- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Who among us doesn’t love a cup of tea, especially when it’s part of a formal afternoon tea, that lovely tradition in which a fondness for tea and a penchant for sweets come together most agreeably around 4 each afternoon?

Though we may be more of a nation of coffee drinkers these days, the ritual of afternoon tea is still alive and well and even is making a comeback of sorts as a theme for children’s birthday parties, bridal showers and christenings.

The custom of drinking tea dates to the third millennium B.C. in China, but it wasn’t until the mid-17th century that tea appeared in England.

Afternoon tea as a daily event was established around 1840, a time when lunch was eaten quite early in the day and dinner wasn’t served until 8 or 9 in the evening.

Anna Maria, the seventh duchess of Bedford, is credited with establishing tea as a social event. Feeling a bit hungry late one afternoon, the story goes, she asked her maid to bring tea and a tray of bread-and-butter sandwiches to her room.



The duchess enjoyed taking tea so much that she started inviting her friends to join her and gradually expanded the menu to include assorted fruit breads and small pastries.

Although a proper afternoon tea is made up of three courses - sandwiches and savories, scones and tea breads, and decadent sweets - trendy tearooms have begun to offer themed events, adding champagne or chocolate martinis.

Several establishments in London and Paris offer fashion teas with cakes and sweets modeled after the season’s latest handbags, shoes or hats.

Goat cheese and fig sandwiches on raisin bread

Makes 12 sandwiches

Afternoon tea at Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel includes a fruit-and-cheese sandwich on raisin bread.

FIG SPREAD:

1 package (10 ounces) dried Calimyra figs, stemmed and chopped

1 3/4 cups water

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

SANDWICHES

12 slices raisin bread

2 4-ounce logs plain goat cheese

2 tablespoons milk

Fresh chive sprigs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, for topping

To make the fig spread: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the figs, 1 1/2 cups of the water, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the figs are nearly tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, add the lemon juice, and process for 20 to 30 seconds (adding remaining 1/4 cup of water if necessary) or until smooth. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

To make the sandwiches: Preheat the broiler. With a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out a round from each slice of bread. Arrange the rounds on a baking sheet and toast them under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned.

In a small bowl or food processor, combine the goat cheese and milk. Whisk or blend until smooth. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, and then pipe the cheese onto each round of bread. Top with a spoonful of the fig spread and garnish with 2 pieces of chives

Salmon mousse pinwheels

Makes 12 large or 24 mini pinwheels.

SALMON MOUSSE

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

4 ounces smoked salmon

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon drained capers (optional)

SANDWICH

12 slices dark wheat or pumpernickel bread, crusts removed

2 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips

To make the mousse: Combine the cream cheese, butter, chives, horseradish, salmon, lemon juice, and pepper in a food processor and process for 20 to 30 seconds, or until smooth. Stir in the capers, if using. (Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days; bring back to room temperature for spreading.)

To make the pinwheels: Roll the bread slices flat with a rolling pin. Spread the salmon mousse on one side of each slice and arrange pieces of smoked salmon on top. Roll up and place seam side down on a serving plate. Cover with a damp tea towel or paper towels until ready to serve. Serve pinwheels whole, or cut in half diagonally and serve angled side up.

Battenberg cake

Makes 8 servings.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup milk

2 to 3 drops red food coloring

1/2 cup apricot jam, heated

7-ounce package marzipan

Confectioners’ sugar

Granulated sugar

To make the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking-oil spray with flour. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour, baking powder, almond extract, and milk.

Cut a piece of cardboard to a 2-by-7-inch length and wrap it with aluminum foil (to serve as a barrier between the two colors). Spread half the batter into one side of the prepared pan. Add the food coloring to the other half of the batter, and stir until it’s a deep pink color. Transfer the pink batter to the other half of the pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely and remove the barrier.

Cut each piece of the cake in half lengthwise. Trim crusts from sides, ends, and tops of cakes to make evenly shaped loaves that measure about 6 1/2-by-1 1/2-inches. You will have some cake left over from each loaf for nibbling.

Place one white and one pink strip side-by-side on a flat surface and spread the tops and center with the apricot preserves to “glue” the pieces together. Repeat with remaining pink and white strips to create a checkerboard effect and spread with the preserves to adhere the pieces. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the jam.

Knead the marzipan with your hands to soften. Sprinkle both sides of marzipan with confectioners’ sugar and roll between 2 sheets of waxed paper to a 12-by-6-inch rectangle.

Bring the marzipan up over the sides of the cake so edges meet at top, covering long sides but not the ends. Trim and crimp the seam and turn cake over. With a serrated knife, trim marzipan at the ends to make even. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Let cake stand, covered, for several hours or overnight.

Truffled wild-mushrooms tartlets

Makes 15 tartlets

Try these if you’re serving high tea, a more substantial meal that can include meats and egg dishes.

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 pound mixed wild mushrooms, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon white truffle oil

1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 large egg

1/2 cup half-and-half

15 mini phyllo shells, such as Athens brand

Fresh Parmesan cheese shavings

Minced fresh chervil for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the canola oil. Add the mushrooms and shallots and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft but not browned. Stir in the truffle oil and parsley. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and half-and-half. Stir it into the mushroom mixture. Arrange the shells on a baking sheet. Divide the mushroom mixture into each shell, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the filling is set. Remove from the oven. With a vegetable peeler, shave some of the Parmesan cheese on top of each tartlet, and garnish with a sprig of chervil.

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