Special Request: Rock cakes from London Tea Room taste nothing like their name
Special Request

Special Request: Rock cakes from London Tea Room taste nothing like their name

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Special Request The London Tea Room Rock Cakes

Light, sweet rock cakes studded with sultanas go very well with a cup of The London Tea Room’s house blend, which is similar to an English breakfast tea. Photo by Pat Eby

QI would love to see a recipe for the rock cakes at the London Tea Room. I have a dear friend who lives in Cape Girardeau. When she does come to St. Louis, we get together there and chat over rock cakes and tea. Since we can’t get together in person, we have been researching different rock cake recipes but haven’t found any that come close to the ones at the London Tea Room. — Amanda Hente, St. Louis

A • When we contacted Jackie James at the London Tea Room with this request, the general manager of this family-owned tea room was very happy to comply.

“I grew up with rock cakes,” she says. “They look a little bit like a rock, and we have several customers who are absolutely addicted to them. They are my dad’s and my brother’s favorite. I made them every weekend when I was a kid.

“I would send the family out for a walk on a Saturday, and I’d spend the afternoon baking. At night we’d have a real tea, with sandwiches, scones, and rock cakes and treats.”

Guests to the tea room sometimes think of the rock cakes as a kind of scone. “They’re not at all like a scone, which are more biscuit or bread-like,” James says. “They’re sweet and buttery, and for something that looks so boring, they’re really good.”

Rock cakes traditionally use golden raisins, called sultanas, which add to their sweetness. The recipe was originally developed during World War II when sugar and eggs were strictly rationed.

Younger guests may recognize the name “rock cakes” described as a hard lumpy treat likely to break teeth that Hagrid baked for a young Harry Potter and his friend Ron Weasley. In reality, the technique of rubbing cold butter into flour makes these cakes incredibly light and tender.

When the London Tea Room first opened on Washington Avenue in 2007, James worked for her parents, Pat and Alan Richardson, as the company’s first baker. When the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown occurred in mid-March, she returned to baking.

“I find it very therapeutic. It was tiring. I wasn’t used to doing it all day, but it’s very calming. If I could choose what I would like to do every day, it would be baking.” James, however, is the general manager when the tea room is fully open. As such, she doesn’t have time to bake.

The restaurant will be opening soon for indoor dining, patio dining and for afternoon teas and classes. “We’re open now on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for pickup at the door,” she says. “We hope to be open again by July 1, probably sooner, but we didn’t want to rush to bring our employees back only to furlough them again. We want our customers to be safe as well, so we’ll have limited seating and we’ll be taking all the precautions necessary. Look for a big notice on our social media to announce the reopening. We’ll be continuing our pickup orders as well,” she says.

For help with social media, James turns to her son Peter. He’s the third generation to carry on at the London Tea Room. This mother and son team ran the restaurant from mid-March. Together, they built up online sales for their loose-leaf teas.

“Getting the online sales has been a wake-up call for us to create a plan to stay in business if something happens again,” James says.

“What’s happened these past months changes your mindset of what’s important and what’s not important. Just live life, love one another for who you are without judgment or arguments,” she says. “Just love and accept one another.”

The London Tea Room

3128 Morganford Road

314-241-6556; londontearoom.com

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