The baker's daughter from Weybridge who remains on the tea shop trail
PUBLISHED: 08:54 09 September 2015 | UPDATED: 20:13 09 September 2015
Surrey Life columnist Louise Johncox has written a baking memoir with recipes, The Baker's Daughter, about her family's tea shop in Weybridge. Here she recalls some of her memories of the much-loved café - and shares a favourite recipe…
I grew up surrounded by the sight and scent of cakes made by my father, Peter, in our family tea shop. Peter’s was not just my home but a place where the local community were always welcomed.
My father had a long connection with Weybridge having attended St George’s College as a boarder from the ages of eight to 18 (1939-1949). As a young boy, he enjoyed tea and cake at Fuller’s tea room at No 27 Church Street. Little did he know that one day he would open his own tea shop business on the same premises. One day, in the late fifties, he attended an Old Georgians’ Day at his former school. As he drove through Weybridge, he saw that the lease on his favourite childhood tea shop was up for renewal. He enquired about the lease and soon had the key in his hand.
Art of pastry
Dad had learned the art of being a pastry chef and chocolatier at his grandparents’ tea room, Beti’s, on the Isle of Wight, and he had worked as a pastry chef at his parents’ tea shop, Lane’s, in Westcliff. It seemed that his life as a pastry chef was predetermined.
He opened Peter’s on December 10, 1958, just in time for Christmas. His parents helped him set up the business with my grandmother serving behind the counter and my grandfather working in the kitchen. Mum became engaged to Dad in the spring of 1960 and moved to Weybridge where she helped in the tea shop both behind the counter and as a waitress. Mum’s previous job was as an operating theatre sister at London’s Orthopaedic Hospital. She swapped handling surgical instruments for cake tongs and switched patients for customers. If Dad was the soul of the tea shop, Mum was the heart.
They got married on October 10, 1960, at St Charles’ Church in Weybridge, just up the road from the tea shop, and they held their wedding reception in the tea room. Not surprisingly, Dad made the cake and all the pastries. Dad was the craftsman confectioner and pastry chef while Mum was the welcoming face of the tea shop. Together they created a cosy tea shop haven for the local community for over 42 years.
It may have been the seventies and eighties when I was growing up, but Peter’s was in a time warp. It was a classic British tea shop with 1940s décor (rose floral wallpaper), a powder room, a wall clock and my father’s motley collection of chamber pots. Paintings of Weybridge scenes and copper pans decorated the walls.
Growing up a baker’s daughter alongside my three siblings, Gordon, Johnny, Georgina (who we call Fuby), we all got to know the local customers and shopkeepers. Some we knew by name, others by their favourite cake. As soon as a regular walked through the door, I knew what pastry they desired. Many were local customers, but some travelled several miles for Peter’s specialities such as the cream meringues and homemade chocolates.
A cake heaven
The cream cakes were served on a glass cake stand and included a palmier, chocolate cream slice, cream horn and cream doughnut among others. The classic cakes in the late fifties and sixties were Victoria sandwich, Madeira cake, seed cake, Dundee cake and Battenberg. On Saturdays, Dad made a wider selection of breads, including croissants and brioche, plus more elaborate cakes such as millefeuille. On Mondays, when the tea shop closed, he made chocolates, petit fours and speciality cakes. Dad made Florentines regularly and they were especially popular at Christmas and Easter, the two busiest times of the year.
The tea shop was sandwiched between the Midland Bank and Artistic Treasures, an upmarket china business. The most important shops in Weybridge were Robson’s, the butcher on the high street, and Brockwells, the grocer’s on Baker Street, where we bought fruit and vegetables. Peter’s orders for Robson’s would include sausage meat for sausage rolls, ham for omelettes and minced meat for Cornish pasties and rissoles. One of the most popular savoury dishes Dad served was the Welsh Rarebit, a cheese mix served on toast, based on a family recipe.
Dad also created the ‘College Tea’ for pupils from his old school, St George’s College: spaghetti or beans on toast with a poached egg and a cake followed by a Coca-Cola or a Fanta.
A baking legacy
During my teenage years, I worked in the shop as a Saturday girl, starting off as a washer-up and progressing to being a waitress. I had always wanted to be a writer so after A-Levels, I left home to go to college and train to be a journalist. My siblings all chose different careers. When the tea shop closed in 2000 and Dad retired, no-one continued the tradition. A few years later, I decided to write a baking memoir with recipes based on my memories of growing up in the tea shop and I asked my elderly father to teach me the classic recipes. Sadly, Dad passed away in April 2012, so this book is a tribute to him and my mother. It includes tales from a bygone world of tea and cake and traditional recipes to share with friends and family. I hope it will inspire you to bake.
The Baker’s Daughter – Timeless Recipes from Four Generations of Bakers is published by Pan Macmillan, priced at £20, on March 13. For more information, see panmacmillan.com
Now, join Louise on the Surrey tea shop trail...
Recipe: Chocolate Florentines
I chose this chocolate florentines recipe because I recall my Dad making them in the bakehouse when I was young and thinking how pretty they looked with the chopped cherries and almonds. Chocolate florentines were popular with our customers so I think of them as one of Dad’s classic creations. I always enjoy a florentine with a cup of tea and also used to love the petit florentines Dad made at Easter and Christmas given as gifts.
75g caster sugar
15g plain flour
4 tablespoons double cream
50g glacé cherries, chopped
100g flaked almonds
50g mixed peel
100g dark chocolate (with 70% cocoa solids)
1 Preheat the oven to 190ºC/gas mark 5. Line a baking sheet or muffin tin with baking parchment.
2 Melt the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan, ensuring the butter melts over a low heat. Stir it constantly so it doesn’t caramelize. Now stir in the flour and gradually add the cream. Bring the mixture to the boil and stir it constantly until it thickens slightly and comes away from the sides of the pan. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the cherries, almonds and mixed peel. Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, shaping them into flattened circles as you go. Alternatively, you can press the mixture into the bottom of the holes of a 12-hole muffin tin.
3 Bake for 6–8 minutes until the Florentines are lightly golden. Allow them to cool slightly on the baking sheet or in the muffin tin, then transfer them to a wire rack using a palette knife.
4 Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove the pan from the heat.
5 Carefully pick up a Florentine and, holding it around the edge, dip the smooth underside in the chocolate. Continue until all the Florentines have been dipped in this way. If you feel unconfident about dipping them, spread the melted chocolate over each Florentine with a knife. In order to achieve a more professional appearance, rather than using a smooth knife to remove excess chocolate, use a ribbed plastic scraper to drag the excess chocolate across the biscuit base, shifting the tool left to right as you go, leaving a zigzag ribbed pattern.
6 Leave the Florentines, chocolate-side up, on a fresh sheet of baking parchment to set.