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With the recent resurgence of Afternoon Tea as a great way to relax and enjoy yourselves or as the perfect celebration, our guide is designed to help you through all you need to know to put on the perfect Afternoon Tea, with all the presentation and the decoration you would expect from the professionals, but in your own home.
Starting with the basics, this delicious meal consists, in its simplest form, of sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and cakes. All these can be bought but for the best results and the greatest satisfaction, you have to make your own, and we have provided you with ideas and recipes to make some varieties of each.
The combination of wonderful food and perfect presentation really makes an afternoon tea, and it isn’t difficult to achieve. The best look is achieved with traditional bone china tea plates, cups and saucers, a teapot and the key item that is always used is a two or three tier cake stand. Not everyone has these and if you need more than one then they can be expensive, but there are some very pretty and very effective card stands that you put together yourself available now and these are much more affordable. Place the cakes on the top, and the scones on the second layer – the sandwiches can either go on the third layer at the bottom or on a second plate if your stand is two tier. Then add cups, saucers and plates (the prettier the better, and again you can obtain tea plates and serving plates in card if you prefer) with knives for each place setting. Make sure that you have a small bowl or ramekin for the jam and another for the cream, and place a teaspoon in each to serve. Add a napkin to each place setting as all that cream and jam can get messy!
To create a flourish at the right time, ensure that your plates, cups and saucers are all set at the table, and that the cream and jam are ready placed on the table. Then, when everyone is ready bring out a fresh pot of tea and then finally the cake stand with all the food beautifully set upon it.
This is best served in a teapot with milk in a jug and sugar in a bowl. You may wish to offer a traditional English tea but there are other options available such as Twinings Earl Grey and Traditional Afternoon Tea. For the best taste, use loose tea leaves rather than tea bags, More expensive, but you deserve a little luxury, surely!
What To Eat
These are relatively easy, but what really matters is using really fresh bread, spread or butter that is not too cold or hard (otherwise you’ll tear the bread as you spread it) and lovely fillings. You can vary the bread you use between white, wholemeal and granary, and that way you are bound to please everyone. The final presentation is seriously affected by how well you can cut the bread so if you aren’t good at this (and at least 50% of us can’t cut bread) then get your baker to slice if for you. You can, of course, buy sliced bread from the supermarket, but it isn’t as good, and all too often you can end up with slightly soggy sandwiches. The professionals will always cut off the crusts, and serve small squares of sandwich so that the fillings can be really enjoyed. We find it best to offer at least three different sandwich fillings as variety always pleases, but the number of fillings is really up to you.
The fillings are limited only by your imagination. In tea shops and hotels across the country you’ll frequently find that the traditional fillings of cheese or cheese and tomato, cucumber or tuna and cucumber, ham, and a fish or meat paté are favourites, but these’s no reason why you cannot introduce flavours and fillings that you know are favourite with your guests – peanut butter, coleslaw, egg, cold beef, brie and grapes, salad and mayonnaise, the list of possibilities is really endless.
The second course of your afternoon tea is the scones. If these are freshly baked they are truly wonderful, and the recipe for them is not difficult, but to avoid them being dry and biscuit like you must be bold and make nice, big scones. There are lots of recipes on the market but my favourite is my own take on Delia Smith’s classic, and the process of making the dough is very similar to making pastry. I have shown the recipe at the end of this guide.
Serve with jam (strawberry or raspberry are the traditional favourites, but choose whatever jam you like best!) and cream. If fresh UK grown strawberries are in season, serve these cut into small pieces. Without a doubt, clotted cream is the best if you can get it (we always can down here in Somerset) but if not use a thickened double cream that you can spoon onto your plate, and spread with a knife.
If you make too many, they freeze well, but they don’t keep long if they are not frozen, and they go stale quickly, so best to eat or freeze.
