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Talking Tea with Bea Vo

Tea with Bea

Since opening its doors in 2008, London hotspot Bea’s of Bloomsbury has delighted its patrons with an enchanting atmosphere and bounty of beautiful pastries. Now the secrets to creating Bea’s most delicious confections are revealed in new cookbook Tea with Bea. Acclaimed American pastry chef, Bea Vo, chatted with us about her love of teatime and how she translated that into her new cookbook.

Find Bea's recipe for Gingerbread Guinness Cupcakes at the end of the interview!

As an American, what inspired you to hop the pond and take on the very English tradition of teatime baking with Bea’s of Bloomsbury?

I first visited London and then had a massive crush on a French chef I met (go figure). I was also in love with the vibrancy of the city, and how so many people from so many different backgrounds were able to connect. That and English strawberries--I literally wait for strawberry season so I can stuff myself silly.

As for teatime baking, being able to relax after a hard day's work with some cake, some friends, and tea to wash it down with, why shouldn't everyone give it a try? Less expensive than a therapy session I say.

Baking is a very precise and scientific undertaking that can easily go wrong. Any advise for beginning bakers?

Baking is precise and scientific but once you learn the basics, the rules come naturally. It's like playing a piano--you have chords, you have left hand and right hand, and there are all these rules, but once you really understand the rules, you can put out a good tune consistently. Baking is the same, but I feel people try to play it by ear more times than not. I hope the book helps correct that.

As you write, “Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world (except for water.)” What makes tea special?

I think tea is the ultimate portable drink—all you need is hot water (and not even that!) I think the breadth of the British Empire has helped make tea into what it is, and you wouldn't find a nation that is more in love with tea than the Brits.

How did you go about choosing the recipes for your cookbook?

Very simply, these are the same treats that we serve in our shop! And people are surprised they are the actual recipes, as I suppose some other places tend to doctor the recipes to preserve their secrets. But baking has traditionally always been a collaborative effort, with women trading treasured recipes back and forth--I think that should continue.

What was your biggest challenge while writing the book?

The biggest challenge was writing the book in between working at the shops, opening our St. Paul's location in London and consulting on our Bloomsbury's concept in Abu Dhabi. The concept 'day off' is a foreign one to me. Plus as I'm an American but have lived in London for so many years, I tend to spell certain words in either the British or American way depending on my mood-- a nightmare for my editor Celine Hughes!

Tea with Bea includes vegan and gluten-free recipes. Was it important to you that the book be accessible to a wide audience?

I think that the point of desserts is to provide a moment of happiness for people, and just because someone might have certain food restrictions doesn't mean they shouldn't get to enjoy our desserts as well. However, what we've made very very clear, is that these recipes are great, and just happen to be vegan or gluten-free. I think it's silly to eat a mediocre cake just because it fits your diet.

What’s next for you?

Well we're busy expanding here in London and abroad, but the second book is in the works. As the shop's been a chef's collective for years now and we've always changed our menu seasonally, we have an encyclopedia of recipes still unpublished.

--Interview by J.J. Seaman

For a detailed description & pricing information click here.

Gingerbread Guinness Cupcakes

Bea's Recipe

Having an Austrian chef for a husband means two things: you must love Lebkuchen and you must love beer. These cupcakes fulfil both desires. If you like ginger, you will love this cake. The Guinness stout adds earthiness to the cake and also reacts with the baking soda to make a beautiful soft and moist crumb. It works well as both a cake and cupcake, and if you’re feeling particularly playful, the best decorations are mini gingerbread men sprinkles.

Makes 24

• 250 ml/1 cup Guinness stout
• 250 g/3/4 cup black treacle/molasses
• 1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of/baking soda
• 280 g/2 cups plain/all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 tablespoon ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 3 eggs
• 100 g/1/2 cup caster/superfine sugar
• 100 g/1/2 cup dark brown soft sugar
• 1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
• 200 ml/3/4 cup sunflower oil
• chopped crystallized ginger, to decorate

• 225 g/1 cup cream cheese
• 60 g/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 175 g/1 1/2 cups icing/confectioners’ sugar, sifted
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons golden syrup
• muffin trays, lined with about 24 large cupcake cases
• piping bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle/tip


1.Preheat the oven to 170˚C (340˚F) Gas 5.

2. Put the Guinness and treacle in a tall saucepan (the next step will cause the mixture to bubble up violently and potentially overflow, so choose a very tall pan) and bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Remove from the heat and stir in the bicarbonate of/baking soda. Let stand until completely cool.

4. Put the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves in a bowl and stir until well blended.

5. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, both sugars and the grated fresh ginger. Gradually add the oil. Add the stout syrup and stir thoroughly.

6. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

7. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cupcake cases, filling them four-fifths of the way up (the mixture will not rise that much).

8. Bake in the preheated oven for 25–35 minutes until they feel springy to the touch. Remove the cupcakes from the muffin tray and let cool on a wire rack.

9. To make the golden cream cheese icing, put the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat until combined and glossy. Add the icing/confectioners’ sugar and beat until fluffy. Fold in the vanilla extract and golden syrup.

10. Fill the prepared piping bag with the icing and pipe onto the cupcakes. Top with a couple of pieces of crystallized ginger, to decorate.

VARIATION: to make into a layer cake instead of cupcakes, spoon the mixture into 2 x 20-cm/8-inch pans or 1 x 25-cm/10-inch pan and bake at 160˚C (315˚F) Gas 4 for 45–55 minutes (for the small pans) or 1 hour 15 minutes (for the large pan).

Copyright © 2011 by Bea Vo. Recipe reprinted from Tea with Bea with permission from Ryland Peters & Small .

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