What better to do on a very wintery Sunday afternoon in the middle of January than indulge in a delectable afternoon tea? Warm and cosy inside, lashings of tea and cake, great company and conversation; there’s no better place to be. These were indeed the sentiments of my guests as they sat down to share the deliciousness on offer.
With some new and some returning guests (who, I’m honoured to admit, are becoming part of the furniture due to their repeat visits!) with introductions made, there was lots to talk about but also some memorable lapses into silence round the table; not those ‘unpleasant, we’ve got nothing to say silences’ but signifying maximum enjoyment and only broken by ‘mmm, that’s delicious!’.
First course, dainty finger sandwiches and warm savouries. Sandwich options included:
• Avocado, pea, mint & feta – I was inspired by this combination following a visit to The Toast House in Ilkley. Not only is the pea and avo strikingly verdant, the flavours blend superbly.
• Coronation chicken – nothing like a bit of nostalgia on the menu. This classic is always certain to please with chicken breast poached to perfection, juicy and tender, coated in a mildly spiced and slightly sweetened sauce
• Egg & cress – always a firm favourite using only the freshest, locally hatched eggs.
Savoury options included:
• Muhamarra croustades – using my crispy and light shortcrust pastry I made little canapé cases and filled them with this most delicious and colourful red pepper and walnut dip which originates from Syria.
• Stuffed pesto potatoes – these are a delight morsels. The potatoes are transformed by a stuffing of baked potato , basil pesto, cheese and crème fraîche.
Second course, the sweet stuff:
• Buttermilk scones, homemade plum jam & clotted cream – served fresh from the oven.
• Honey glazed Dorset apple & cinnamon cake – a very simple, classic, combination of apple and cinnamon, finished with a glazing of honey. I like to have one of these kinds of cakes on offer where less is more and almost understated in its stature compared to what else is on the menu; otherwise one can be rather overphased by all the richness and bombardment of the senses from other corners of the menu.
• Custard tart – quintessentially English, this tart has the creamiest of custard fillings, dusted generously with freshly grated nutmeg encased in sweet, crisp pastry with a hint of lemon zest. From such comments as ‘this is the nicest custard tart I have ever tasted’, it would be safe to say that this went down rather well!
• Chocolate orange gâteau – the fun of this cake was the surprise of what was inside once sliced. The outside looked very chocolately and you’d be forgiven to think the orange was in with the chocolate glaze. But not so! The delight of this cake is revealing the stripes hidden inside. To put the cake together, instead of using rich buttercream as the recipe suggested, I decided to use orange flavoured crème pâtissière. The result was wonderfully subtle; far less sweet and rich than the buttercream which would have spoilt it in my humble opinion. The chocolate decoration was all my own work!
As usual, goody bags were neatly made up for each guest to take aware ensuring the Chez Shamwari experience lingered. And it was well worth the effort too as I was touched to know that such a goody bag brightened up a ‘blue Monday’ the following day for a certain guest.
So next time you’re wondering what to do on a cold Sunday winter’s afternoon, come for afternoon tea. But it does come with one warning; it may become addictive!