c August 2014 | Garden, Tea, Cakes, (Books) and Me

Benthall Hall National Trust a Day Out in Shropshire

Not far from where I live is the National Trust property Benthall Hall, near Broseley, Shropshire.  A property I confess to having never visited before, an impromptu visit by my sister and I for tea and cake was called for. I am quite sure I checked the time they opened before we left but still managed to arrive twenty minutes before they opened!  

Benthall Hall Rose Garden
Benthall Hall is situated above the gorge of the River Severn, not far from Ironbridge. It is a stonehouse built in 1535 and part of the house is occupied by the Benthall family today.

It was a cooler and rather cloudy day and we did have to dodge a shower or two. We explored the garden first, there is a walled kitchen garden, though my favourite area was the Rose Garden with topiary trees and shrubs. A great location to sit and enjoy the flowers and history of this property. Next to the walled garden was the Elizabethan skittle alley, something for both children and adults to enjoy.

Beautiful raindrops on roses, sadly no whiskers on kittens
Benthall Hall's Magical Front Door
Entrance into the house was through this delightful front door, I felt as though I was about to step into a fairytale. There were some rather nice pieces of china in the house and you get a sneak peak at the wonderful floor tiles hidden and protected by the wooden flooring.

Benthall Hall National Trust in Shropshire
The tearoom is situated inside the house on the ground floor,  the call of tea and cake was too great and we decided to break up the tour of the house with a tearoom pit stop. The tearoom it self was in a plain room in the house, the service was polite and efficient with tea served in vintage china. I think I am rather spoilt by the tearoom at Sunnycroft which truly has to be one of the National Trust's most beautiful tearooms.
Carrot Cake and a cup of tea
There are two walks around the Benthall Estate to enjoy, the Woodland Walk and the Parkland Walk possibly not for a rainy day though. The standout area of the property was the Rose garden, a very picturesque setting  and definitely the jewel of this National Trust property.

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Fabric Pin Board Tutorial

This Fabric Pin Board tutorial really is very easy to follow. It took me longer to choose the fabric than it did to make the fabric pin board. I was quite pleased to have found a bargain of a cork pin board just £1.99 from B&M Bargins, although I did splash out on the fabric £12.99 a metre. 
Fabric Pin Board Tutorial
Easy to make Fabric Pin Board
Here is what you will need to make a fabric pin board?
  • Cork pin board 60cm x 40cm
  • Fabric 68cm x 48cm 
  • Wadding 68cm x 48cm
  • Ribbon 4 metres
  • Map pins (optional)
  • Staple gun and staples
  • Hooks for hanging

Things you need to make a Fabric Pin Board
Consider which way you plan to hang your pin board, portrait or landscape and make sure you cut out your fabric so the pattern is in the right direction.

Step 1   Measure and cut out the fabric, I used pinking scissors to help prevent fraying. Iron the fabric.

Step 2   Measure and cut out the wadding.
Pin board - wadding - fabric
Step 3   Place your fabric on the table so you are looking at the wrong side, place the wadding on top of this. Place your pin board cork side down. I then used one pin on each edge to lightly secure the fabric to the back of the pin board, turn over and make sure you are happy with how it looks. 

Step 4   Turn back over and using a staple gun staple through the fabric and wadding onto the wooden frame.  Fold the corners so that you do not have a lot of bulk showing. 
Take care of the corners
Step 5   If needed trim any excess fabric showing at the back, I know some of you will have allowed for extra, just in case.
Make your own Fabric Pin Board
Step 6   Add ribbon making sure there is some tension to it. Stapling to the back as with the fabric.  There is no wrong or right way to do this just depends how much room you need to secure notes/photos or items to your pin board. Push through a map pin where the ribbons cross.  
Update - you should push your map pins up at an angle, this way they are less likely to come loose.

