The Main Menu: Have your own Royal Tea party

We are entering into the season of weddings and wedding showers. With the royal wedding just past, the afternoon tea has become a popular entertainment. With that in mind, here are some suggestions to make your afternoon tea the event of the season.

You may want to choose a theme for the tea and a colour scheme. Get out your prettiest cups and saucers, linens and container for flowers. I remember one tea where the bride loved the colour pink and roses. There were an assortment of rose decorated tea cups and pale pink rose bouquets to display on the tables in a fanciful way. These produced a very pretty background in an otherwise austere setting.

Food needs to be fresh and tasty; it does not need to be sophisticated, but it does need to be delicious and nicely presented. Some of the most requested recipes for tea are  scones with whipped cream and strawberry or raspberry jam, freshly made cucumber sandwiches, the classic egg salad sandwich and of course, melt-in-the-mouth shortbread – very traditional but very good.

Of course, don’t forget a piping hot, freshly brewed cup of tea.

Cucumber Sandwiches
This simple sandwich never fails to wow. Part of its success is the bread. You must use freshly made, thinly sliced bread (Montmartre Bakery at 104 Midwest  – Lawrence and Midland) makes excellent bread at super prices. Montmartre will also slice bread the way you want it: thin, extra thin, horizontal and vertical. (One loaf will make approximately 44 tiny triangular sandwiches. Someone once told me, you can never make enough cucumber sandwiches.)

Sandwich making is not the time to be counting calories. Both sides of the thinly sliced bread need to be spread lightly with softened butter. One piece of the bread needs a light coating of mayonnaise before applying uniform, thinly sliced pieces of cucumber arranged in an overlapping fashion to completely fill the bread slice. Sprinkle cucumbers lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the other half of the bread slice on top. Cover the sandwiches with plastic wrap and refrigerate a few hours or overnight. It is critical that the sandwiches have a chance to chill and firm up. It makes cutting them just before serving a dream. Using a bread knife with a serrated blade, remove the crusts from the sandwich then cut the sandwich into four triangles. Sandwiches may be carefully covered in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator over-night before serving on an attractive plate. Remember, any food left out for more than two hours should be discarded for food safety.

A scone is the rich cousin to the tea biscuit made with butter and with raisins or currants added. Traditionally, it is served hot from the oven, sliced open and spread with softened butter and accompanied with a bowl of whipped cream and strawberry or raspberry jam of the best quality (preferably homemade!)
2 cups (500 mL) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) raisins, currants or craisins
3/4 cup (175 mL) buttermilk or milk soured with 1 tbsp (15 mL) vinegar
1 egg
reserved egg wash
granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 425˚F (220˚C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In mixing bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles fine crumbs. Stir in raisins. In measuring cup, add milk and vinegar, if using; let stand a few minutes. Beat in an egg and reserve 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of mixture to use as egg wash to brush on the surface of the scone. With a fork, make a well in the centre of the flour mixture; stir in milk and egg until flour is moistened and starts to stick together. Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter and knead a few times until it is smooth but do not over work. Pat dough into rectangle about 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick and cut out closely together to minimize the amount of re-rolling of the dough with circular cookie cutter (about 2 inches/ 10 cm)  Arrange scones in even rows on baking sheet allowing about 2 inches (10 cm) apart to allow for spreading. Brush tops with reserved egg wash and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake in oven 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on rack a few minutes before serving. Makes eight to ten scones.

How to Brew Tea
This does not mean a tea bag dunked into a styrofoam cup of hot water. It does mean a quality tea (preferably loose) brewed in a warmed china tea pot (you pour boiling water into the tea pot first and let it stand for a few minutes, then discard this hot water), made with freshly boiled water, and the tea is allowed to steep the required length of time.
The length of time you brew tea is a challenge. It is an individual decision; some like it strong, nine minutes, others weak, three minutes or less. You will have to be the judge. Strange as it may seem; tea tastes much better in a china cup rather than any other type.
Once the tea has steeped it is poured and served clear with a lemon slice, or milk and sugar. One teabag (if using) makes two cups of tea.

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