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Issue 4 - Tea time

Scotland Magazine Issue 4
September 2002


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Tea time

Sue Lawrence explores the ritual of afternoon tea the scottish way with a few tasty recipe ideas

Tea is a contentious subject in Britain. Not whether it is Earl Grey or Darjeeling in the pot or whether it is correct to pour the milk into the cup before or after the tea, but what exactly the meal of tea consists of. In the south, tea is generally a cup of that beverage with dainty sandwiches and some cake. In northern Britain, it is the evening meal, sometimes called high tea, but to us Scots it is quite simply tea. A hot dish of smoked fish or eggs or perhaps a summertime salad (invariably accompanied by hot new potatoes) is served with bread and butter then followed by a great array of scones, cakes and buns. It might not win praise from the health lobby but boy, is it tasty. And provided there is plenty of greenery in the main course and plenty of fresh fruit after the cakes, then it can also be a sensible meal which is served at a sensible hour.
Instead of being at seven or eight at night as dinner is invariably served down south, it takes place between five and six, which as we know is better for digestion and sleep. It also means you could just about head for the gym for a last work-out at 10pm, should you feel that way inclined.

But afternoon tea is also popular in Scotland. Served between three and five, it is always given the tag “afternoon” before tea, just in case people turn up for tea and are disappointed to find not a full meal but a substantial snack. We do not like to be short-changed over food (or money!) in Scotland. But to the average sweet-toothed Scot, afternoon tea is never likely to be a disappointment, full as it is of scrumptious sweet things, after the obligatory savoury. In the highly amusing Just William stories, whenever tea was served, William would go through the niceties of having to eat so much of the boring bread and butter before he could launch with gusto into the entire purpose of tea, which was cake. Usually chocolate cake and, certainly for William, at last three huge slabs.

But the savouries need not be boring essentials. The fillings for sandwiches can include anything from egg mayonnaise or watercress to smoked salmon, venison or prawns. It is important however to bear in mind the word “dainty” (one not many Scots are familiar with on the plate!) since the focal point of afternoon tea is the towering cake stand – three tiers of
goodies simply waiting to be devoured.

There will always be scones – plain, fruit, treacle or potato, ready to be spread with butter or clotted cream and jam. Then there might be some sort of “tray-bake” – flapjack, tiffin or shortbread. And perhaps jam tarts, madeira cake, Selkirk bannock, pineapple cake or gingerbread. Dense, rich fruit cakes such as Dundee cakes are also popular as, of course, is the ubiquitous chocolate cake. Nothing contentious about that: tea without cake is like Burns Night without haggis.

Smoked salmon OR venison sandwiches
Thinly sliced brown or rye bread, lightly buttered
Horseradish sauce
Smoked salmon or smoked venison
Rocket or watercress leaves

Lay out the slices of bread, spread half with a smear of horseradish then top with salmon or venison. Pile on some rocket, season with pepper then top with the remaining bread.
Cut and serve.

Date and ginger shortbread
175g / 6 oz self-raising flour, pitted
175g / 6 oz semolina
175g / 6 oz butter
85g / 3 oz golden caster sugar
175g / 6 oz pitted dates, roughly chopped
55g / 2 oz currants
1 tbsp stem ginger chopped
1 tbsp ginger syrup ( from jar of stem ginger)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
Good pinch of ground cinnamon

For the filling, place all ingredients in a saucepan with 3 tbsp water and bring slowly to the boil. Cover then lower
the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes then purée until smooth.

For the shortbread, place the flour and semolina in a bowl. Warm the butter and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved then tip over flour and combine well. Press two-thirds of this to a buttered 20cm / 8” square cake tin. Smooth the surface then spoon the date mixture on top, leaving a margin around the edge. Cover with remaining mixture – I crumble it over the top then press down lightly with the palm of my hand.

Bake at 190C / 375F / Gas 5 for about 25 minutes until golden brown then cut into squares while hot. Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Macadamia, Coconut and Pineapple cake
140g / 5 oz golden caster sugar
3 eggs
85g / 3 oz macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
400g / 14 oz tin of crushed pineapple in
natural juices
140g / 5 oz self-raising flour, sifted
85g / 3 oz desiccated coconut
Filling / topping
225g / 8 oz mascarpone cram cheese
2 tbsp pineapple juice from the tin
25g / 1 oz coconut chips or shredded coconut, toasted

Beat the sugar and eggs together until thick and creamy then stir in the chopped nuts. Strain the pineapple, serving the juice. Add to the mixture, stirring well. Fold in the flour and coconut and gently mix. Spoon into 2 x 20cm / 8” sandwich tins and smooth the tops.

Bake at 180C / 350F / Gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in the tins for five minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling, beat the mascarpone until smooth then mix with a little pineapple juice – about 2 tbsp. Use to fill and top with sandwich cakes and scatter over the toasted coconut.