Step 7   Fixing to the wall. My cork board came with wall fixings, which I screwed through the fabric into the top of surrounding wood using my hands. 
Fabric Pin Board with Ribbon
I hope you find this tutorial useful, if you do make a pin board yourself please leave me a comment with a link to it, I would love to see it. 
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Recipe Mini Eclairs with Violet Essence Icing

I have discover choux pastry with this easy bake Mini Eclairs with violet essence icing. I was inspired  by the Rose Eclairs I had at my Fortnum and Mason Afternoon Tea, this was my first time at making choux pastry, which I have to say is one of the easiest pastries to make - or is that just beginners luck.

Recipe for Eclairs with Violet Essence Icing
This recipe creates a light fragrant petite cream cake, that taste of Summer. The Mini Violet Eclairs recipe was the perfect edition for the recent Afternoon Tea held in the garden last month. 

Recipe - Mini Eclairs with Violet Essence Icing

  • saucepan
  • wooden spoon 
  • scales  
  • baking tray
  • baking parchment 
  • piping bag
  • elair nozzle (optional)
  • whisk
  • bowl
  • sieve

makes 12

33g plain flour
75ml water
pinch of salt
25g butter
1 beaten egg

icing sugar
violet essence
purple food colouring (optional)
1 small carton of double cream

  • Heat oven to 200 degrees c.
  • put the water and butter into a saucepan, heat slowly until it melts
  • bring to a brisk boil
  • Remove saucepan from heat, add flour and stir quickly. The mixture will form into a soft dough, leaving the saucepan sides clean.
  • Allow to cool slightly, then gradually add the egg and beat hard until you have a smooth and shiny mixture.
  • Place the mixture into a piping bag, use a wide round nozzle or just snip the end off a piping bag. 
Piped Choux Pastry for Eclairs
  • Pipe onto the lined baking tray. For the mini eclair pipe the mixture to a length of 8 cms. If you do not have a piping bag then use spoons dipped in water and place blobs of the mixture you will end up with choux pastry like those used in profiteroles.
  • If your piping is not very even or one of the ends is sticking up, dip a fork in water and slightly even the piped mixture. But do not squish it!
  • Bake in oven for 10 minutes on 200 degrees c. Bake for a further 12 minutes on 180 degrees C.
  • Turn off oven and remove pastry from oven, make a small slit at the end of each eclair, then place back in oven to dry out for 5 minutes.
  • Then leave to cool on a wire rack.
Mini Eclairs Recipe

Filling with cream

Fill the choux pastry fingers with double cream, whipped to a thick but soft consistency, so that you can still pipe it. You can either pipe the cream into the choux finger using a special eclair nozzle. Or you can cut the choux finger in half sideways and then add the cream.

To make the violet icing

125g icing sugar sifted
25ml water approx
1-2 drops violet essence
purple food colouring
  • You want to aim for a thick but spreadable consistency.
  • gradually add the water to the icing sugar, mixing gently at first then whisk well to remove any lumps. 
  • Add the drop of essence, taste the icing to see if you need a drop more. 
  • Add a tiny amount of the food colouring, you want to a achieve a light lilac colour.
  • You should have a thick but spreadable consistency.
  • Either spread the icing with a palette knife or dip the eclair into the icing to cover the top. 
  • Leave to set on a wire rack.
Mini Eclairs Recipe with Fragrant Violet  Icing

Other recipes you may like to try:-
Chocolate Chip Shortbread
Vanilla Macaroons

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How to Store Apples

I am going to explain how I store my harvest of eating and cooking apples. Apples are usually ready for harvesting during September, some of them you will eat or bake with. Quite often though you can be left with an excess of apples. For those apples that are in good condition ie no bruises and blemish free you can store them. Storing apples over winter is a great way to save money and still enjoy fruit during the winter. Cooking apples are delicious baked with sweet mincemeat and oats, or maybe you just fancy apple pie. 
Storing apples over winter
How to store apples
Picking apples - you will know if an apple is ripe as it should come away from the tree with a small twist.

Storing apples - you must have a perfect apple for it to store well. No marks, bruises or blemishes so pick them carefully and inspect them well.

