Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winter Afternoon Tea

I’m thrilled to be a part of this month’s Foodbuzz 24x24. Each month 24 food bloggers from around the world create a meal on the same day—24 different meals in 24 hours and posted for your reading pleasure! For my event, I hosted a winter afternoon tea.

In 1987 I made my first trip to London as a 20-something college student with my friend, Barbie. (Like our 80s hairstyles!) One of the highlights was tea at the world famous Harrods department store. I was completely dazzled by all the wonderful food choices displayed on tiered tables—sweets, scones, and tiny sandwiches, and enamored with the idea of such a civilized afternoon repast with friends. (Visitors can still make reservations for tea at Harrods.)

On that trip I purchased the Harrods Book of Entertaining by Lady Macdonald of Macdonald. Inside is a complete menu for a winter afternoon tea for 6 to 8. I decided to make many of the recipes from that menu for my own afternoon tea. I included Cheese Scones, Walnut and Apricot Tea Bread with Lemon Icing, Vanilla Sponge Cake withVanilla Butter Cream and Raspberry Jam, Very Sticky Chocolate Cake with Fudge Icing, and Cream-Filled Vanilla Meringues. I also made cucumber and watercress sandwiches, and added Scottish shortbread cookies, strawberry and black currant jams, and British cheeses from Brits and World Market in Lawrence, Kansas. And I served PG Tips tea (a British every day type of tea) in a tea pot I also purchased on that 1987 trip.

The tea gave me the chance to use my Mamaw’s china dessert dishes. (Read about Mamaw here.) I remember her serving coffee and cake to the church ladies on these elegant, floral plates with the built in saucer. And I raided my mom’s collection of glassware for serving dishes. She also allowed me to use her sterling silverware, which she began collecting in the eighth grade. (She was so excited to come to the tea, but instead spent the day at home with a stomach virus. I missed her.)

The first trick to the menu was following British recipes.Most of the measurements were done by weight or metric. And I found out later that the British and American ounces are slightly different—the metric measurements were more accurate.

However, each recipe came out well, though the cakes didn’t rise as high as I imagined they should. I don’t know if that’s because of the measurement difference or if self-rising flour (which they call self-raising) in the UK is different from that here in the US. (If anyone knows the answer, let me know!)

The one exception was the Very Sticky Chocolate Cake with Fudge Icing. I fought with that cake from the beginning. My first mistake was in the interpretation of the recipe’s instruction when testing the cake. The directions said, “…sticking in a skewer and if it comes out not clean but with gooey cake just smearing the skewer, don’t worry: this cake is meant to be like that. If you continue to cook it until the skewer comes out clean, the cake will be drier and not nearly so good.”

You guessed it. I didn’t bake the cake long enough, and the middle fell through the cooling rack. So I tried it again, and all was well—until I made the Fudge Icing. It didn’t work at all! It was an unusable, crumbly mess. (Please let me know if you can figure out what I did wrong!) So I just made a double batch of the butter cream filling (with a touch of vanilla added) and used it to frost the cake.

The chocolate cake was the most popular item on the entire menu. Go figure.

I also enjoyed the vanilla sponge cake and the walnut and apricot tea bread.  They are now favorites in my recipe file. And the cucumber and watercress sandwiches were very refreshing. They will be perfect as part of a summer supper.

My guests were some of my closest lady friends. We enjoyed the tea, food and wonderful conversation. (Sometimes it’s just nice to add an elegant, relaxed repast to the day.) At the end of the meal each guest got a bakery box to fill with treats to take home.

Here are the recipes. Be sure to let me know if you try anyof them. You will see my comments on the recipe in brackets.

Cheese Scones

Makes about 10. [I got 16, but the ones made with leftover dough were tougher than the first-cut ones.] Scones freeze well: thaw before reheating in the oven at 270 degrees.

350 g (12 oz) self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
100 g (4 oz) mature cheddar cheese, grated
1 large egg
300 ml milk

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and mustard powder into a bowl. Stir in the grated cheese. Lightly beat the egg and milk together andadd. Mix well, and kneed for 1 minute. [I did this by just mixing the dough harder in the bowl. I also had to add additional flour to bring the dough together.]

