the filling for a bigger, messier, more Nigella-esque concoction. Luxurious, decadent, a glorious caramel meringue schlump. Where I did keep to the original, however, was the caramel. I tend to favour a brown sugar/butter/whipping cream caramel sauce on top of butterscotch pudding, but this burnt sugar and water sauce really does offset the sweetness for a perfectly balanced flavour combination.

The last time I made it, I added some espresso powder to the caramel mascarpone filling, and it was divine. And I don’t drink coffee. But it added just the perfect note. Make this your deconstructed Yule log, and you’ll never look back.

This recipe really deserved a better photo shoot, so I’ll likely make it again for just that purpose. I’m sure I won’t have any trouble finding a home for this most beloved of all creations.

Caramel & Almond Meringue Roulade, Revised

Meringue wrapped around a tangy mascarpone frosting with bittersweet caramel and toasted almond praline. Original recipe by JOANNE YOLLES for the LCBO's Food & Drink Magazine.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, British, Canadian
Keyword: #almond meringue, #caramel, #meringue, #yulelog


Almond Praline

  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup sugar (preferably caster sugar)
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup water

Caramel Sauce

  • cup granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 pinch sea salt

Aloud Meringue

  • 1 cup ground almonds (almond flour)
  • 1⅛ cup sugar
  • tsp cornstarch
  • ¾ cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs), at room temperature
  • 1 tsp  vinegar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • ½ cup Icing sugar for decoration

Caramel Filling

  • 1 cup caramel sauce
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder (optional)


Almond Praline

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (150°C)
  • Place flaked almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the almonds develop a light golden color.
  • Lined a rimmed baking sheet (if using the same one, remove almonds to a bowl (or plate) with parchment paper and paint with a thin layer of neutral flavoured vegetable oil.
  • Place sugar, salt and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring it over medium heat. Swirl the pan regularly to distribute the heat and prevent burning. Once the sugar dissolves and turns into a beautiful golden colour, remove the pan from the heat.
  • Add sliced almonds and fold in gently with a spatula.
    Working quickly, spread them across the greased baking sheet until fairly uniform. Let cool for an hour.
  • Once cool, roughly break apart the praline and place it in a food processor. Pulse a few times until you have smallish crumbs. Measure out about 1 cup/150grams of the mixture and set aside until time to use.
  • This step can be done up to a week ahead.

Caramel Sauce

  • Place the sugar in a small saucepan and add the water. Place over high heat and cover the pot with a lid. As soon as the sugar is completely dissolved and boiling, remove the lid.
  • Continue boiling until the syrup caramelizes and turns a golden amber colour, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
    Recipes for caramel always say not to stir but if you notice it getting too dark in one area (as can happen with gas or an uneven element), swirl very gently, getting as little as possible on the sides of the pot.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add 1 cup (250 mL) of the whipping cream (the mixture will bubble up), whisking until smooth. Pour the hot caramel into a heatproof glass measuring cup and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 2 hours.
    You can make the sauce a couple of days ahead.

Almond Meringue

  • For the almond meringue, set the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
    Line a 12 x 17-inch (30 x43‑cm) sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine the ground almonds, 2 tbsp (30 mL) sugar, and the cornstarch.
  • Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin mixing the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating to soft peaks. Add the remaining 1 cup (250 mL) sugar in a slow stream.
  • Once all the sugar is added, stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula. Continue beating until the whites form stiff shiny peaks. Add the vinegar and almond extract and mix just to combine.
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently but thoroughly fold the ground-almond mixture into the meringue, one-third at a time.
  • Spread the meringue in the pan, levelling the top. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and very lightly press them in with your hand.
  • Place in the oven, and immediately reduce the temperature to 275°F (140°C).
    Bake until the meringue is set and light golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  • Sift icing sugar over a clean sheet of parchment paper and turn the meringue out onto the paper, almond-side down. Carefully remove the parchment liner.

Caramel Filling

  • To finish the caramel filling, place 1 cup (250 mL) of the cooled caramel, the remaining 1 cup (250 mL) of whipping cream, and the mascarpone in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat together until stiff.
  • If you like coffee, cream and caramel, add 1 tbsp espresso powder with the other ingredients. (HINT: it's amazing!)

Tie it all together!

