Everything stops for afternoon tea

    It’s that most quintessentially British of traditions, and although it dates back to the 19th century the ritual of feasting on scones, cake and cucumber sandwiches is still as popular as ever. To celebrate National Afternoon Tea Week, which starts on Monday, we’ve selected some classic and contemporary recipes by fervent fan Will Torrent for you to try at home

    Afternoon Tea

    With the rise in popularity of tea drinking in the 19th century, it is said that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, and other ladies of the upper social classes would get a little peckish ahead of dinner. The solution was to have a cup of tea and a light snack mid-afternoon to keep the hunger pangs at bay. This soon became part of a daily routine, and the Duchess began to invite friends to the house to join her for refreshment.

    However, it was thanks to Queen Victoria that afternoon tea came to be the more formal affair we enjoy today. During her reign tea service became increasingly grand and enjoying the ritual in the country’s celebrated dining rooms held social status.

    Etiquette played a big part, from the dress code to the way that tea was poured and stirred.

    Today there are no strict rules when serving an afternoon tea, but traditionally it will consist of an ornate 3-tiered cake stand displaying a selection of dainty finger sandwiches and other small savouries, warm scones with accompanying pots of clotted cream and preserves, and a variety of visually appealing bite-size cakes and pastries.

    This enticing spread will be accompanied by your choice of a pot of freshly brewed loose-leaf tea, usually Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Assam are offered.

    Henry James (1843–1916), the great American author who spent most of his writing life in England, said: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

    Chocolate and cherry tarts

    CHOCOLATE AND CHERRY TARTS

    Makes: 12

    What you need:

    Hazelnut pastry:
    150g plain flour
    50g ground hazelnuts
    ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    A pinch of salt
    100g butter, chilled and diced
    25g icing sugar
    1 egg, lightly beaten

    Hazelnut ganache:
    75ml whipping cream
    100g chopped dark chocolate
    75g milk chocolate
    20g honey
    50g hazelnut butter

    To decorate:
    Cherry compote (see below)
    200g chopped dark chocolate
    Red lustre powder (optional)
    12 fresh cherries
    A 9-10-cm/3.-4-inch round
    cookie cutter
    A 12-hole muffin pan, greased
    Baking beans (optional)
    A disposable piping bag

    Cherry compote:
    175ml red wine
    juice of 1 orange plus 2 strips
    of peel
    1 bay leaf
    1 cinnamon stick
    ½ vanilla pod, split
    1 star anise
    30g caster sugar
    2 teaspoons cornflour
    2 teaspoons Kirsch or
    cherry brandy
    A 400g can dark cherries in syrup, drained and patted dry
    Makes: 500g

    What you do:
    Tip the flour and ground hazelnuts into the bowl of a food processor, add the cinnamon, salt and butter.

    Pulse to rub the butter into the flour until it is pale and sand-like in texture. Add the icing sugar and mix again to combine. Add the beaten egg and pulse until the mixture starts to come together.

    Tip the dough out on to the work surface and use your hands to bring it together to a neat ball. Flatten into a disc, cover in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour until firm.

    Roll the dough out on a lightly-floured work surface to a thickness of no more than 2mm.

    Using the cookie cutter stamp out 12 discs from the dough. Gently press the discs into the muffin pan, trying not to stretch the dough but making sure that the holes are evenly lined. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes
    Preheat the oven to 170˚C.

    Line the tart cases with a square of baking parchment or foil and fill with baking beans or rice. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until pale golden and starting to crisp. Remove the tarts from the oven and carefully lift out the baking beans or rice and parchment or foil, and return the pans to the oven for 1 minute more to dry out the tart bases.

    Remove from the oven and leave until cold before removing from the pan.

    Temper the chocolate for decorating by melting in the microwave in bursts of 30 seconds. Once the mixture is three-quarters melted, stop heating and stir well to remove any lumps. Spread out very thinly on to a sheet of baking parchment using a palette knife and set aside to harden. Once set, brush with red lustre powder.

    Next, prepare the ganache. Tip all of the ganache ingredients into a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir gently to combine into a silky smooth mixture, remove from the heat and leave to cool for 15 minutes. Transfer to the piping bag and set aside.

    To build the tarts, divide the cherry compote between the pastry cases and spread level.

