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Issue 32 - More tea, vicar?

Scotland Magazine Issue 32
April 2007

 

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More tea, vicar?

Sue Lawrence provides some more mouthwatering recipes. This time, afternoon tea

There is good news for those whose favourite part of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest is the garden scene where Gwendolene and Cicely have a refined slanging match over the tea table. For afternoon tea, with its three-tiered cake stand, cucumber sandwiches and silver tea strainers, is back – and with a vengeance.

At The Ritz in London there are waiting lists of months and now instead of one sitting, an astonishing five sittings, from 11.30am until 7.30pm. At Gleneagles Hotel, waiting lists for the weekend afternoon teas are more than six weeks. Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh only began serving afternoon tea last year and already there is a huge take-up for the inexpensive treats, which include scallop and ginger samosas, smoked salmon brioche, fabulous scones and an array of scrumptious cakes, all baked in-house.

Its popularity decreased towards the end of last century. Having thought we had seen the end of this most civilised of meals, it is now back in all the best places, where of course there is never any confusion about whether it is afternoon or high tea.

There have been rumours formed over the decades about the derivations of the name high tea, some believing it was high because people sat at higher tables to eat this meal, whereas afternoon tea was taken at low tables, often in gardens or drawing rooms.

This is of course nonsense. Afternoon tea was always considered a social occasion for ladies and eligbile bachelors, a la Oscar Wilde, a trifling distraction between luncheon and dinner. It was a modest copy of the Japanese tea ritual, with social mores developing around it. Is the milk poured into the cups first? Must one eat bread and butter before cake? And so on.

In Scotland and the north of England, however, high tea was the evening meal of ordinary folk, and consisted of a savoury course then bread, scones and cake. It is also thought it began in richer middle class families on Sunday evenings when servants had to go out to an evening service at church.

The timing of high tea was later than afternoon tea (usually taken between 3pm and 5pm) as this was the last meal of the day.

Afternoon tea served either in a grand hotel or in your own home is a treat, but one that can be made even more of an experience. Whether you enjoy this most charming of meals in the Ritz Hotel’s luxurious Palm Court, your table dominated by a fabulous threetiered stand of sandwiches, scones and cakes, with the piano gently playing in the background – or at home with your own home-made strawberry jam to adorn your scones, you might want to pay homage to the Duchess of Bedford who, in 1840 started the fashion in rarified circles for afternoon tea. You might also want to toast her with a glass of Champagne (the sun will have set somewhere in the world) as well, of course, as the obligatory cup of tea.

LEMON AND SMOKED SALMON SANDWICHES

Makes 16-20 sandwiches (cut into quarters)
2 unwaxed lemons
8-10 thin slices of brown bread
unsalted butter, softened approx
200g / 7oz smoked salmon

1. Remove the rind and white pith from the lemons then cut the flesh into very thin slices, removing pips. Pat dry on kitchen paper
2. Spread one side of bread with butter, strew with salmon, season with pepper then top with lemon
3. Top with the remaining bread and cut into dainty sandwiches

CRUNCHY CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE CAKE

If you don’t want to make the honeycomb use three bashed-up Crunchies instead
honeycomb
4 heaped tbsp granulated sugar
2 heaped tbsp golden syrup
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
cake
600g / 1lb 5oz dark chocolate
cocoa solids
140g / 5oz liquid glucose
600ml / 1 pint double cream, lightly whipped
sifted cocoa to serve

1. For the cake, melt the chocolate and glucose together (I do it in the microwave) then cool for five minutes. Tip in the honeycomb, stir, then fold in the cream
2. Once blended, tip into your prepared tin (23cm loose-bottomed cake tin, base-lined with baking parchment and lightly oiled). Tap the tin, to level the surface.
Cover and chill overnight – or for a couple of days
3. Dust with cocoa and serve in wedges with pouring cream

1. For the honeycomb, melt the sugar and syrup in a heavy pan over a low heat then stir until it begins to boil
2. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for about three minutes, stirring constantly until it is a rich golden brown (Crunchie colour). Do not allow it to become dark or it will burn
3. Remove from the heat, add the bicarbonate of soda. Stir well – it will froth up. Tip immediately into a well-buttered, baking parchment-lined 18cm square tin.
Cool then break up into small pieces

PEPPER SCONES WITH STRAWBERRIES AND CLOTTED CREAM
Glaze with an egg yolk for an extra shiny crust
225g / 8oz self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
1/4-1/2 tsp ground white pepper
2 tsp caster sugar
50g / 2oz butter, cubed
150ml / 5floz milk
sliced strawberries and clotted cream

1. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the pepper: 1/4 tsp if you feel nervous, a scant 1/2 tsp if you want more of a kick
2. Stir in the caster sugar, then rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs
3. Add the milk and quickly mix together until a softish dough is formed. Do not overwork
4. Bring the dough together with your hands and place on a lightly floured board
5. Gently press the dough out into a circle about 2cm high. Cut out into eight scones and place on a lightly buttered baking tray
6. Bake on the top shelf of a preheated oven (Gas 7 / 220ºC / 425ºF) for 12-14 minutes, or until well risen. Remove to a wire rack to cool
7. To serve, split open, spread the lower half thickly with clotted cream. Top with strawberries then serve as it is – open – or top with the lid