What’s a birthday without cake? Yes, indeed. So what could be more apt than taking afternoon tea to mark such an occasion? I was privileged to be asked by a cake loving and like-minded friend to provide an afternoon tea to coincide with the 60th and 92nd birthday celebrations of two members of her family.
Armed with the knowledge that my guests were adventurous foodies, I set about putting together a menu that featured items that didn’t hold back on flavours or unusual combinations. Said friend is also a regular participant in my ‘tasting panel’. Cognisant of the feedback there, I set to work (in a nice way) and this is the result …
To get things going relatively sedately, shall we say, on the flavour scale, the sandwich fillings included egg & peppery cress; satay chicken with cool, crunchy cucumber; and tuna with capers, parsley & dill (freshly picked from my very own herb garden that I’m very proud of).
Stepping up a gear on the flavour scale, the savouries featured Sicilian Potato Cake and my Mum’s cheese and onion biscuits garnished with black onion seeds. Both of these are bursting with strong flavours and produced the usual expressions of delight as they have both been featured on my menus before.
Moving on to the sweet stuff, I’ll break with tradition and mention my buttermilk scones first (for some reason, I always seem to refer to these last). They are more often than not picked first before anything else on the ‘dessert’ menu so they deserve a ‘promotion’. It’s probably just as well too because they are served hot, straight from the oven to the table in fact, and, in my view, are at their best when warm. They are light in texture with a crunchy outside. My homemade apricot jam and clotted cream provides the necessary completeness.
For the chocoholics, chocolate cheesecake brownies. Fundamentally, a chocolate brownie, with baked vanilla cheesecake swirled through it. I make no bones about it; it’s a very rich, chocolate experience but the ultimate indulgence. Slightly under baked guaranteeing the soft, fudgy brownie finish, with the cheesecake cutting through the richness with tangy vanilla, these were the business.
The other dainties on offer were macarons – two different fillings and colours:
– the yellow ones filled with lemon curd (made without butter I hasten to add which is my latest discovery!)
– the purple ones filled with sweet potato ganache and blueberry fruit de pâte. This unusual flavour combination I discovered in my most recent recipe book purchase, Pâtisserie by William & Suzue Curley.
The top rung of the flavour scale and ‘final word’ goes to the birthday cake, an Alabama Lane Cake or a ‘Prize Cake’. Most famously, this bourbon-laden cake is alluded to in Lee Harper’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’: Scout reports, “Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” ‘Shinny’ being slang for alcohol and ‘tight’ for drunk!
The first time I made this cake I wasn’t convinced it was a goer, but the feedback from my ‘tasting panel’ proved me wrong as it received rave reviews and is now officially on the Chez Shamwari menu list.
When all was said and done with the tea pot dry and goody bags packed up, it was safe to say it was a very happy birthday afternoon celebration.