Afternoon tea, for me, is quintessentially British and it’s the way we celebrate so many occasions.
Who would say no to a spread of mini sandwiches and sweet treats with hot tea or champagne? Certainly not me!
On Friday we celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day back in England, and although I couldn’t be there to join in with the socially distanced street parties or back garden picnics, I just knew I had to participate in some way. People were encouraged to make scones and cakes and toast a glass of something to those who fought in WWII, so I decided that an afternoon tea in my little garden would be the perfect way to celebrate (hence the British flag!) Also, with it being Mother’s Day here in Peru today, it was the ideal weekend for a little household party.
If you’re not familiar with a British afternoon tea, let me explain. It’s a ‘meal’ eaten mid afternoon (between 3pm and 5pm) traditionally consisting of sandwiches, scones and small cakes or pastries, served alongside a pot of tea. It has completely evolved since its inception (in the 1800s I think!), with some places offering savoury afternoon teas, cocktails, themed spreads and super fancy show stopping presentations. However, the basic afternoon tea is really very simple.
Even with a slight shortage of some ingredients (I’m looking at you unsalted butter and plain flour), I still managed to create the three sections of a proper afternoon tea; finger sandwiches, scones and a sweet treat. Creating an afternoon tea may seem daunting, especially if you’ve seen the incredible creations in some London hotels, however it’s actually pretty straightforward. Prepare your cake(s) the night before to avoid a panic, the scones can be whipped up a couple of hours ahead, and then the sandwiches immediately before. Or if you’re really worried about time, then the scones be made and frozen, then just reheated on the day – they’re best warm out of the oven anyway! If baking really isn’t your jam, then you could actually purchase everything ready made at the supermarket (in the UK at least…), although I would definitely encourage you to make the sandwiches yourself! Or if you just want to make sure the baking is super easy, then have a look at this selection of ‘all in one’ cakes.
Once you’ve got your spread of delicious treats, just plate them up and serve them to your guests! At the moment, it’s probably whoever else is in the house with you, but even of you’re quarantined alone, I would definitely recommend making an afternoon tea for one! You can freeze the excess scones, make a recipe for just a few cupcakes (see @millitaylor on Instagram for her recipe for just 3 cupcakes) or make a freezable cake, and then just cut up a couple of your favourite sandwiches. In these crazy times, doing something different and varying your everyday routine for a special day, can really make you feel better in these situations – I know we all perked up!
So if you fancy throwing an afternoon tea for a birthday, anniversary, milestone, or just to make your Saturday afternoon a little more special, then I’ve got a few ideas for how you can do just that. I haven’t tried all of the recipes below (some I found when I was deciding what to do for mine), but they’ve all inspired me to put together another afternoon tea as soon as I possibly can!
Probably the easiest part of afternoon tea and definitely one to make yourself! I’ve seen teas made with mini square shaped sandwiches, triangles, and even ones made with flower shaped cutters, but I’m partial to the traditional rectangular finger sandwich – no crusts please. I love them made with squidgy white sliced bread, but a multigrain loaf is delicious for some fillings.
You might want to go upmarket with smoked salmon and cream cheese or roast beef and horseradish, or if you’ve got kids, maybe a Nutella filled one would go down a treat (it would with me), and perhaps sliced ham or cheese and pickle. I went for a simple cucumber (butter, cucumber and a touch of salt – you cannot go wrong) and a creamy egg mayonnaise for mine and if, like me, you love an egg mayo sandwich on white bread then give this Guardian ‘How to Make the Perfect Egg Mayonnaise Sandwich’ recipe a go.
I’m not going to give any links to various recipes, because I think we can all manage to whip up a sandwich. Just make sure to cut off the crusts!
I just love a freshly baked scone, still warm topped with a pile of jam. Even though thick clotted cream is the traditional accompaniment to the jam, I’m not a massive cream fan, so I don’t usually add it. And please don’t ask me whether jam or cream goes first, I don’t want to get involved in the argument that divides counties! Plain is traditional, but you could go for a fruit scone filled with raisins and sultanas, or go rogue with a savoury cheese one topped with chutney instead.
My scone recipe is this Delia Smith one, and we’ve been making them in our house for about 5 million years (give or take), so I highly recommend it. However, if variety is what your after then take a look at these…
* Check out Delia’s selection of scone recipes, with both sweet and savoury options accounted for.
* These Pimm’s scones would be a fun summer twist, and perfect for those who are going to miss Wimbledon this year…
* This afternoon tea twist on a ploughman’s could also be fun if you fancied a little something savoury and different!
* Rhubarb is in season at the moment, so if you can get some then maybe try using it to make some jam yourself!
CAKES & PASTRIES
Mini pastries are the norm at afternoon teas, and actually I don’t like it when places offer you a big slice of cake in favour of a wide variety of sweet bites to try. However for home, I do love a slice of cake, and I don’t have the energy or money to go about making lots of bite sized treats anyway. Now, you could just purchase a selection of different pastries, if you wanted to go that route, or you could bake a cake and cut it into slices instead, or if you’re feeling super adventurous you could even make a selection of fancy treats yourself. Bare in mind the amount of people you’re catering for, or you could be eating mini eclairs for weeks – not that that’s a bad thing…
For my tea I went for this classic lemon drizzle (so flippin’ yummy) – I halved the recipe for my little 1lb/450g loaf tin, but then used the full amount of drizzle to get the perfect level of citrus flavour. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then have a look at these delicious looking options instead…
* Mini cakes are often the best way to offer sweet treats at an afternoon tea, and these mini rose cupcakes and Earl Grey & lemon mini loaf cakes look like they would be the perfect addition and super cute to boot.
* Jam tarts are super versatile and always a hit with kids and adults alike.
* If it’s a big cake you’re after, then you can’t go wrong with a classic strawberry and cream sponge (especially if you’ve gone off piste with the scones!). However, if it’s too much of the same flavours, then this german chocolate cake looks insane, or if you need something gluten-free our household loves this lemon polenta cake.
* If you don’t want to venture past banana bread then why not make it a triple fudge one?
* I can never go wrong with these brownies, and they’re easy(ish) to cut into small squares to sit on top of your cake stand.
* Also, these melting shortbread biscuits are ones we’ve had versions of ever since we were kids and would be perfect.
* I always trust Nigella Lawson for chocolate desserts (see brownies above), so why not try these chocolate peanut butter cups, this chocolate pistachio fudge, or these gluten-free triple chocolate buckwheat cookies (my mum always has a batch of them in her freezer ready to go).
* If you really want to go all out, try making your own passionfruit macarons…..
To top it all off, make a pot of tea, pop open a bottle of something sparkling, or even create a cocktail for the occasion. We went for a super citrus-y fresh lemonade that could be spiked with pisco by those who wanted something stronger and left normal for those who didn’t!
Whether it’s tea for one in lockdown or for the entire street when quarantine is well and truly over, give yourself a treat, even if there’s no real special occasion other than that you’re doing okay and you made it through another week. Maybe an afternoon tea could actually help lift those lockdown blues!