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High Tea Expectations

August 18, 2008

An image from a past tea at my home (summer time requires lemonade too!)

I attended a tea yesterday for a fellow grad student’s birthday at a local tea house. It was a lovely lovely afternoon– child free, women only, lots of talking and tea drinking. I usually go to tea for my birthday, but somehow this year it hasn’t happened, so it was nice to revisit that wonderful afternoon ritual for another’s birthday.

The ambiance of the tea house was very nice, and the service impeccable, but the food, honestly, was disappointing (then again, perhaps I am never satisfied with anything less than homemade). My auntie has schooled me in throwing our own very satisfying teas over the years (I was lucky enough to have her throw my baby showers and my wedding shower teas) and so it is very very hard to meet my expectations for tea food. Thinking on that on the way home, I thought I might share a couple of my favorite tea party recipes (I’ll post them at the end).

One of my favorite sandwich recipes that is a little outside the norm is Cucumber and Roquefort Cheese Sandwiches from a book titled Afternoon Tea Serenade (These are the top sandwich in the 1st picture). The original recipe was collected from The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, which I can say from personal experience, does one of the best afternoon teas in the San Francisco area– truly worth doing if you are in the area and feel so inclined (my other favorite tea place in the San Francisco is Lovejoy’s— less refined, more eclectic, but delicious food and welcoming environment).

The thing that was missing from today’s tea experience was a hot scone. To me the scone is the anchor of a good tea, and the quality of the scone speaks to the quality of the tea. No scone? It is just luncheon with hot tea. I have made a variety of scones, but my favorite are a quick and easy biscuit-like Orange-Cherry Scone. This recipe came to me from my Auntie, but she told me it was originally from The Honor Mansion B & B in Healdsburg (a stone’s throw from where I live). I like these as much for their flavor, as for their ease– particularly because they can be prepped and placed in the fridge, then popped in the oven when your guests arrive, so that you may serve hot scones!

And last, a tea is really not a tea with out a little sweetness. The highlight of all the teas my auntie has thrown are her Chocolate Dipped Shortbread. She varies the shape of the cookie cutter to fit the theme of the tea, so for my sister’s baby shower which had a little prince theme for my nephew, she made little crowns. She has done these in dark chocolate, but in the last few years she has moved to white chocolate and they are as delicious as ever.

With these recipes, a couple egg salad sandwiches (try these with a little curry powder in them), and perhaps some fresh fruit and a pound cake or box of chocolates you are ready to serve tea. The only thing left is to ask, “One lump or two.”

Ritz Cucumber Sandwiches (My simplified version)

10 slices Tea Sandwich Bread (you can use cocktail bread or any other thinly sliced bread– I think Orowheat makes some thin sliced– or just your favorite bread. These are open faced so the thinness is not as important is with some breads– you do want to make sure it is sturdy enough to stand up to spreading, some breads will tear.

2 small cucumbers, peeled and cut into thin slices (or one English cucumber peeled and sliced) You can trim the cucumbers to the size of your bread and slice lengthwise, or just slice as you normally would.

8 oz Roguefort cheese

8 oz cream cheese at room temp

4 TBSP butter at room temp

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted (you can of course use the nut of your choice, pecans would probably substitute well)

Blend cheeses and butter together in blender or food processor until smooth. Spread a layer over each piece of bread (toast your bread if you like before hand). Place overlapping slices of cucumber on the toast. Trim off bread crusts (absolutely required for a tea sandwich– crusts are unsightly at the tea table), and cut into triangles. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts. Serve.

Orange-Cherry (or Cranberry) Scones

6 Tbsp cold butter

2 cups flour

2 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp finely grated orange rind

3/4 cup dried cherries ( I chop them into smaller pieces when them come whole– you can also substitute dried cranberries, etc)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly grease baking sheet. In a large bowl, cut butter into flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until misture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in orange rind and dried cherries. Add egg and milk; mix until mixture clings together and forms soft dough.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead gently about 15 times. Divide dough into fourths and pat into squares about 1/2 inch thick. Cut each square diagonally twice to form 4 triangles. Place on baking sheet. (The scones can also be frozen after being cut, or place on sheet and refrigerate covered overnight).

Bake abt 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter, lemon curd, jam, or Devonshire cream.

Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Hearts

2 cups unsalted butter at room temp

1 cup sugar

1 tsp almond extract (or vanilla)

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup finely chopped almonds (or pecans)

2 oz white chocolate, chopped

2 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

4 tsp shortening

Preheat oven to 325. In a large mixer bowl beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add extract and dash salt; beat well. Add flour, beat just until well mixed. Stire in nuts. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes (cookies should not brown). Cool on rack.

Cook and stir white chocolate and/or semi-sweet chocolate and 2 tsp shortening over low heat (in seperate pans if doing both) until melted, stirring frequently. Dip half of each cookie into a chocolate mixture, or half and half. Let stand until chocolate is set.

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