For someone who is as immersed in coffee-shop culture as a tea-bag is in hot water, I have only just tried bubble tea. Sure I’ve heard about it before but never had the chance to try it due to it not being sold in a lot of the places I frequent. I frequent a lot of places but maybe I’m just not going to the right ones!
On one of our rare super-hot days, I saw a poster on the window of a trendy coffee shop near where I live, advertising bubble tea: a drink that consisted of what I thought were little pearls of sago floating around in a milky liquid. It closely resembled the Indian dessert/drink falooda, and looked so delicious and refreshing – just perfect on such a hot day – so I thought I’d give it a go.
The drink came in three yummy sounding flavours: strawberry, mango, and coconut. The mango sounded especially delicious so I selected that and waited to discover the mystery that is bubble tea.
WHAT IS BUBBLE TEA?
Also known as pearl milk tea or boba milk tea, bubble tea originated from Taiwan in the 1980s. It’s typically a tea base mixed with milk or fruit with large tapioca balls thrown in – the ‘bubbles’! The earliest form of bubble tea was a mixture of black tea, tapioca pearls, syrup, and condensed milk.
There are many different variations of this drink. You can either get milk-based or fruit-flavoured teas, although some shops tend to sell a mixture of the two. There are fruit smoothies made using crushed fruit, and versions using blended ice which has a more slushy consistency. Milk smoothies are based on a similar concept except that they don’t contain any tea! In some drinks, the tapioca is replaced with jelly cubes, aloe, sago or taro balls. So many variations of one drink!
As I am quite familiar with the culinary delights of South-East Asia, I thought I knew what to expect and was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it was nothing like I had expected. The drink – which was not as chilled as I would have liked – had the consistency and taste of watered down milk and I very much doubt there was any tea in it. And watered down milk was the only real flavour I could taste; if I had not ordered mango, I wouldn’t have known what flavour it was supposed to be. And the ‘bubbles’ were not chewy tapioca at all but rather small balls filled with a syrupy type mixture which looked a lot like the gel balls I place in vases for flower arrangements. I have to say that although I was disappointed to have not had real tapioca or sago, I found these ‘syrupy bubbles’ to be quite interesting: the slightest pressure from your tongue would cause these bubbles to burst releasing the mango-flavoured syrup. It was like bubble wrap for your mouth – once you started popping them you couldn’t stop!
Has it put me off drinking bubble tea in the future? Of course not! This was in no way the real deal but a pseudo-bubble tea, created mainly, I believe, for the novelty factor.
I look forward to trying the real stuff at some point!
Another one of our guilty viewing pleasures is The Great British Baking Off – I suppose you could say that Mr. D and I are huge fans of any kind of culinary competition. During the first episode which focused on scrummy cakes, I was particularly fascinated by the grapefruit cake whipped up by contestant, Beca. I’m a huge fan of cakes made using lemon, orange, or lime but it never occurred to me that I could use grapefruit – which just happens to be one of my favourite citrus fruits. So here’s Beca’s recipe for her grapefruit cake. I love mascarpone and any kind of fruit curd so I’m going to have a go at making it myself but somehow I doubt it’ll be as great as Beca’s!
- For the grapefruit curd
- For the candied grapefruit peel
- For the cake
- For the grapefruit sugar syrup
- For the mascarpone cream
- For the grapefruit curd, place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the butter in the bowl before adding all the other ingredients and whisk with an electric hand-held mixer until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to set further. (You will make more grapefruit curd than you need for the cake. Refrigerate the rest and eat within a week.)
- For the candied grapefruit peel, peel the grapefruit and cut the peel to the desired length and width. Place in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Boil for 10-15 seconds and then drain the peel. Return the peel to the same saucepan and add the sugar with 75ml/2½fl oz of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the liquid is syrupy. Drain the peel and coat in more caster sugar before leaving to cool and dry on a wire rack.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C(fan)/Gas 4. Grease and line 2 x 20cm/8in sandwich tins.
- For the cake, mix all the ingredients together in an electric mixer. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the tins for five minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
- Meanwhile, for the grapefruit sugar syrup, place the grapefruit juice and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for around five minutes, or until the syrup begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
- While the cakes are still warm, pierce the surface with a cocktail stick all over. Drizzle the syrup evenly over both cakes. Allow to cool completely.
- For the mascarpone cream, whisk the ingredients together until thick and airy, but not too stiff.
- To decorate the cake, place the bottom layer of the cake onto a serving plate.
- Transfer a quarter of the mascarpone cream into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm/½in plain nozzle, and set aside. Then spread on half of the remaining mascarpone cream onto the cake. Spoon over a generous amount of the grapefruit curd – some curd may spill over the edges but don’t worry about this.
- Place the other cake on top and spread the remaining cream on top of the cake, smoothing it all over so that it is evenly distributed.
- Using the piping bag, pipe balls of icing around the edges and centre of the cake. Place a few strips of the candied peel on each ball of icing. Serve straight away, or refrigerate until ready to be devoured.