You do not need a fancy wooden apple store, I will show you how to store apples using old newspaper and reusing old office trays.
  1. Select suitable apples to store - no blemishes, bruises or marks.
  2. Wipe the apple with a clean rag
  3. Cut or tear your newspaper into squares, the size will depend on how big your apples are.
  4. Place the apple upside down, in the centre of the newspaper, taking each corner of the newspaper to the top of the apple, these can overlap.
  5. Place the wrapped apple right side up on an old office organiser tray.
  6. Store in a cool dark place, I store mine in the garage.
  7. Check the apples every 3 to 4 weeks, remove any apples that are starting to rot so they do not affect any of the surrounding apples. Usually you can smell a sweet fruit smell if there is an apple that is starting to turn bad.
I have used this method for storing apples for the last 6 years successfully. Here is hoping for a bumper harvest of apples this year.

How to store apples using old desk trays and newspaper
Storing apples

Do you store any fruits or vegetables over winter?
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Afternoon Tea in the Garden

An afternoon tea in the garden, how very English of me. A belated Christmas gift for my brothers girlfriend, a wonderful setting with perfect weather and the garden looking rather good too. The afternoon tea menu featured a new bake for me of choux pastry to make the Violet Eclairs - which incidentally were divine.

Afternoon Tea Cakes
11-17 August is afternoon tea week, so why not join in. I really enjoy baking and putting everything together to host an afternoon tea. But I am aware not everyone has the time or feels happy baking, you can still host your own afternoon tea by buying your cakes and bakes - create your own afternoon tea menu.

Afternoon Tea  - cucumber sandwiches
Afternoon Tea Menu

Beef finger sandwiches 
Cucumber finger sandwiches
Cheese Scones


Violet Eclairs
Sultana scones
Rhubarb and Gooseberry Fairy Cakes
Earl Grey Teabread


Twinnings English Breakfast tea

There were a few cheats with my garden afternoon tea, I am not sure if you have spotted them. I did not have any loose tea so used tea bags! Also on this occasion I did not want to waste the crusts so kept them on the sandwiches.

Afternoon Tea Cakes
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National Trust visit to Croft Castle

The National Trust property Croft Castle is just over the Shropshire border into Herefordshire, so not at all far from me. It is not a property I have visited previously so was a little unsure what to expect. Croft Castle is a manor house and does not look like a typical castle, that is if a castle has a typical look. The Croft Estate was established back in the year 1055 by a Norman Knight, the house and estate are of a considerable age.

Croft Castle walled garden
We first explored the grounds, there is a wonderful large walled garden, laid out with many different planting schemes :- a vineyard, roses, a pond, fruit and vegetables, flowers and lawn.  There was a small area with a display of poppies to commemorate the First World War.    The glasshouse is currently part of a restoration project and requires quite a lot of work to bring it back to its heyday.

Croft Castle gardens
The weather whilst not glorious sunshine was warm and a little cloudy, still good weather to enjoy our picnic. I can not comment on the tearoom as we did not use it, may be on my next visit.

Croft Castle - Saloon

Next we explored the castle, which felt more like a house than a castle. There were two rooms within the house that stood out and were especially enjoyable. The Saloon is set for the period of 1920's there was a pianist playing the piano and we were encouraged to sit, take time and enjoy the room and the ambiance. There were wonderful views from the windows of the Croft Estate and surrounding Herefordshire countryside. 

Croft Castle Hunt Ball
I was also captivated by the dining room, which was laid out for a hunt ball during the 1930's. There was some background noise being played which gave the room the sounds and feel of guests gathering for the hunt ball.

If my day is an example of a typical visit to Croft Castle then you can expect to experience a relaxed, enjoyable and atmospheric visit. 

Other National Trust properties visited:-
Baddesley Clinton

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Giveaway winner announcement

**Winner Announcement**

The lucky winner of the Liberty Notebook has now been drawn and congratulations go to:-

Lucy Bishop

I have sent you a tweet so please reply with your contact details to "gardenteacakesandme@gmail.com" and I will make sure your lovely prize is posted straight away. Thank you to everyone who entered, sharing you favourite bakes or places to visit.

