Mystery Tea

Although I normally read weighty intellectual tomes (actually, it’s mainly cookbooks) sometimes there’s nothing like a good/bad/cheesy murder mystery. I particularly enjoy the ones from the 1920′s to 1950′s where many characters indulge in afternoon tea!

Agatha Christie’s ‘The ABC Murders’ has Poirot visiting a small cafe as part of an investigation:

It was the kind of place that specialized in morning coffee, five different kinds of teas (Devonshire, Farmhouse, Fruit, Carlton and Plain), and a few sparing lunch dishes for females….

Hastings later says “that Carlton tea, it was abominable!” Now here is the mystery, what is a Carlton tea??????? I expect that ‘Devonshire’ is a cream tea and I can make an educated guess as to farmhouse, fruit and plain, but Carlton? I’m stumped! Not even the internet has been able to enlighten me. Can you help? Or at least give me a clue…

“c’est abominable”

First posted on ” guide to afternoon tea” May 2012

Cake-of-the-month: Angelic

What do you do with leftover egg whites? Usually they get put in an old margarine tub in the freezer and forgotten about, though macaroons, meringues and marshmallows are all possibilities.

After making a couple of batches of custard based ice cream (tutti frutti and peanut butter choc chip, if you were wondering) I had eight egg whites needing to be used up, also a handful of strawberries from the garden and some leftover cream. It’s also time for cake of the month. Put it all together for strawberry angel cake.

Angel cake  or Angel food cake is light, white, delicate and soft and best of all fat free (unless you put cream in the middle) Perfect for a summer afternoon tea or evening dessert.

Angel Cake

  • eight egg whites
  • 250g icing sugar (sifted)
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 140g plain flour (sifted)

First choose your cake tin, it could be a large round or square tin. a couple of sandwich tins or a fancy bundt type tin. Grease and line as usual. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºc/150 fan/gas mark 3.

In a large bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar till well risen (see main photo) sprinkle over the sugar a couple of spoonfuls at a time and whisk in.

Add the flour in three goes, folding it in gently with a large metal spoon, a wooden or silicone spoon just knocks all the air out again!

Scrape the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 20 to 30 mins or until it is lightly golden on top and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean, it really doesn’t take very long compared to other cakes. Cool on a wire rack.

I like to serve mine filled with cream or marscapone, with seasonal fruit if there is any. It’s also delicious as is or with a fruit coulis.angel2

Summer in the city

I call this one “Early evening in June”. June is iced tea month.

Imagine sitting on a verandah in the heat of the afternoon, maybe on one of those swings, with the hum of the crickets and a huge pitcher of iced tea. Maybe in the deep south. In the not-so-sunny West Midlands of England’s green and pleasant land a hot cup of tea and a jumper are still the order of the day.

If you want something that tastes like iced tea but still warms the insides, why not try a cocktail such as Long Island Iced Tea or even simpler, Harry Brompton’s alcoholic iced tea. I love it, it reminds me of the fizzy Lipton Ice that came in a can in the late eighties, only alcoholic. Now fetch me a coat, blanket and wind break and let’s go to the beach!

(I was not paid to endorse this product, I just happen to like novelty booze)

iced tea

Buttered Crumbs Bake Off – Biscuits

Biscuits a.k.a cookies, I love them (except custard creams, they’re rank), and whereas I’m terribly snobby about shop bought cake, I’m just as happy with a mass produced biccie as a homemade one.

I suppose my signature biscuit would have to be a Cornish Fairing. Homemade they are crisp on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, with a warm spicy flavour. They have great sentimental value too because I made them for the first time one summer holiday, with my dear departed Grandmother, aged nine or ten (me, not Granny). The recipe was copied into a recipe folder she had given me for Christmas and I’ve been making them ever since.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with spices other than ginger, aniseed worked well, and even crumbled Daim bar But today I give you the original recipe in all it’s unadulterated glory.

Cornish Fairings

  • 6oz self raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice (apple pie spice)
  • 3 oz butter
  • 3 oz brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 180 fan. Grease a couple of baking trays.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, ginger and spice into a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles crumbs. Stir in the sugar.

If it’s a cold day you will need to warm the syrup to make it runny, otherwise just drizzle it into the bowl. Mix together with a wooden spoon till it starts to clump, then use your hands to knead it into a smooth dough. Add a small drop of milk or water if the mixture seems too dry.

Break off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut and roll them into a ball. Place well apart on the baking tray and flatten slightly. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until a rich golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before trying to get them off the tray, they are very soft when they come out of the oven but harden fairly quickly. Cool on a wire rack.

Did you know? Biscuit comes from the French for “twice baked” because the first biscuits were just pieces of bread hardened off in the oven.

Afternoon Tea – How much to serve

So how much food do you need to prepare?

First of all, is your tea party replacing a meal or is it just an afternoon event? If you are replacing lunch or having an early tea then you will need savouries, if just an afternoon event you can leave then out if you want to.

I advise keeping it simple. For a family of 2-4 I would suggest 1 plate of sandwiches or other savoury, 1 cake and 1 plate of scones or pastries. There will be plenty of leftovers for snacks or lunchboxes the next day.

For 5-8 people make two types of sandwiches and two cakes. Remember that the more people there are the more likely it is that somebody will not like something (my eldest son does not like raisins for example) so it makes sense to have a choice.

9+ I suggest two lots of sandwiches, a savoury pastry, two types of cake, an extra sweet and enough scones to allow at least one per person, though two would be better. A lot depends on who you are inviting, small children and the elderly tend not to eat much, teenagers and husbands tend to eat a lot. So you may want to add or take away from this suggestion depending on who expect to attend.

Our last large tea party included three elderly ladies, three teenagers and four small children in addition to five adults. I served 2 large cakes, 2 large plates of sandwiches, sausage rolls, 2 plates of scones and a plate of macarons. The savouries were all eaten but there was some cake and a few scones left at the end.

Why Afternoon Tea?

Why not??!! We could just leave it there…but

  • It doesn’t take the preparation that a dinner party does.
  • It’s in the afternoon, when everyone has gone home you still have the evening for other stuff.
  • If you’re not keen on cooking you can always buy cakes and pastries or get guests to bring a contribution.
  • As a relaxed and informal way of entertaining it’s great for getting to know people such as neighbours or mums at the school gate. It’s also ideal for children and the elderly who may not have the energy for an evening meal or who need to be in bed early. Also elderly ones are usually not invited out very often so they really appreciate a social invitation they can manage.
  • All of the food can be prepared in advance leaving the host/hostess time to chat to guests.
  • CAKE
  • Its fun to make your own family traditions.
  • More cake etc.

Why not start planning your tea party today?

The June 2010 issue of Country Living magazine featured the “Bring Back Tea Time” campaign (really worth reading if you can get a copy). The article “Make Time For Tea” summed up nicely the reasons why we as a family had decided to host an annual spring cream tea (now in it’s 8th year) Here is a link to the online version of the bring back tea time campaign: