“The queen would be horrified” and other recipes for afternoon tea
Afternoon Tea is a British culinary tradition involving finger sandwiches, scones, pretty mini-desserts, and a hefty dose of pomp and circumstance. How did I replicate this British tradition? And why would the queen have been horrified? Read on to find out.
I promised myself I wouldn’t become one of those moms who spends ages planning her child’s first birthday bash. And yet, there I was, elegantly arranging Peter Rabbit and Dolly in Eira’s highchair two hours before the big event.
Glancing at the stacks of China I had heaped onto the kitchen table, I shouted to my mother, “When was the last time any of this has been used?”
“Oh, maybe… 30 years ago?” she said as she scrambled after Snowpea who was eagerly scampering toward Blue’s dog bowl.
“Hmm maybe I should rinse these before filling them with milk and sugar,” I observed, raising my voice over the Pride and Prejudice playlist.
No, I would never waste my time planning a one-year-old birthday party. But a tea party? Absolutely.
But this wasn’t just any tea party. This was the tea party to conclude my month of great British baking. Each teacake that had not risen, each loaf of bread turned to brick, and each crumpet turned to dog food had merely been training for this.
In addition, this was the last Saturday Snowpea would spend with her grandparents for the foreseeable future, and certainly the last Saturday they’d see her as a baby. Just 3 more weeks and we’d be 20 hours away in El Paso with a toddler on our hands.
In other words, our tea party had to be perfect.
“Your texture’s all wrong, and the flavors aren’t coming through,” Paul Hollywood’s voice sang in my mind as I layered my scones and tarts onto a three-tiered tray. Perhaps I had spent too much time binging on The Great British Baking Show this month, but I hoped some of the lessons had been infused into my cooking for this occasion.
“The queen would be horrified!” I heard from behind me. This time, it wasn’t the little voice of the male judge in my mind but my father popping in to check on my arrangements for our afternoon tea.
“Your bread is supposed to be wafer thin and crustless,” continued my father, who had appointed himself as the representative English opinion during my British baking adventures. Sadly, I had just cut hearty slices from my homemade English muffin bread. Worse yet, I had filled the finger sandwiches so densely they needed a toothpick to hold them together. My baking was and would always be hopelessly American.
“The queen would be horrified… That does have a nice ring to it. Maybe I could use that as the title of the blog post for my recipes,” I said brightening. “Or maybe…’It’s my tea party, I can cry if I want to’.”
“Or what about ‘Daniel left me at the dinner table’?” Daniel asked as he walked into the kitchen. “You expect me to eat five courses of dessert?!”
“No, just two,” I said sheepishly, knowing full well my baking adventures hadn’t helped to ward off diabetes in our household. “And some Prosecco with each dish.”
Assembling my family into our seats as the sun set, we sat down to a small feast: chilled champagne, late-spring salad, cucumber sandwiches, scones with strawberries, and an entire course-full of small desserts with a pot of Earl Grey tea.
Our easy-wipe table cloth was far too floral and bright for crisp photography, Snowpea wavered the whole time between wailing and splashing Blue’s water, and I left a mountain of dishes for my father to clean. But in a word, everything about the meal was: perfect.
Below are the recipes that made the afternoon magical.
What’s next? Tomorrow we are heading south for a month of Mexican baking in El Paso, Texas. More recipes to follow!
To be continued.
English Muffin Bread
Adapted from Barefeet in the Kitchen
Makes 1 small loaf
2¾ cups all-purpose flour*
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon instant yeast
½ teaspoon Corneal
Olive oil for greasing the pan
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the sugar, salt, and yeast.
Mix in a cup of warm water (no hotter than 110° F) and knead** the dough for about 5 minutes or until ‘shaggy’.
Spray a thin layer of olive oil onto plastic wrap and into a baking bowl and place the dough ball into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean cloth, set in a warm space in the kitchen, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour or until it doubles in size.
