A Chance to Slow Down • Afternoon Teatime
With the recent popularity of of television show, Downtown Abbey, as well as other works of British fiction have piqued interested in formal afternoon tea. Personally, I think of the tea party between young Cecily and Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, where the two ladies put on a pretense of civility while passive-aggressively lashing out at one another as they both believe to be engaged to Ernest.
In Britain, Afternoon tea is a light meal usually water between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Although, it is considered an esteemed British tradition, its observance can only be traced back to the 1830s or 1840s.
Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings. – Letitia Baldrige, American Etiquette Expert
"Sugar is not fashionable anymore..."
The tradition originated with the British upper class. Her Grace, Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford has been widely credited with turning afternoon tea into a mid-afternoon ritual. At this time, lunch was served at noon, but dinner was served no earlier than 7:30 p.m. The story goes that Duchess Anna was feeling hungry one afternoon and ordered snacks and tea to her chamber. Duchess Anna soon turned this snack into a daily affair. Many of her wealthy friends began joining her in the small afternoon tea meal. The ladies would sit in low armchairs and sip tea, thus leading some to refer to this as "low" tea.
At this type of afternoon tea ritual, tea is served with crustless sandwiches, scones, cakes, biscuits (cookies), as well as other tempting snacks. At a simpler type of afternoon tea, known as the cream tea, the guests are served scones with cream and preserves. (I have a recipe for easy to bake drop scones and preserves below.)
A lovely tea choice for afternoon tea is Earl Grey. Earl Grey tea is a tea blend which has been flavored with the addition of oil of bergamot, which is the essential oil of the bergamot citrus fruit. It is assumed to be named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s. If you do not wish to take caffeine, a blend of hibiscus and rose petals makes a lovely tisane or herbal "tea," which compliments the Blueberry-Cranberry Scones below.
Blueberry-Cranberry Scones with Hibiscus-Rose Tisane
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon pink or white salt
¼ cup raw sugar
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
2 egg yolks
1 cup kefir
1 teaspoon vanilla
Raw Sugar, to sprinkle on top
Preheat to 400˚F.
If you have a stand mixer: Sift together flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in the bowl to a stand mixer. Turn stand mixer to low and add cold butter pieces. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks. Then whisk in kefir and vanilla. Pour slowly into mixing bowl while mixing on lowest setting. Once a dough forms, shape dough into balls and flattened on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.
If you do not have a stand mixer: Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl and cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter or two table knives. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks. Then whisk in kefir and vanilla. Pour slowly into mixing bowl while intermittently stirring. Once a dough forms, shape dough into balls and flattened on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.
Serve warm with Blueberry-Cranberry Sauce (see below) and Stable Whipped Cream (see below), Devonshire clotted cream, or mascarpone cream cheese.
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Stable Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
¼ cup water
1½ teaspoons dried hibiscus petals
1½ teaspoon dried rose petals
Steep florals in 140˙F water for 10 minutes. Pour through tea strainer and serve.