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Detours

Teas, edible trees, niceties

Email|Print| Text size + By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / November 30, 2003

HIGGANUM, Conn. -- Christmas comes early to the Sundial Gardens, and it has a distinctly German accent.

In the Tea Chest Shop, in a restored 18th-century barn on the premises, German-born Ragna Tischler-Goddard delights in introducing customers to the traditions of her homeland as well as holiday favorites from elsewhere in Europe. The star of the show is the "baumkuchen," or tree cake, a multitiered creation that looks like a chocolate-covered stack of doughnuts. In fact each "doughnut" is baked on a rotisserie, which turns as up to 10 thin layers of batter are alternated with dustings of sugar. Once baked, each ring is coated with chocolate and stacked to create the tree.

The result is a sweet cake that, when sliced, displays its construction like the age rings of a tree. Tischler-Goddard recommends letting the slices melt on your tongue. It is traditional to save the bottom layer to serve with champagne on New Year's Day.

The shop also sells Callebaut chocolate from Belgium, which Tom Goddard uses in his handmade truffles; several kinds of lebkuchen, a fruit-and almond-studded cake-like cookie; marzipan from Lbeck; Hediard preserves from France, made with rose and violet petals; and pruneaux d'Agen, semidried plums from France, marinated in Armagnac. Fill these with marzipan, Goddard said, and roll them in sugar and -- voila! -- you have a sugarplum.

The large selection of holiday ornaments includes miniature replicas of French court shoes from the 17th century and Bavarian pewter ornaments from Diessen, a city whose pewter art tradition dates from the 9th century.

Sundial Gardens is known for its selection of teas and teapots, especially Yixing teapots. These unglazed pots are made from a dense, natural clay found only in a small area of China. The pots are beautifully designed: One is a peach lying on its side, another a frog atop a lily pad atop a lotus flower, another a dragon whose tongue comes out when the pot is tipped.

On Dec. 6, Sundial will host a holiday food tasting from 2 to 4:30 p.m.

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