Through the Kitchen Window

When I had my own little coffee/lunch shop, I used to do a high tea on Wednesday afternoons. It was sometimes very well attended, it was sometimes not so well attended. But in truth, I did it for myself. I’m an avid reader and for some reason tend to gravitate towards the British authors. I love them. And I love the rituals they describe. Like afternoon tea.

Since I closed the restaurant, and though there are many places in this city that offer an afternoon high tea, I’ve never managed to find the time to attend at one. Until this past Christmas. Well, rightly speaking, it was actually between Christmas and New Year’s. My daughter treated me to high tea at the well known Windsor Arms in the heart of our city.

It was lovely! While I might have asked for a larger selection of black teas (there was really only one, all other teas were herbal) I did like the fact that each of us had our own pot which was topped up regularly. Good and hot. Perfectly boiled water. AND tea leaves! Not for this place the bag!!!

If you’ve never experienced a proper high tea, and if you can’t locate one in your city, it’s fairly easy to reproduce in your own living room.

Traditionally, afternoon tea consists of an assortment of sandwiches and other savoury bits. In addition, there are bound to be scones, pastries, cookies, plain cake and sweet breads. There can sometimes also be a more fancy cake for the finale. You’ll sometimes find crumpets, English muffins or even toast in place of or in addition to the scones. You get the idea that the exact make up is not entirely set in stone.

Of course, the important ingredient, even the most important, is tea. If you’re hosting a tea for a group, it is crucial to provide an assortment to choose from. Myself, I prefer to have two or three black teas, several herbal or fruit blends and yes, even coffee for those in attendance that simply don’t “do” tea. Other beverages can also be offered, of course; at the Windsor Arms, we were offered a choice of champagne, port or sherry to begin.

Some points to keep in mind when brewing your tea:

  • use the best quality, loose leaf tea you can afford.
  • start with cold water in the kettle.
  • warm the teapot with hot or boiling water.
  • use 1 teaspoon of tea for every ¾ cup of water.
  • make sure the water reaches a rolling boil then pour it over the tea, replace the lid and steep it for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • always serve tea freshly made.

When making the sandwiches, it’s best to make them as close to the time you’ll be serving them as possible, but if you absolutely have to make them ahead, then be sure to cover them loosely with a lightly damp tea towel and refrigerate them. Be creative with your selections of bread and fillings, and try to keep the slices thin and uniform. One thing I like to do when spreading fillings is to try to get as close to the edges as possible and cut off the crusts afterwards. This way I’m sure that there won’t be a bit of sandwich that has no filling. There are always the traditional cucumber and watercress sandwiches, of course, but don’t overlook other favourites: tomato, shrimp, chicken, avocado, ham, cheese or even smoked salmon. The list is limited only by your imagination.

For savouries, try mini quiches, cheese puffs, scotch eggs, crab triangles. The idea is to have something tempting that will tantalize the taste buds.

For accompaniment to your scones and plain cakes and breads, have an assortment of jams, jellies, preserves and of course clotted cream if it’s available where you are. If not, the following recipe for a crème fraiche is a reasonable substitute: Start with equal amounts of sour cream and 35% (whipping cream). Stir them together till well blended and set in a warm place (I use my microwave oven) for 24 hours. Stir again to reconsolidate and refrigerate till ready to use.

In place of the fancy cake to end the tea (and because they added a selection of petit fours) the Windsor Arms provided sliced strawberries lightly dusted with sugar and topped with fresh cream. It was perfect! And there’s no reason you can’t serve both the berries AND the cake if you wish.

Try it. Invite some friends or some family you haven’t seen for a while. Indulge in good conversation, great treats and spend a relaxing afternoon refreshing yourselves.

Trust me, you’ll thank me!


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