    Pipe ganache over the cherry compote in an even, smooth layer. Finish each tart with a fresh cherry and crack the tempered chocolate to form shards that can be arranged on top. I find I often have a little dough leftover so I like to bake this with the tart cases and crumble it on top to serve.

    Cherry compote:
    Tip the red wine into a small pan, add the orange juice and orange peel, the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, vanilla pod/bean, star anise and sugar. Set over a medium heat stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer gently until reduced to 3 tablespoons of thick syrup. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve/strainer into a clean bowl to remove the spices and peel, then return the syrup to the pan.

    In a small bowl, combine the cornflour with the Kirsch or cherry brandy and mix to a smooth paste. Spoon the paste into the red wine syrup and whisk to combine. Cook over a low-medium heat until thickened and glossy and you can no longer taste the cornflour. Add the cherries and cook for a further minute to break down the fruit slightly.

    Remove the pan from the heat and cool completely before using.

    Classic Scones

    CLASSIC SCONES

    Makes: 24

    What you need:
    450g plain flour
    3 teaspoons baking powder
    A pinch of salt
    100g butter, chilled and diced
    75g caster sugar
    2 egg yolks
    250ml whole milk, plus extra for glazing
    1 teaspoon lemon juice

    To serve:
    Good quality or homemade strawberry jam
    Clotted cream or whipped double cream
    A 5-cm round cookie cutter
    A baking sheet lined with baking parchment

    What you do:
    Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the baking powder and salt.

    Add the butter.

    Start by using a palette knife to cut the butter into the flour, then switch to using your hands to gently rub the butter in.

    Do not overwork the mixture but lift the flour and butter up in your hands and gently press and roll it across your fingertips.

    When there are no visible pieces of butter remaining add the sugar and mix to combine.

    Make a well in the middle of the mixture and add one of the egg yolks, the milk and lemon juice. Use the palette knife to cut the wet ingredients into the dry, then gently mix with your hands until almost combined.
    Turn the dough out on to a lightly-floured work surface. Very gently knead until almost smooth. Pat or roll the dough to a thickness of 3cm.

    Dip the cookie cutter in flour to prevent it sticking, then stamp out discs from the dough. Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet and set aside. Gather the off-cuts of dough into a ball, re-roll and stamp out more scones to make as many as possible.

    Mix the remaining egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of milk and neatly brush the tops of the scones with the glaze.
    Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for about 10 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.

    Remove from the oven, cool on wire racks and serve on the day of making with jam and clotted cream.

    Shrimp Sandwich

    BLOODY MARY SHRIMP SANDWICH

    Makes: 8

    What you need:
    400g cooked North Atlantic prawns
    3 tablespoons mayonnaise
    1 tablespoon ketchup
    1/2 teaspoon paprika
    A splash of Tabasco
    1 tablespoon vodka (optional)
    A dash of Worcestershire sauce
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    Avocado butter:
    75g butter, softened
    1 ripe avocado
    Juice of 1/2 lemon
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    To serve:
    8 thin slices brown bread
    2 heads little Gem lettuce, shredded
    Celery salt, to taste

    What you do:
    Pat the prawns dry with paper towels and tip into a bowl.

    Add the mayonnaise, ketchup, paprika, Tabasco, vodka (if using) and a shake of Worcestershire sauce.

    Season with salt and black pepper, and mix well to coat the prawns.

    Taste and add a drop more Tabasco if you prefer the Bloody Mary sauce a little spicier.

    In another bowl, beat the butter until soft. Peel and mash the avocado flesh and add to the butter with the lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

    Lay the bread slices out on the work surface and spread with the avocado butter. Cover half of the slices with the prawn mixture and top with a neat handful of shredded lettuce. Cover with the remaining bread slices and press gently together.

    Using a serrated bread knife, cut the sandwiches in half or into neat triangles or fingers.

    Arrange on serving plates and sprinkle with a little celery salt before serving.


    Recipes and images from Afternoon Tea at Home by Will Torrent with photos by Matt Russell, published by Ryland Peters & Small. The book is available to Times readers for the special price of £14.99 including postage & packaging (rrp£19.99) by telephoning Macmillan Direct on 01256 302 699 and quoting the reference GJ5

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