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Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Serving a Proper Afternoon (English) Tea
This is such a quaint idea! The next time you have some friends over, try this - and charm them all!
(Ideas sent in by a reader.)
While afternoon tea fare can be as simple as a wedge of cake or a couple of cookies, it usually consists of three courses. Here is the proper order of service:
Begin by pouring a cup of tea for each of your guests. This is the part where you get to say fun things like, "one lump or two?" and "would you care for any lemon?" Add whatever is desired, then place a teaspoon on the saucer and pass the tea to your guest. (She gets to stir her own tea.)
When everyone has a cup of tea, pass plates of sandwiches and savory foods such as mini-quiches or tiny mushroom turnovers. Don't be in a hurry to offer seconds, as you won't want your guests to fill up before dessert, but be sure to pour more tea as needed. Teacups are usually quite small, and most people are used to drinking out of deep mugs.
When plates are empty, progress to the "bread" course, which is usually scones, although you might choose to offer some type of muffin or a not-too-sweet tea bread. Scones are always served with jam. Strawberry preserves are traditional, and have the advantage of being universally liked. You might also offer very thick, unsweetened whipped cream, the American version of that British treat, clotted cream. (Many specialty markets carry small jars of "Devonshire" cream in their dairy cases. It's expensive, but delicious. Try it if you have the chance.)
Next comes dessert, which traditionally includes one showstopping cake or torte--on a pedestal server if you can manage it--and two or three small, delectable sweets.
And that's it. Simple.
Be sure to have everything set out when your guests arrive. Not only will your friends enjoy looking at the treats, but you won't be dashing back and forth to the kitchen for any reason except to make another pot of tea. (Be prepared to make several pots of tea. Your guests will linger.)