We all know it, that time of day that sits between lunch and dinner were the greedy gurgle starts to rear its ugly head and distract us from even the smallest of tasks. What this the solution? Afternoon tea, obviously!
The most British of traditions, brought to our tables by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1840. Anna herself suffered the same 4pm affliction but rather than prolong the hunger pains she requested a small feast of bread, butter and tea to curb the hanger. It was not long before all high society was partaking in the afternoon delight, wafting their airs and graces with their little pinkies stood straight to attention while grasping a delicate bone china cup and nibbling on platters of exquisite cakes and sandwiches*. Tally-ho!
(*Side note: We much take this moment to give our most heartfelt thanks to the Earl of Sandwich for his ingenious insight of adding a filling between two slices of bread. We are forever indebted.)
Today, this tradition is enjoyed by all societies and not just in the UK. I myself have been lucky enough to experience afternoon teas in South America, Australasia and Asia, each country adapting the classic menu to suit their own food cultures and flavours.
Here in the UK, the humble fare of bread and butter is no more and now we see elaborate and luxurious trollies filled anything from simple Victoria sponge cake to glazed exotic delicacies. As a ‘snack’ enjoyed all over the world it is perhaps no surprise to discover that it has its very own week! Afternoon Tea Week starts on the 12th of August and so we here at Corks and Forks want to give you some great suggestions for your own (socially distanced) Great British tea party.
Make sure your have the necessary wares; Dust off those paper dollies, cake cutters, cintzy plate ware (a trip to the charity shop will sort you out a treat with a whole mish mash of golden plate ware), cups and most important of all your, Champagne glasses!
Set the scene; Want to go all out British? Buy bunting and hang it from the rafters, dress the table with a pretty tablecloth (you can probably get some real deals at Cath Kidston at the moment, sad face!) and even consider some hoity toity name-places. Apart from looking totes profesh, these will have the double benefit of helping your guests to ‘know their place’ and naturally socially distance without an awks kerfuffle.
Bit boring for your tastes? What about a Mad Hatter/Alice in Wonderland tea party? Silly hats for guests (we all need a laugh right now), bit of crocket with hand sanitizer in grabbing distance, crazy arrows directing your guests to their seats, rose themed cakes and threaten the guests with ‘OFF WITH THEIR HEADS’ if they get too close to one another.
Or go completely out there and Marie Antoinette everyone! Only champagne and French fancies on the menu. Do not permit your guests to be seated at the table without a wig and corset and if anyone tries to disobey the social distancing rules, send them to the guillotine. Hmmm, maybe I just want to execute all the guests?! Anyway…
Drink, drink, drink; At a tea party you drink….Champagne! That’s right, forget the tea (OK don’t forget it but come on, let’s live a little!) The best afternoon teas are always the Champagne afternoon teas. Why other would all the top london hotels make sure you have glass of fizz in hand while reaching for the sandwiches with t’other.
Now let me explain why this is such a delicacy of a food and wine pairing; Champagne is made by the addition of a liqeur de tirage (basically liquid yeast and sugar) to still wine creating a secondary fermentation to happen inside the bottle. Rather than release the carbon dioxide from the fermentation into the atmosphere, it is trapped inside the bottle creating those little pearly gems of bubbles. Another by-product left in the bottle are the dead yeast cells, called lees which have been ‘consumed’ by the sugars in the fermentation process (mmm, making this sound so shexy for you all!) The lees impart, WAIT FOR IT…..a brioche, biscuity flavour and a more weight body to the wine. Um, hello food and wine flavour profile match of dreams; champagne, bread and cakes! Imagine Meg Ryan and the Katz Deli scene from when ‘Harry met Sally’. If you know, you know. Try Baron de Marck to have your mind blown!
There was something else? Ohhhh right! THE FOOD! Well, this is completely up to you, depending on the style you are setting out for your guest (see above) but if you ask me, NOTHING, oh BUT NOTHING beats the great British scone (with a cucumber sandwich on the side). Go ahead and make the scones with your own fair hands. I’m sure you have all perfected your scone making skills during lock-down anywho, but add a detail that will really impress your guests; Make the strawberry jam yourself too! According to a very dear friend of mine ‘it is actually offensive if you have another fruit jam with scones other than strawberry!’ You have been warned. When boiling down the strawberries in lashings of sugar add a splash of Champagne for that special touch that will make your guests wriggle with joy, especially when matching it with the Champagne in their glass. And of course, don’t forget the Cornish clotted cream on top!