I guess I should know by the now that after 4 years of doing this (yes 4 years!) that the deadline of 2pm for afternoon tea to commence seems to arrive quicker than I can throw a wet teabag at it (erm … no teabags here actually, something tea shaped anyway …). It can be a bit like putting a roast dinner on the table where there’s lots that can only be done or brought together at the last minute. So all of a sudden there’s a mad flurry of activity heating this, plating that, whilst answering the door for arriving guests and ensuring everyone is waiting comfortably for the feast to begin.
You have to be of a sociable inclination to want to come to a strangers house, meet complete strangers there and have tea together for a couple of hours or so. My guests today were certainly of that inclination and made for a very enjoyable afternoon. Once again I was very humbled and flattered that my afternoon tea experience be declared superior to anything anyone had had at Betty’s. True, I had put a lot of work into it all, as I always do, but to have it openly appreciated is very special.
I had a mixture of new and repeat visitors amongst the guests. One had been to my inaugural event back in July 2011 so it was lovely to compare notes on how far I have come since that day.
I was also honoured to be patronised yet again by my most loyal of guests. There was some pressure there to ensure her +2s had a good time – the meeting of ‘Mum’ and ‘Mum in law’ for the first time could be extremely awkward occasion! I needn’t have worried as I could hardly have got a word in edgeways with the constant flow of chit chat and laughter.
So the proverbial gong of 2pm (or a little after) had sounded and it was time to feast …
- Homemade, ‘very lemony’, hummus combined with a simple salad of carrot, mint, raisins and roasted seeds.
- Classic prawn Marie Rose – the Marie Rose sauce wasn’t simply tomato ketchup and mayo but also included paprika, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire & Tabasco sauces.
- Brie & grape – I think black grapes are essential for a more dramatic effect to contrast against the white creaminess of the Brie.
I still source my bread from a local bakery. I think it essential that the bread is fresh, light and thinly sliced. They tick all these boxes.
- A recipe I am so pleased to have discovered is a Sicilian Potato cake. This time round I adapted it by replacing the prescribed pancetta and salami with green & black olives and sundried tomatoes. It was delicious and I may never revert to the original version again it was so good.
- Swiss onion tart is another firm favourite of mine. There is nothing complicated about this dish. Simply onion (lots of it!) caramelised to bring out its natural sweetness, combined in a creamy filling and baked until only just set, in a wafer thin short crust pastry case. No soggy bottoms here!
My ‘pudding’ creations were all inspired by pictures I had seen in recipe books or online.
- With summer just hanging on these triple berry cheesecakes seemed ideal and if the comments from my guests were anything to go by, these were a hit. There is no denying that they were tricky to put together in getting the layers even and to achieve a smooth finish on the outside with no gaps or air bubbles between the layers (I didn’t quite achieve perfection but was close enough!). The three types of berries were blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and I used a lemon flavoured sponge for the base.
- The meringues, baked with flaked almonds, were filled with a chantilly cream using salted caramel.
- I wanted to do a very special cake for today, not only for my guests, but more so because it was my dear Mum’s birthday. I suspect I may have spent more time thinking and planning how to construct this cake than I did actually making it. The challenges were working out the dimensions of the chocolate collars and the acetate strips; tempering the chocolate properly; finding a suitable way of moulding the chocolate to the semi hemisphere collars I wanted (the original recipe did a full circle of chocolate around the cake, applied directly to the cake once it had been iced – I couldn’t work out how to do that without tempting complete disaster!). No, the safety of setting the chocolate collars in empty cake tins was my chosen method and it worked. Just.
The frosting was cream cheese with melted white chocolate and whipped cream. The final challenge was cutting it!
- And of course, last but no means least, my buttermilk scones; light and fluffy in side with a slight crunch to the crust, served warm from the oven. Clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam.
And so it was that the proverbial gong sounded again to mark the end of another very happy afternoon spent over tea and cake in wonderful company. A thank you to my guests for making it all worthwhile. I hope to see you all again soon.