As I was washing windows on the weekend, I started to think about what a shame it is to waste a freshly cleaned house (believe me…I don’t do it often…and it doesn’t stay that way for long). The next crazy thought that drifted into my brain was the idea of a tea party–an unabashedly girly ritual. Do any of us still have Sunday dresses in our closets? Or is all available closet real estate devoted to jeans and frilly blouses?
I just love the quaint notion of linen napkins, sipping proper tea in china cups–none of this tea bag nonsense–go loose leaf or go home. And then there are those ethereal finger sandwiches…sigh. I’ve always been a sandwich girl. The finger sandwiches were always the first thing I made a bee line for at Church teas every Sunday (imagine a chubby, bespectacled redhead ripping off her choir gown and flinging sheet music on the way to the church kitchen). In my opinion, the best day for afternoon tea is Saturday. That way, you have the morning to get ready, the afternoon to enjoy, and ALL day Sunday to recover!
At first, I thought it was called High Tea, but that’s not correct. The proper term is Afternoon Tea. It all started with a hungry Queen, who couldn’t make it through the afternoon and evening until dinnertime at 9 p.m. She started having tea with buttered bread around 3 p.m., then she started to invite her gal pals over for tea, and the whole lazy lot of ’em sat around munching on sandwiches, scones and jam. High tea, on the other hand, is more like dinner served between 5 and 7 p.m., with cheeses, meats, pickles, etc. More manly and working-class-ish, apparently.
Some of the snootier folk take this quite seriously, and scoff at anyone who accidentally calls afternoon tea, high tea (like every hotel in North America). So here are some elements that I think any decent tea party should have…
A. CUCUMBER FINGER SANDWICHES
Really simple. If you really want to make them extra-special, you can order special sandwich loaves at your favourite bakery. Ask them to remove the crusts for you. Otherwise, start with a really good loaf of white bread. Finger sandwiches need to be buttered (real butter) so they don’t become soggy. Spread a layer of cream cheese on top of one of the buttered pieces. Top with thinly sliced peeled cucumber. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Now, you can stop there, or you can add finely chopped chives or mint. Yummmm. Make sure to cut off the crusts and slice in diamonds, or use a round cookie cutter. Easy peasy.
Photo is courtesy of How To Be Pretty (you can click on each of the photos which have hyperlinks to the source).
B. SCONES WITH JAM & CLOTTED CREAM
I am getting REALLY hungry writing this post–look at that, it’s almost 4 p.m. Gotta go! Bill Granger of The Sidney Morning Herald included this recipe in his advice column.
Scones with jam and clotted cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
310g (2 1/2 cups) plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
250ml (1 cup) milk
30g butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 220C. Sift the icing sugar, flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add the milk and butter and stir with a knife to combine. Knead quickly and lightly until the dough is smooth, then press out onto a floured surface.
Use a glass to cut out rounds (roughly 5cm in diameter and 3cm deep) and place them close together on a greased baking tray. Gather the dough scraps, lightly knead again, then cut out more rounds to add to the baking tray.
Cook for 8-10 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve with jam and clotted cream.
C. FANCY SHMANCY CUPCAKES
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (about 3 tablespoons), plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Lemon Curd (see below)
- Seven-Minute Frosting (see below)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in zest and vanilla. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk and lemon juice, and beating until just combined after each.
- Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
- To finish, spread 1 tablespoon lemon curd onto middle of each cupcake. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large open-star tip (Ateco #828 or Wilton #8B) with frosting. Pipe frosting onto each cupcake, swirling tip slightly and releasing as you pull up to form a peak. Hold a small kitchen torch 3 to 4 inches from surface of frosting, and wave it back and forth until frosting is lightly browned all over. Serve immediately.
Martha Stewart’s Lemon Curd
Makes about 2 cups
- 8 large egg yolks
- Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
- Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan; whisk to combine. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (be sure to scrape the sides of the pan), until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes, and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove saucepan from heat. Add salt and butter, one piece at a time, stirring until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
Martha Stewart’s Seven Minute Frosting
Makes about 8 cups
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230 degrees.
- Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating to combine.
- As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230 degrees, remove from heat. With mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream. Raise speed to medium-high; whisk until mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes. Use immediately.
D. STORE-BOUGHT SWEETIES…
I love Martha, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…CHEAT. Love this photo by Bron Marshall Photography.
E. YOUR PRETTIEST TEAPOT, CREAMER & SUGAR BOWL
Proper tea just wouldn’t be the same served in a “Best Co-Worker” mug. Get someone else to fetch Grandma’s best china cups and saucers from the back corner of the the spider-ridden attic. You won’t regret it. Don’t forget to iron the “real” napkins and table linens too!
Crazy Daisy tableware from Nicole Jane Home.
F. FANCY TIERED SERVING PLATES
Who can resist the magical “multi-tiered” serving plates with their epicurean siren songs? They draw you closer with the promise of heavenly chive-spiked egg salad finger sandwiches, or petite fours enrobed in sugary pastel glaze…..drooooool.
Tea at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Those girls look like trouble n’est-ce pas?
Tiered tea plate via Uniquely Tea blogspot
Tea at Down Hall Country House Hotel, Hertfordshire, England.
G. SOME FABULOUS FRIENDS IN HATS
What’s a tea party without hats, I asks ya? Ooh la la. I’ll ALWAYS regret (and make Mark pay and pay and pay) not buying that fabulous hat in the little shop in London–it was only 200 English pounds! Could have got a lot of tea partying in with that lovely hat.
H. FABULOUS DRESS & SHOES
Com’ on…it would be so much fun to get all gussied up and go out for tea. I miss my mom’s party dresses!!
I. LAST BUT NOT LEAST…THE TEA…
Simply perfect. Loose leaf tea in a silver tea pot. Divine.