I always look forward to designing my Christmas afternoon tea menu each year. There are so many wonderful flavours and delicious food to match the festivity of the season. While there were the usual suspects of my signature Christmas cake and mince pies, I experimented a little with incorporating other seasonal flavours into the menu with mulled wine and clementine and a different take on the stilton, pear & walnut combination. A complimentary sherry was offered to guests on arrival which got things off to a warm and welcoming start …
Sandwich flavours: I kept to simple flavours and combinations here avoiding anything overly rich to ensure a balance to the overall menu:
Egg and cress
Roast turkey & cranberry sauce – a must on any Christmas menu
Smoked salmon, lemon & black pepper – I marinated the smoked salmon in lemon juice overnight adding the black pepper on making up the sandwich. The result was a melt in the mouth, lemony, peppery effect.
Beef Wellington – homemade puff pastry filled with ‘just pink’ tender beef fillet served with Dijon Mustard. I was delighted the way these turned out. I must admit that I was very nervous about these as I wasn’t sure how successful I would be in achieving a ‘just pink’ middle and crispy pastry on the outside. I had used fillet about the diameter of pork tenderloin and was in danger of overcooking it. I pre-prepared it all by searing the fillet, surrounding it with a layer of mushrooms then wrapped in parma ham, all encased in puff pastry and then straight into the freezer. I then baked them from frozen at a very high temperature to crisp the pastry and basically defrost and gently heat the beef middle which was already cooked from the initial searing (for those wanting to know – 240C for 25 mins). I don’t think I would have been able to do this without my trusty Thermopen guiding me on the temperature of the beef middle (about 57C). There wasn’t any of this left for the goody bags!
Stilton, pear & walnut muffins – this is a classic combination of flavours and stilton is a must on any Christmas menu! These were delightful bitefuls with the pear cutting through any richness and strong flavour of the stilton with the walnuts adding great texture.
Scones with clotted cream and homemade jam – I didn’t think these needed any sprucing up with Christmas spice. They speak for themselves as they are.
Christmas cake – I made my cake several months ago and regularly fed it brandy to maximise the flavour and moistness. To keep up with Yorkshire tradition, there was a side of Wensleydale cheese to accompany the cake.
Mince pies – served warm to ensure the shortcrust pastry was at its best – light and crispy. They were filled with a very generous helping of my mincemeat.
Macarons – mulled wine and clementine. For the mulled wine macarons, I added mixed spice to the macaron shell and then filled them with whipped cream mixed with a mulled wine syrup and more mixed spiced. The clementine macarons were filled with a cream and clementine curd filling. I had intended to put flavouring in the shells but I forgot!
Gateau Opéra – this is sheer indulgence of coffee and chocolate. The inspiration for this came from my ‘recipe book of 2014’, Pâtisserie. There are conflicting stories about the origin of this French classic. The best known is that it was created by the chef pâtissier at Dalloyau, a Parisien pâtisserie house. One story goes that the cake was called ‘Opéra’ by the chef’s wife in honour of a prima ballerina at the Paris Opéra.
However, the Dalloyau website suggests the chef’s wife said the structure of the cake reminded her of the stage of the Opera Garnier in Paris, and henceforth it was called ‘the Opera’.
And far too soon it was time to say our goodbyes and wish everyone a very happy Christmas.