HIGH_TEA_SMLFew of us would think of potatoe and onion cake or baked beans and cheesy casseroles at the mention of High Tea. Instead, we think of all things dainty: fine porcelain, fragrant tea, exquisitely decorated cupcakes and tiny sandwiches… As right as it seems, history would suggest we might be wrong…

High Tea was in fact a meal reserved for the working class, which was enjoyed when the men came home from a hard day of work, famished and ready to tuck into something heavy and filling. This meal was eaten at a high table, hence the name.

In contrast, Afternoon Tea, or in fact, Low Tea (because it was served on low tables), was a popular high society past-time which became fashionable when kerosene lamps were introduced… Let me explain. The introduction of kerosene lamps into wealthy households made it very fashionable to have dinner later but since, traditionally, there were no meals served between a late breakfast and dinner, ladies of leisure started to get hungry as dinner time was pushed back from 6pm to 8pm… Add to that the fact that tea itself was a very fashionable beverage and Afternoon Tea soon became the rage in the upper echelons of society.

So now that we have our facts straight, what exactly is Afternoon Tea? Well, it depends on what you are after really. Cream tea is tea served with scones, jam and cream. Add strawberries to Cream Tea and you have… Strawberry Tea! A Light Tea is tea, scones and sweets, while a Full Tea includes savories and dessert as well. Savories should be served first, followed by scones and finally pastries.

The celebration of the Queen’s Birthday this long week-end seems like the perfect occasion to revel in all things British and enjoy a cup of tea amongst friends. Here is a list of what you might feature on a lovely tiered platter. If you would rather enjoy the tea than make it, The Essential Ingredient stocks a great range of beautiful sweet and savory treats that will look as nice and they taste, from the tea itself to tiny meringues, delicious shortbreads, lemon curds as well as everything you’ll need to make it look spectacular.

You can’t have Afternoon Tea without scones:

Classic scone recipes for afternoon tea include cream scones, buttermilk scones, cinnamon scones, almond scones and dried fruit scones. (Note: The dried fruit scones recipe link opens as a video.)

Beyond these classics, there are many scone recipes to explore in this scone recipe collection. If you’re new to making scones, you might also want to check out this illustrated guide to making scones and these tips for making scones.

Savoury tea sandwiches:

  • Cucumber tea sandwiches are classic finger sandwiches that are usually made with white bread, butter, cream cheese or mayonnaise, and peeled, seeded, sliced cucumber.
  • Salmon tea sandwiches are typically made with thinly sliced smoked salmon (or lox) and dark bread (such as whole wheat, pumpernickel, dark rye or seeded, grainy breads).
  • Egg salad, chicken salad, shrimp salad and tuna salad finger sandwiches are all excellent additions to afternoon tea meals.
  • Other popular tea sandwiches include ham finger sandwiches (accented with apricot jam and Dijon mustard for a fruity, spiced flavor), veggie cream cheese tea sandwiches (versatile and kid-friendly) and tomato tea sandwiches (with herbed butter, cream cheese or cheese).

There is no limit to the variety of sweet treats that are served at Tea:

  • Banbury Cakes (Puff pastry with a filling of mixed peel, raisins and currants.)
  • Butter Tarts (A simple and classic sweet.)
  • Honey Tea Bread (A lightly sweetened bread that would be excellent with fresh butter or clotted cream.)
  • Lavender Cookies (Basic butter cookies, but elegantly flavoured with dried lavender.)
  • Lemon Sponge Cake (A light and fluffy cake that you can serve to finish off your traditional English Afternoon tea.)
  • Madeleines (A little puff cookie, flavoured with either lemon or orange.)
  • Meringues (These meringues are a melt-in-your-mouth treat.)
  • Shortbread (A basic recipe for this classic dessert.)
  • Strawberry Tartlet (These take a bit more work, but they’re like a little taste of summer.)

And to top it off, a selection of Afternoon Tea condiments:

Although you can buy jams and creams, you can also make them at home. This clotted cream recipe is relatively simple, as is this easy orange marmalade recipe. Lemon curd is a classic afternoon tea condiment. Other afternoon tea toppings and spreads include mock Devonshire cream, lemon-mustard mayonnaise, rose butter and herbed butter.


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