Pat out the scone mixture on a floured work surface to a thickness of about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Stamp out 5 cm (2 inch) rounds, or cut out triangles, and put them on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C or mark 7) for 12 to 15 minutes, until the scones are risen and golden. Serve warm with butter and raspberry or strawberry jam.

Vanilla Sponge with Vanilla Butter Cream and Raspberry Jam

The cake will freeze very well if cooled quickly and frozen immediately. You can fill it 2 or 3 hours before serving.

3 large eggs
75 g (3 oz) granulated sugar
Few drops of vanilla extract [I used about 1/2 teaspoon.]
75 g (3 oz) self-raising flour, sifted twice
225 g (8 oz) raspberry jam
Sifted powdered sugar
For butter cream:
125 g (4 oz) butter
125 g (4 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
Few drops of vanilla extract [I used about 1/2 teaspoon.]

Butter two 8-inch cake tins and line the base of each with parchment paper.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, and whisk with an electric beater. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla essence, whisking until the mixture is very thick, almost white in color and mousse-like in texture.This will take about 7 minutes. To test of the mixture is thick enough, stop whisking and lift the whisk out, trailing a squiggle of the mixture over the surface. If it sits on top, the mixture is thick enough; if it vanishes into the mixture, continue whisking! Sift the flour over the mixture. With a spoon or spatula, fold the flour quickly and thoroughly into the egg mixture.

Divide between the prepared cake tins, and bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C, mark 4) for about 20 minutes [mine took 15 minutes, but my oven runs hot], until the cakes are golden brown on top and just beginning to shrink from the sides of the tins. Cool on wire racks.

To make the butter cream, beat the butter until creamy and gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until the butter cream is pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

Put one cake layer on a serving plate and spread it with the butter cream. Cover the butter cream with the raspberry jam, then put the second cake layer on top. Sift powdered sugar over the surface of the cake. This cake is easier to cut with a serrated knife.

Very Sticky Chocolate Cake with Fudge Icing

This cake will keep for 2 or 3 days in an air tightcontainer.

175 g (6 oz) butter
175 g (6 oz) dark brown sugar
225 g (8 oz) drinking chocolate powder [This is hot chocolate powder that you mix with milk, not cocoa powder! I used Cadbury. Look in the import section of the grocery store or a gourmet shop.]
50 g (2 oz) self-raising flour
4 large eggs
Few drops of vanilla extract [I used about 1/2 teaspoon.]
For butter cream:
125 g (4 oz) butter
125 g (4 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
For chocolate fudge icing:
50 g (2 oz) butter
50 g (2 oz) granulated sugar
175 g (6 oz) powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Butter a 9-inch cake tin and line the base with parchment paper.

To make the cake, put the butter in a mixing bowl and beat well, gradually adding the sugar. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Sift the drinking chocolate and flour together. Beat 1 egg into the butter mixture, then beat in some of the chocolate and flour mixture. Beat in another egg, and so on until the eggs and flour mixture are all incorporated. Beat in the vanilla essence.

Spoon and scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C, mark 4) for 35 minutes.

Test the cake, before you take it out of the oven, by sticking in a skewer and if it comes out not clean but with gooey cake just smearing the skewer, don’t worry: this cake is meant to be like that. If you continue to cook it until a skewer comes out clean, the cake will be drier and not nearly as good! Cool for 1 minute in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the butter cream, beat the butter, gradually adding the icing sugar and cocoa. Beat well until fluffy.

When the cake is cold, cut into 2 layers using a serrated knife. Spread the butter cream over the bottom layer and cover with the top layer.

To make the icing, put the butter, granulated sugar, and 90m. (6 tablespoons) water in a sauce pan over moderate heat. Heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved, then bring to a boil and boil fast for 4 to 5 minutes. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a mixing bowl. Gradually beat in the buttery sugar syrup, to make a smooth thick icing. Spread the icing over the tip and sides of the cake.

Walnut and Apricot Teabread with Lemon Icing

This teabread is nicest eaten the day it is made, but it freezes very well so you can make 2 and keep one in the freezer.