Near the end of the bread’s rise, preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a bread pan, and sprinkle cornmeal into it. Shake the pan around to coat the surface completely. This will give the bottom crust of the bread a nice, graining texture that is typical of English muffins.
Once the dough has doubled in size, carefully shape it into a loaf and transfer to the bread pan. Allow the loaf to rest for about 5 minutes before placing it in the oven.
Melt the butter, and drizzle half of it evenly over the top surface of the bread.
Bake the bread at 350° F for about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped.
Before the loaf cools, spread the remaining butter evenly across the top surface of the bread. Cover the loaf and leave it out at room temperature to cool completely.
Once cooled completely, slice the bread and assemble your finger cucumber sandwiches for Afternoon Tea.
* Note: I also tried this recipe using half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, but it turned into a brick.
** I used a bread hook with a mixer for the first time to knead, and it made kneading much easier!
Orange Chocolate Chip Scones
Adapted from Recipes for an English Tea: A Handbook for Afternoon Tea
Makes 5 large scones
¼ cup chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
½ cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup milk (I used oat milk)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Combine the chocolate chips and walnuts in a small bowl and grate an orange over the mixture. Combine and let the mixture stand while making the dough for the scones.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the remaining dry ingredients (baking soda, baking powder, sea salt, and brown sugar) until even.
Chop the butter into 1-centimeter slices, then use a knife or a pie crust hand masher to combine it into the dry ingredients until crumbly.*
Use a spatula to stir the milk into the mixture until even.
Fold the chocolate chips and walnut mixture into the dough.
Dust a cutting board and rolling pin with additional flour, and gently roll the dough into a thick layer. Use a cup about 3 inches in diameter to cut out each scone from the dough.
Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour before placing the scones on top of it, leaving at least 2 inches of space between each scone.
Whisk an egg to create an egg wash. Carefully brush the egg wash over the top of each scone using a spoon or a brush. Use a cloth or paper towel to wipe any egg yolk that drips onto the pan.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown.
To serve, cut in half, and spread orange marmalade and almond butter** over each half.
* Do not use a mixer! I tried using my mixer on everything after acquiring my first one last month and learned that dough for pie crusts and scones should not be mixed because it ruins their texture.
** Traditionally, strawberry jam and clotted cream clotted cream are served with plain scones for English ‘cream tea’.
Adapted from Mary Berry’s and Paul Hollywood’s recipes
Makes 12 mini tarts
For the filling:
1 cup milk (I used oat)
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
A sprinkling of nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 350° F and follow Cookie & Cup’s homemade pie crust recipe*. Cut the recipe in half to make 12 tarts.
Once the pie crust dough is made, set it in the refrigerator to cool for 30 minutes to an hour.
Next, roll out the dough, and use the rim of a cup that’s about 4-inches in diameter to cut out individual pie shells. After cutting each pie shell, immediately place into an ungreased muffin tin. Place the pie shell pan in the refrigerator while making the filling.
To make the filling, heat the milk on the stove until just before a boil (about 110 ° F).
In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks and sugar until ‘pale and creamy’.
Before the milk cools, whisk it into the egg yolk mixture.
Sieve the filling into a pouring jug to eliminate any egg white that hasn’t been incorporated.
Use the pouring jar to neatly fill each pie shell, and top with a sprinkling of ground nutmeg.
Bake at 350° F for about 20 minutes or until the center of each tart had slightly risen and the surface appears shiny and ‘set’.
Cool completely, then refrigerate overnight** until ready to eat (within 3 days).
* I also tried Paul Hollywood’s recipe for shortcrust pastry, but I always come back to Cookie & Cup’s homemade pie crust recipe because it’s just so easy to work with. For best results, I recommend using pastry flour
** My father says eating custard tarts cool is the ONLY way to eat them. I also informed him custard tarts are actually Portuguese, but he begged to differ.