  • Spread the cream evenly over the meringue. Starting at the long side farthest away from you, roll up the meringue, using the paper as a lever. The meringue will crack.
    Wrap the roulade in foil and refrigerate until serving time.
  • To serve, drizzle remaining caramel sauce all over and sprinkle with almond praline. Slice and devour.


Avoid making almond praline on humid days.
Caster sugar works best in this recipe, but granulated is fine, too. Granulated can easily become caster sugar with a few blitzing pulses in the food processor. has superfine almond flour which makes for a lighter meringue. But the No Frills brand works as well. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Lady Baker’s Christmas Tea

I had the chance to try a few seasonal teas this Christmas season from Lady Baker’s Tea, one of my favourite Canadian tea merchants. The ladies behind this little PEI company have an incredible range of customers from across North America, as I know from interviewing them for my recent article in SIP Magazine on the importance of shopping locally (see my book review in the last issue on page 50). Some of that is due to the educational blog that helps people learn more about tea. Some of it is due to the unique blends they create.

The three Christmas flavours I tried were Vienna Eggnog, Peppermint Swirl, and Cardamom Magic. They’ve also got a more typical Christmas spice blend, Holiday Harmony Spice.

Peppermint Swirl is unlike your typical holiday peppermint tea. More substantial than a strictly herbal tea, and less tannic than a black tea, this tea sits at a nice crossroads between hearty and light. The fine green tea shines when brewed at 80°C, providing a thick infusion with bright leaf that balances nicely with the mint.

The Cardamom Magic is a surprising blend. Fragrant, citrusy cardamom and honey-toned Sri Lankan black tea are brightened by hibiscus and almond. Pairs equally well with date bread in the afternoon or as a finish to a heavy meal of duck or roast beef.

The Vienna Eggnog is my favourite, but then I adore eggnog. And this blend does not let me down! A little rum and I might think I was drinking the real thing! Okay, not quite, but this is zero calories and tastes divine.

A pot of any one of theses will make you feel like Christmas is in the air. Stay warm and cozy, and drink more tea!

Perfect Crème Brûlée

An elegant, always delightful, classic dessert. Perfect for holiday dinners or dessert tables. Easier than you think, and perfect to make ahead. The last-minute scorching of the sugar is festive and interactive, so no need to stress about that final touch. 

I do have the perfect recipe, given to me by the talented Brett Leitch, who taught it to me at George Brown. This recipe is in metric because it’s precise, but I’ve done my best to translate it to Imperial (American, not British) below. 

The thing most people don’t realise about crème brûlée is that it’s not about the recipe or even the freshness and purity of the ingredients: it’s about the technique. Happily, that’s a simple one. 

Get a sous vide machine. Already have one? You’re about to love it even more. Don’t have one? Don’t wait for Christmas. Get thee hence to a store (or a keyboard) and get yourself one! 

Making these delightful little custards with the sous vide device will add a lightness and silkiness that is to die for. You can bake these in a water bath in the oven and they will be perfectly nice. But for an incredible mouthfeel, you know what to do.

The other secret to to buy a fine mesh strainer. No tiny globules of cooked egg for us, please! Melting, smooth, flawless texture. 

Perfect on their own, or with a Christmas cookie, or a mini-poached pear, or a fruit compote, or just a glass of dessert wine. 

Perfect Crème Brûlée

A sous vide version of this French classic that is sure to turn out flawlessly every time.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: French
Keyword: #cremebrulee, #frenchcuisine, #frenchcustard


  • Sous vide device.
  • 8-10 mason jars, 125 mL
  • Blow torch


  • 160 grams egg yolks (approximately 11)
  • 90 grams sugar
  • 3 grams salt
  • 600 mL 35% whipping cream
  • Sugar, as needed
  • 1 piece vanilla piece


  • Heat water bath to 80°C (176°F).
  • Whisk together egg yolks, sugar and salt.
  • Heat cream slowly in a small pot. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla pod into the cream, whisking gently. Heat to 70°C (158°F).
  • Slowly pour cream into egg mixture, bit by bit, whisking all the time, until it's fully incorporated.
  • Strain mixture into a large measuring cup using a fine mesh strainer.
  • Pour slowly into mason jars, stopping approximately 1 centimetre from the top.
  • Seal jars fingertip tight. (This means just until one big turn seals it gently. Do not twist it so tight that no bubbles can escape.)
  • Using tongs, carefully place in water. Cook for one hour.
  • Place in an ice bath until fully chilled. At this point, they will keep for several days before finishing.
  • Remove the lid and sprinkle the top with sugar until a thin layer. Aim the flame from your blow torch at the centre and move it around the the edges. Swirl the runny sugar if need be to catch all the sugar patches. Continue until sugar is deeply caramelized. Let topping set for a minute before garnishing with fruit. Serve right away.


