Chef’s Corner Store would like to cordially invite you to afternoon tea, that elegant meal when people sit down to take a break from their hectic lives, and indulge in dainty cups of perfectly brewed tea and bite-sized treats. Now, pinkies up -- let’s go over everything we’ll need to revive the tradition of afternoon tea.
The History of Afternoon Tea
Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is credited with popularizing afternoon tea in the mid-19th century. At this time, the upper classes often ate dinner as late as 9 o'clock in the evening. Inspired by her grumbling stomach, Anna invited friends to join her in late afternoon for tea and a light snack to tide everyone over. The custom became so popular, Queen Victoria hosted her own afternoon teas.
Meanwhile, the English working classes began their own tea tradition, known as high tea. While it might seem as if high tea ought to be served to the upper class, high tea was named for the high table and chairs where it was served. On the other hand, Anna and her guests enjoyed low tea in low comfortable chairs and sofas.
The fare at high tea also differed from low tea. Rather than light snacks, high tea was often served around 6 o'clock as the evening meal. It featured heartier fare, such as bread, vegetables, potatoes, pies, and occasionally meat -- all served with a mug of tea.
What's on the Menu for Afternoon Tea
The custom of afternoon tea is no longer observed daily. It is treated as a special occasion with a traditional menu. Luckily, that menu is simple and allows for mixing and matching store-bought treats with homemade ones.
Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam
The simplest version of afternoon tea is cream tea, where only scones, clotted cream, jam, and tea are served. This recipe for traditional scones from The Spruce reminded us of American biscuits, with fluffy layers. We also loved the buttery taste of the cream scones with currants in this recipe from Food Network.
We found the best way to describe clotted cream is a mix between creamy butter and rich, unsweetened whipped cream. The easiest option is to buy clotted cream, but if you’d like to try making it yourself, we think this recipe looks wonderful. Make sure to provide your guests with spreaders or small spoons so they can slather their scones with clotted cream and jam.
The ideal size for a finger sandwich is two to three bites of food. We think this is an excellent excuse to prepare two or three different varieties of sandwiches. Cucumber sandwiches come to mind first, but egg and cress, smoked salmon, and chicken salad are all excellent options.
Cucumber sandwiches consist of white bread with the crust cut off, thinly sliced cucumbers, and a spread made from cream cheese, lemon zest, and dill or chives. For other traditional finger sandwiches, check out these recipes from Tea with Mum for your next afternoon tea.
Cakes and Pastries
Remember, dainty finger food is de rigueur for afternoon tea. Nordic Ware cakelet pans are perfect for baking miniature goodies. You can also use a baking dish or jelly roll pan to whip up a batch of brownies, a sheet cake, or a cheesecake. Cut your baked goods into bite-sized pieces and dust them with powdered sugar or sweetened cocoa powder. You can also top them with nuts, berries and even edible flowers for an elegant look. Make mini tarts using puff pastry and a mini muffin tin, or buy pre-made tart shells. Then fill them with lemon curd for a not-too-sweet treat.
Tea, Of Course
If you’re nervous about serving tea to your guests, we’ve got you covered. Remember to have milk and sugar on hand so everyone can prepare their cup to preference. An electric kettle can help you boil water in style.
If tea isn’t really your cup of tea, feel free to offer another beverage. Homemade lemonade is refreshing during the summer, while hot cider is perfect for winter and fall. If you’re hosting kids you can’t go wrong with hot chocolate. Finally, if you’re hosting a bridal shower, fancy it up a notch and turn it into a champagne tea by offering, you guessed it, champagne.
Final Afternoon Tea Tips
Your afternoon tea can be as simple or as fancy as you like. The idea is to make it fun and indulgent. If you do not own proper tea cups and saucers, you can find a variety of patterns at thrift stores. Vintage hankies from antique stores make fun napkins, once they’ve been laundered, of course. Finally, take a page out of the Duchess’s book and serve afternoon tea in your living room to feel truly decadent.