Our kettle deserves a Légion d’honneur for its sterling service. Virtually every domestic appliance seems to have obsolescence built in at the design and/or manufacturing stage these days but our kettle goes on and on. It had already done splendid years of service before my Mr M met me five years ago and has since notched up endless kettle-equivalents to air miles. The reason is two-fold.
As I always feel the cold, I swear by hot water bottles (and cashmere socks). Secondly, I am a firm believer in the restorative power of a cup of tea. My mum gave me tea for the first time when I was about eight months and I have not really looked back. Tea has soothing, restorative and inspiring properties for me, akin to those of mother’s milk to a baby or chicken soup in a jewish household. Family dramas and professional crises miraculously become manageable after a cup of tea or two.
The simple acts of boiling the kettle, brewing a mug of tea (or if I am feeling really flushed for time a whole teapot) and sitting down to sip tea are rest, relaxation and meditation rolled into the one. They have been ever since I was a little girl, although my choice of tea has obviously moved on from PG Tips over the years. Whilst I good quality English Breakfast still hits the spot in the morning, my preference in the afternoon goes to a fine Earl Grey or a first flush Darjeeling – both without milk.
Adding a little something sweet turns the comforting interlude of a cup of tea into one of life’s daily feasts. A plain digestive biscuit or a slice of victoria sponge are classics but with the onset of the warmer weather I have been craving lemon flavours with my Earl Grey. And as part of my quest to limit sweet treats to home-made ones, I stumbled across a simple recipe that makes perfect lemon teapot biscuits.
The mixture of caster sugar and butter (4 oz of each), 8 oz of plain flour and an egg produce a biscuit that sits somewhere between buttery shortbread, hard-baked cookies and melt-in the mouth pastry – a texture that is further enhanced by using pasta flour instead of regular plain flour and by chilling the dough for an hour before rolling it out as with short crust pastry. Then flavour the mixture to taste: vanilla for classic restraint, orange zest for a summary zing, rosewater if the biscuits are to accompany fresh berries or in my case, unwaxed lemon zest for a refreshing citrus burst.
The dough is rolled to about 3 to 5 mm thick before stamping out the biscuits and popping them in the fridge for another half hour before baking them in a hot oven. I could of course have used a simple pastry cutter but the teapot cutter seemed appropriate as homage to my favourite beverage.
I had originally intended to ice my biscuits with lemon flavoured royal icing. As Mr M cannot abide the sweetness of icing, I was going to limit my artistic flourish to decorating the teapots with simple piped lines or even mirroring the outline of the shape. Before the biscuits had fully cooled, however, I tried part of a broken one. As the lemon flavour cut through the buttery decadence of this simple biscuit I decided that it would be sacrilege to detract from their intense gorgeousness. So instead, I tidied the kitchen and put the kettle on.
A little later I sank into the armchair with a well-deserved cup of tea and pale yellow teapot-shaped biscuit satisfied in the knowledge that I had a tin full of lemon-flavoured treats that will keep for up to a week, depending of course on how many tea breaks I have!