Almost any cakes can be used for your afternoon tea, so it’s best to make the ones you like best or feel are the best you can make. Alternatively, there really are some wonderful cakes you can buy from bakeries and tea shops that will look and taste magnificent. Whether you tell your guests that you bought them is, of course, up to you!! Cup cakes can be beautiful, whether they are plain or iced, and this way it’s easy for people to choose an individual cake, larger cakes, like Victoria Sponge, Lemon Drizzle, Apple Cake, Coffee and Walnut, Carrot, Madeira, sliced and carefully presented are just as lovely. I have added a couple of favourite recipes below
16 oz self raising flour
3 oz butter or margarine
3 oz caster sugar
10fl oz milk
These quantities will make about 8 - 10 large scones. Sieve the self raising flour into a mixing bowl (if you are doing this for the first time, use white flour, and only when you’ve perfected the technique should you progress to wholemeal flour, as it is more difficult to get the scones to rise). Add the butter or margarine and rub together until all the butter has been absorbed by the flour. Avoid leaving any lumps of butter or margarine. Now add the caster sugar and mix lightly. Finally, little by little, add the milk stirring the milk into the mixture with a knife as you go. It doesn’t have to be exactly 10fl oz of milk – you need the dough to be soft and bind together but not too wet, and milk absorbs into the flour slowly, so take your time with this. If you make a mistake and it gets a bit wet, don’t panic – just add a little more flour and continue to mix.
Once you have a soft dough you are ready to roll with a pastry roller, but before you do, it can be fun to add some dried fruit if you’d like to – the flavour of the scones are quite different.
Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1½ inches or 4 cm. You can go even thicker, but I wouldn’t recommend going any thinner or you’ll end up with scones that are crunchy all through!
Press out with a pastry cutter of about 2¾ inches diameter (7cm) and place on a greased baking tray. Pre-heat the oven to 220’C, fan oven 190’C, gas mark 7 and make sure it’s fully up to temperature before putting the scones in the oven. Cook for about 12 to 15 minutes until they are golden brown and then let them cool on a wire rack before serving.
We have adapted a Delia Smith all in one sponge recipe to create all in one cup cakes!
The key is to weight your eggs! Use two eggs for around 10 cakes and three for 15 cakes.
Weigh your eggs and then in a mixing bowl use the equivalent weight in caster sugar and good quality margarine.
Add one and a half times the weight of the eggs in self raising flour and one and a half spoons full of baking powder.
Add the beaten eggs and then flavour the cakes with a dessert spoon of cocoa, the juice and rind of half a lemon, a few drops of vanilla essence or 3 oz of dried fruit.
Switch your oven on to 200’C, 160’ if it is a fan oven, gas mark 6.
Mix the ingredients thoroughly together – using an electric mixer will make this much easier.
Place paper cup cake cases in a cup cake tin, spoon in the mixture and then place the cup cakes in the oven. Watch like a hawk for the first ten minutes and then turn the temperature down by 20’ for the second ten minutes. I find that this allows the cup cakes to rise and colour nicely and cook gently on the inside.
Once baked place on a cooling rack.
Once cool you can dust with icing sugar, use a little glace icing or be creative with some butter icing. Butter icing is rich but it does look great with some little edible stars or hearts or perhaps a dusting of edible glitter.
Summary of ingredients:
2 or 3 eggs (or more and just increase the rest of the ingredients)
1 times the weight of the eggs in margarine and caster sugar
1.5 times the weight of the eggs in self raising flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
Flavourings to taste as detailed above
This is adapted from a recipe in the Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book
12 fl oz of tea. Hot or cold and not too stewed
7 oz of soft brown sugar – light or dark
12 oz mixed dried fruit
10oz self raising flour
1 egg beaten
Put the tea, sugar and dried fruit in a bowl over night or for several hours. Add a drop of brandy for extra interest!
Grease an 8 inch round cake tin or a 2 lb loaf tin
Mix the soaked fruit and sugar into the flour and add the egg until smooth.
Pour into the tin and place in the oven.
Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes minimum depending on your oven. I use a fan oven and 1 hour 15 is fine at 140’C. I mat turn the temperature up for the first 10 minutes as this helps the loaf to rise. For standard ovens bake at 350’F, Gas Mark 4 for 1 hour 45 minutes maximum.
Remove from the oven and when cool to touch remove from the tin and place on a cooling tin.
These recipes and ideas should help you to create a wonderful afternoon tea. We hope that it goes well.Back to guides