Don’t be tempted to use vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean. The liquid will affect the texture of the custard. Use non-liquid flavourings like lemon or orange zest, a cinnamon stick, espresso powder, or microground tea. 
If using lemon zest, use as fine of a grater as possible, or try blitzing it with the sugar in a mini-food processor first. Or add strips of zest to the cream, then pick them out. Let them sit in the cream for 10 minutes and re-heat. 
Fat-soluble chocolate flavourings could work as well. 
Make sure your mason jars are clean and sterile. 
The beauty of a long, slow cook like sous vide is that times ate a little more forgiving than an oven-baked custard. If you need another few minutes, no harm will come to your custards. 
Imperial measurements: at your own risk. Use metric form perfect consistency.
11 egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 1/8 cups cream, 2 big pinches of salt. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

This feels like a good time to remind you that I have the best ever pumpkin spice muffin recipe in the whole wide world. I don’t care what renowned bakers you may refer to; unless they are using this recipe, their pumpkin muffin recipe is not the best. Stays moist for days, full of protein, spiced just right. Works as a loaf, too.

This time I made the muffin batter in an 8X8 inch pan as a snacking cake, since I thought that would make a lovely host for my Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting. Turns out, I was right!

Cream cheese frosting can be sticky, gummy or sickly sweet due to the use of powdered sugar. Not only does it have a particular taste, but it has thickners that mess with the texture of your frosting. Plain granulated sugar can have a gritty, tooth-scratching mouthfeel. I have used my Really, Really Strong Earl Grey Simple Syrup to add silky sweetness and Earl Grey flavour. And I don’t mean just bergamot—with this recipe, you get the flavour of the microground tea as well. Because it’s dissolved into syrup, you have no silty texture to trouble you one bit. I have made the syrup here a little stronger than the original recipe to stand up to the cream cheese.

I tried Stella Park’s trick of whipping some cream first and adding that to the cream cheese, but the little bits of cream cheese were too many and too large for my liking. You’ll always get a few tiny little lumps with cream cheese, but if you use the whip attachment, they’ll be imperceptible. Whipping cream also made this too soft, and there’s really no need, since the powdered tea and sugar have both dissolved in the hot water already.

This frosting is perfect for orange cake, carrot cake, soft pumpkin cookies (NYT has a great new recipe). It would even be nice on a delicate white cake, layered thin and alternating with marmalade. Anywhere you might like a cream cheese frosting. Plus a little extra.

What is microground tea? Also known as superfine or latté blend tea, microground tea is the actual tea leaf that has been slowly ground down to a dissolvable powder that blends easily into milk. Turns out, make a great addition to baking as well. Not to mention cocktails, like my Earl Grey in Moscow.

Microground Earl Grey is available for purchase from Sloane, Genuine Tea, Tea Squared, and many more local tea companies. I’ve tried these three and liked them all.

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

Earl Grey Simple Syrup adds strong flavour and silky smoothness to this easy cream cheese frosting.
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Canadian
Keyword: #afternoontea, #creamcheese, #creamcheesefrosting, #earlgrey, #earlgreysimplesyrup, #pumpkinspice, #pumpkinspicemuffins


  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 heaping tbsp microground Earl Grey tea
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  • Boil water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
  • Add microground tea and do the same.
  • Turn off heat. Add vanilla extract.
    If you have some old vanilla beans hanging around, you can throw them in too, but they tend to be drowned out by the tea.
  • Let cool to room temperature. Easy enough to make ahead, especially before you start your cake/muffins/loaf/what-have-you.
  • Dice one block of cream cheese and add to bowl of stand mixer. Add in Earl Grey Simple syrup slowly on low to blend, then use whisk attachment to whip until light and throughly blended, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Chill until needed. Enjoy!


This simple syrup makes a nice sweet flavouring for whipped cream as well! Or you can use sugar and microground tea, but give it time to sit to allow the flavour to permeate the fat in the cream. 
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!