225 g (8 oz) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
50 g (2 oz) dark brown sugar
125 g (4 oz) walnuts, chopped
75 g (3 oz) dried apricots, soaked in water for 1 hour, drained and cut in half [I cut mine in quarters.]
45 ml (3 tablespoons) golden syrup [I used Lyle’s. Look in the import section of the grocery store or a gourmet shop.]
150 ml milk
1 egg, beaten
For lemon icing:
75 g (3 oz) powdered sugar
15 ml hot lemon juice
Chopped walnuts, to garnish

Butter a loaf pan and line the base with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, walnuts and apricots. Put the golden syrup into a sauce pan and pour in the milk. Heat until the syrup has melted into the milk. Beat the syrupy milk into the flour mixture, then beat in the egg.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake at325 degrees F (170 degrees C, mark 3) for about 1 1/4 hours, until a knifeinserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. [Mine took just over an hour.] Cool in the tin for several minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the powdered sugar and lemon juice, beating until the icing is smooth. [I had to add more lemon juice to get the right consistency.] Cover the top of the teabread with the icing, letting it trickle down the sides. Decorate with chopped walnuts, if desired.

Cream-filled Vanilla Meringues

They are very convenient for a tea party because they can be made a few days in advance and stored in an airtight container. Fill them with vanilla-flavored sweetened whipped cream shortly before serving. [I just served the whipped cream on the side.]

3 egg whites
175 g (6 oz) granulated sugar

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then very gradually add the sugar, whisking continuously, until very stiff and glossy. Fill a piping bag with the mixture, and using a wide star nozzle, pipe meringues about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 225 degrees F (110 degrees C, mark 1/4) for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Cool on a wire rack.

Cucumber or Watercress Sandwiches

Thin-sliced white bread [I used Pepperidge Farm brand.]
English-style (seedless) cucumber, sliced thinly, or 1 bunch of watercress
Unsalted butter, soft
Salt and pepper, to taste

Spread the butter onto one side of both pieces of bread. Layer the cucumber or watercress leaves onto on the of buttered bread slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then top with another buttered bread slice. Cut off the crusts with a serrated knife and slice into triangles or fingers. [I cut the cucumber sandwiches into triangles and the watercress sandwiches into fingers.) Keep on a plate covered with a damp paper towel and plastic wrap in the refrigerator until just before serving.

The Perfect Pot (orCup) of Tea

To brew the perfect pot or cup of tea, fill the tea pot or cup with very hot water and let stand to warm.

Bring cold water toa boil. (Cold water has more oxygen and makes a better tasting tea. Also do not let the water boil for too long or it will release the oxygen and the tea will taste flat.)

Empty the pot or cup, add the tea leaves or bags and pour the boiling water on top. Allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes or until the tea reaches the desired strength. Note: Steep green tea for only one to three minutes to prevent bitterness.


  1. Gosh Linda, this looks like heaven to me! The first thing I want to try is the Apricot Walnut Bread, but everything looks so good. My husband and I spent a post graduate year in London and have so many great foodie memories...this was a fun post!

  2. Linda, Such a beautiful tea! The table looks gorgeous with all the lovely desserts! Enjoyed your post and your photos!

  3. What a lovely tea party! I keep saying I'm going to have one myself. I love the little finger sandwiches!

    Congrats on the 24x24!

  4. Sounds lovely! I wonder what happened with the fudge icing--so crazy!

  5. Isn't it funny how something that seems like it's not going to work turns out to be so popular? What a wonderful day it looks like you had. Tea? I wish they'd make that a Californian afternoon event!

  6. Linda, thank you for bringing back so many wonderful memories of our trip to England and the fabulous "tea" we enjoyed. From the recipes and photos I think your Afternoon Tea could give Harrods run for their money. Love, Barbie

  7. I'm glad you liked it, Barbie. We did have a wonderful trip! I often feel a longing to walk around London's streets. So I make a cup of tea! LOL

    Kim, I think you need to start a tea tradition there in California! Sometimes the soul just needs a cup!