Spring flowers + Scones + Finger Sandwiches + Outside with friends = Teatime.
The English have always known the pleasure of gathering friends and family in a garden with a ‘cuppa’ and a scone. What better way to spend time with people outside at a social distance as we all strain with impatience for life to get back to normal?
In order to serve tea properly, you need to know your tea vocabulary. The difference between ‘afternoon tea’ and ‘high tea’? Afternoon tea is what you have at the Ritz in London and in Betty’s Tea Rooms in Yorkshire. It is recognizable by its scones with jam and clotted cream and cucumber finger sandwiches. It is traditionally served away from the dining table – in a living room or a garden. In the grand tradition of late, formal dinners; afternoon tea bridged the gap between lunch and the evening meal. ‘High tea’ began as an evening meal for workers who did not have time for afternoon tea and came home for supper, a hearty meal, also called high tea. I would call it dinner.
Since your goal is to celebrate spring with your favorite people, you will want to serve afternoon tea. Here are some ideas.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (unsifted)
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (some recipes call for buttermilk instead of cream*)
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- To begin, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. Then, add cubes of chilled butter and cut in the butter with a pastry blender.
- In a separate bowl, beat two of the eggs until they are light and airy. Keep the third egg reserved for later—you are going to use it to brush the scones with an egg wash before you bake them to give the scones a beautiful, golden exterior.
- Add the heavy cream and mix until thoroughly combined. It will not hurt to have a bit more cream reserved in case you need to moisten the dough later. You can use water, but the cream will give the scones a richer flavor and texture.
- As soon as you add the wet ingredients, you will activate the baking powder, so you will be on the clock. Stir until the dough just comes together, then add the dried currants.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and press together until it barely holds together. You do not want to overwork it, or the scones will be too tough. If you need a bit more liquid to moisten the dough, you can add it now—about a tablespoon at a time, just enough so that the dough holds together.
- Dust your rolling pin with a bit of flour to keep it from sticking and roll the dough out to about an inch thick. Once again, do not overwork the dough or your scones will taste leathery and tough.
- You can use either a fluted or plain round pastry cutter for this step. Or just cut the scones into triangles with a knife, which is a good technique because you will have fewer scraps.
- Now it is time for the egg wash. Beat the last egg in a small bowl along with a tablespoon or so of water. Then, paint the tops of the scones with the egg wash. Use just enough to make the scones appear glossy.
- Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes. Scones should be eaten as soon after baking as possible. The perfect scone should be hot enough to melt butter without not quite burning your mouth when you bite into it. Feel free to play around with this recipe and substitute other ingredients like blueberries, lemon zest, or dried cranberries (especially great for when the holidays roll around).
Amy’s tips include using frozen butter and avoiding a food processor in favor of a pastry cutter. You can freeze dough and let it thaw a little when you want to use it. Keep the dough as cold as possible before baking to maximize rising.
Note from Ginny: Our local bakery makes a Ginger Scone which is worth traveling for. Either make your own by adding chopped candied ginger to this recipe in place of currents – or find a good bakery. Strategic outsourcing is a worthy tactic for home entertaining.
- 1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion salt
- 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
- 1 (1 pound) loaf sliced bread, crusts removed
- 1 pinch lemon pepper (Optional)
- Place cucumber slices between 2 paper towels set in a colander. Allow liquid to drain, about 10 minutes.
- Mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, garlic powder, onion salt, and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl until smooth.
- Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on one side of each bread slice.
- Divide cucumber slices over half of the bread slices; sprinkle lemon pepper on cucumber.
- Stack the other half of the bread slices with spread sides down over the cucumber slices to make sandwiches.
To make these the night before, cover with SLIGHTLY damp paper towels, then cover with foil. Keep in fridge.
When in doubt, wear a dress.…to tea