Adapted from BBC Recipes
Makes 24 mini tarts
For the filling:
8 tablespoons butter
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds
Cherry or strawberry jam for filling
For the icing:
1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons water
Preheat the oven to 350° F and follow Cookie & Cup’s homemade pie crust recipe.
After chilling your pie crust dough for at least 30 minutes, roll it out, and use the rim of a cup that’s about 4-inches in diameter to cut out individual pie shells. After cutting each pie shell, immediately place into an ungreased muffin tin.
Line each pie shell with parchment paper, fill the shell with dried beans or rice**, and blind bake at 350° F for about 20 minutes or until the edges become golden brown. Cool for at least 20 minutes before adding in the filling.
While the pie shells are baking, make the frangipane by creaming together butter and sugar, then mix in the egg.
Use a spatula to fold the ground almonds into the mixture. Rest the mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use (within the same day).
Once the pie shells have cooled, add about 1 teaspoon of jam to each shell. Top with about 1 tablespoon of frangipane.
Line the edges of each pie shell with aluminum foil and bake at 350° F for about 20 minutes or until the filling has set. Cool the tarts completely before adding the toppings.
Once the tarts have cooled, make the icing by mixing powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of water. Mix the remaining water in 1 teaspoon at a time until the frosting reaches the desired consistency (not too runny!).
Top each tart with a thin layer of icing, then place a candied cherry at the center or each tart before the icing sets.
Store in the refrigerator until ready to eat (within 3 days).
* Note: Fresh or frozen strawberries or raspberries can also be used you don’t have candied cherries or feel like making them.
** Filling with dried beans or rice is not optional! If you skip this step, your crust may form a bubble in its center. Trust me, I’ve made this mistake!
Dark Chocolate Glazed Scotch Shortbread
Adapted from Traditional British Cooking by Elizabeth Ayrton and Theodora Fitzgibbon
Makes 8 slices
For the shortbread:
8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
¼ cup brown sugar, plus additional sugar for topping
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Vegetable oil for greasing the pan
For the chocolate glaze:
1 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks from chocolate bars (I like to use a mixture of both)
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Sift the flour into a small mixing bowl. Whisk in the sea salt until even.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar.
Use a spatula to incorporate the flour mixture into the creamed butter.
Grease a 9-inch round baking pan.
Place the dough into the baking pan and use your hands to press and flatten the dough across the surface.
Using a fork, prick the dough toward its outer edge to mark the 8 sections that will be sliced for serving.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the edges become golden brown
Once baked, top with additional brown sugar and cut into 8 slices while still hot. Allow the shortbread to cool fully before topping with chocolate glaze and sea salt.
To make the chocolate glaze, temper the chocolate by melting butter in a saucepan. While the butter is still hot, pour into a bowl filled with dark chocolate. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute.
After a minute has passed, stir together the chocolate and butter until smooth and glossy.
Once the shortbread has cooled completely, dip the tip of each piece into the chocolate glaze and use a knife to smooth its surface.
While the chocolate is still hot, sprinkle sea salt onto the top chocolate surface.
Cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Cover and store overnight to allow the shortbread to continue to crisp up and the flavors to continue to develop.
¼ cup water
1 Earl Grey teabag
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Honey, to taste
1 cup milk (I typically use oat)
Cocoa powder, for sprinkling
Bring water to a boil.
Add 1 Earl Grey teabag to water in your tea mug. Whisk in honey and vanilla extract. Leave to steep for 3 minutes.
While steeping, steam your milk.
Once 3 minutes have passed, use a spoon to remove the teabag from the hot water. Pour your steamed milk over the water.
Sprinkle a touch of cocoa powder on top of the milk and enjoy hot (preferably with a scone in hand).
* My father informed me this recipe is most definitely not British, and we actually had a traditional pot of Earl Grey tea for our tea party with milk and sugar. BUT this recipe is my favorite way to drink English tea.
Stay tuned for my month of Mexican baking in El Paso, Texas, and please reach out with any recipe inspiration!
To be continued.