I used randomiser to select a winner which as you can see in the screen shot below was comment no. 4.

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Time for a Life Change

For quite sometime members of my family have been nagging me suggesting to me that I should consider making some changes to my work/life balance. 
Earlier this year as you may know I has been poorly for the second time in six months, linked to my scoliosis. Following advise from my consultant I decided it was time for action, time to put myself first. I put my request into work to reduce my working week to two days, and thankfully for me it was accepted. That was back in April, and it is probably only in the last month that I feel I have embraced it and not felt as if I was on annual leave.

I have rediscovered my sewing machine, reading books, meeting friends for a coffee and catchup. But more importantly relaxing and living a healthy lifestyle which still includes cake.

You can expect lots more blogging about my new love of sewing. I have already made a new cover for my sewing machine, a cushion and most impressively a skirt!

Are you putting off that life change or a decision waiting to be made? Take that step, gain control and make it happen. You are the only one to put change into your life. Gosh that is all very positive of me! Happy times ahead. 
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Chewy Toffee and Salted Cashew Nut Cookies - No Bake Recipe

No Bake Recipe, Chewy Toffee and Cashew Nut Cookies - I baked these having spotted the recipe as part of a book launch promotion by Quercus books for No Bake Baking book, where you will also find the source of the recipe. There are just four ingredients to make these no bake biscuits, so very simple and tasty.
Recipe - Chewy Toffee and Salted Cashew Nut Cookies

  • saucepan
  • 40 cm length of parchment paper
  • scales  
  • wooden spoon  
  • tray

makes 22

250g individually wrapped toffees2 tbsp double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g salted cashew nuts

  • Cut the parchment paper
  • Unwrap the toffees and put into the saucepan along with the cream and vanilla.
  • Warm on a gentle heat and stir constantly.
  • Once all melted stir in the cashew nuts.
  • Quickly spread the mixture into a thick sausage shape on to the  centre of the parchment paper measuring 22cms. There is a great tip to use rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat of the toffee.
  • Roll the parchment paper around the toffee, twisting the ends. 
  • Pop onto a tray to cool for 30 minutes then place in the fridge to chill for 1 hour until set firm.
  • Remove the paper, using a sharp knife cut into 22 pieces approx 1 cm thick.
They store for 3-4 days in a fridge but I am sure they will not last that long!

Other recipes you may like to try:-
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Add a finishing touch with Jennifer’s Cutlery - Review

Whether you are hosting an afternoon tea or just coffee and cake for family or friends. It can be the small things, the attention to detail, that makes a difference. 
Antique Cutlery 

I confess to having a small collection of antique teaspoons, tea and butter knives and a vintage style cake slice and spoons for serving those important dollops of cream and jam on warm scones. They usually always receive a compliment or two.

My rather special cutlery tray
Now I know you are thinking antique equals expensive. It can be pricey but the key is looking for the small pieces in sterling silver or silver plate, just as pretty and practical but at an affordable price.

Do not have an antiques shop near you? Or maybe you are a little anxious about going into one. Fear no more you can shop from the comfort of your armchair at Jennifer’s Cutlery. Jennifer has been an antique dealer for 30 years and for the last 5 years took the decision to concentrate on tableware and cutlery.

Affordable silver cutlery
You can buy a set of 1950's silver plated cake forks from just £10 or a cake slice from £7.50, which includes free delivery. I did spot some gorgeous English Silver and Mother of Pearl tea knives £155 or a stainless silver version still with mother of pearl handles £39. Both complete with a velvet lined case – there is something sumptuous about silver nestled in a velvet lined case.
Silver spoons - can you see the owls?
My items arrived gift wrapped in tissue paper and fabric ribbon, adding to the excitement of receiving and unveiling them.

Do treat yourself or gift to a friend, some special cutlery. But do remember one important thing, to use them. Do not save them for those extra special occasions that happen to infrequently, use them to make any impromptu tea and cake - special.

Silk lined case of Silver Spoons
I was kindly sent some antique cutlery for the purposes of this review, all opinions expressed are my own.

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