Afternoon Tea...made easy!

>> Sunday, 25 April 2010

Oh the decadence of Afternoon Tea!

I have, on too many occasions, gorged myself on a truly scrumptious tower of cakes prepared by super-skilled pastry chefs in super-lovely hotels (just for note….critical evaluation has led to The Lanesborough to be the best thus far!).

I have though, never had the confidence to replicate this at home. The daunting prospect of the time, talent and effort required to produce a decent ‘spread’ has resulted in the possibility not even being considered. Cakes in the singular form are fine, but ask me to cook 10 different types for 1 occasion and I’ve always thought this was best left to the professionals!

However, there are now so many lovely cake stands and recipes that I felt I was missing out and it was time to face my fear! So, this weekend as a birthday treat I did it!

I’m not saying it was the easiest thing to do, or that it was the best quality of cakes I could make or even that it was as special as going to a beautiful hotel. It was however, a gesture of meaning because of the effort required and a personal achievement, scoring it pretty highly on the happiness factor!

My menu was as follows:

- Selection of finger sandwiches
- Fresh scones with jam and clotted cream
- Hazelnut meringues filled with chocolate cream or strawberries and cream
- Lemon cakes with mascapone topping
- Blueberry cakelets
- Chocomocho cookies
- Polenta and seed biscuits
- Cinnamon biscuits

Everything took about 3 hours in total to cook and prepare, so it does require some effort. In all honesty, there are some of the items I wont make again (Polenta biscuits, Cinnamon biscuits, Lemon cakes), but all of the others were a success with no failures! I’ve included the best ones below, but you can e-mail me if you want any of the others….

Hazelnut Meringues
Makes 20

150g hazelnuts
100g caster sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch salt

1. Preheat oven to 170c/GM 3
2. Toast hazelnuts in oven until lightly golden (5-10 mins)

3. Reduce oven temperature to 130c/GM ½
4. Whizz the nuts and 50g of sugar in a food processor until finely ground
5. Beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks have formed and gradually add in remaining sugar until the peaks are stiff and glossy
6. Fold in the hazelnut powder into the eggs until combined
7. Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet about 5cms apart (you’ll need 2 baking sheets)
8. Bake until the meringues are dry and crisp (25-35 mins)
9. Allow to cool

You can then either sandwich these together with whipped cream and slices of strawberry or the chocolate cream below:

Makes enough to generously fill 10!

75g icing sugar
30g melted butter
1 dessert spoon cocoa powder

1. Beat sugar and butter in a bowl
2. Mix in the cocoa powder
3. Stick the cooled meringues together with a heaped teaspoon (or more!)

Recommend you let these set for at least 1 hour before serving.

Chocomocho Biscuits
Makes 12

50g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
pinch salt
175g dark chocolate
60g butter
2 medium eggs
100g granulated sugar
1 dessert spoon instant coffee granules
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g chopped pecans
75g chopped hazelnuts
90g dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 170c/GM 3
2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl
3. Melt chocolate and butter together (use a bowl over simmering water)
4. Beat eggs and sugar together until pale and thick (advise electric mixer!)
5. Beat in chocolate mixture, vanilla and coffee in with the eggs
6. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients
7. Drop tablespoons of the dough 8cm apart on non-stick/parchment lined baking sheets (you’ll need 2 for this amount)
8. Bake until cracked on top (20-25 mins) and leave to cool

Other stuff….

China: For lovely, inexpensive crockery I’d advise either going to a factory outlet (my dinner service is from the Wedgwood Factory shop), where you can pick up great quality items particularly if you don’t mind seconds. Staffordshire is the best place to go for this and you can find all the Factory shops here. Otherwise, you can go with a shabby chic style and collect plates and teapots from Charity shops and auction houses. It will undoubtedly take some time to do it, but it will be completely individual and a little piece of history to enjoy!

Cake Stands: There are some gorgeous stands available, and John Lewis have a great selection or this article provides information on some more individual items.
If you’re feeling creative, you can even make your own! There is a step by step guide here or you can buy the finished goods here.

Tea: I tend to either buy my tea from the supermarket (heathen, I know), or have it bought for me in gorgeous tins from Fortnum and Mason (browse their rather special selection here). I have a friend who also highly recommends Tea Pigs, a cuter tea for your table!

Hope you feel inspired to try this too!!
Helen x

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