While this isn’t a “Dinner Party” per se, it falls under the indexed series of the same name that refers to home entertaining.
When I recently gave an English tea party for a dozen female friends, we began the afternoon with dry sherry, moved on to Cream Scones (recipe in the post below), enjoyed a selection of dainty sandwiches, and finished with freshly made pastries from the bakery across the street from my home.
Alas! Tea sandwiches become soggy if they’re made too soon, so I prepared them shortly before our guests arrived, and didn’t have time to take even one photo before and during the party. I’m sorry about that, so you’ll have to imagine the table, set in white and cream, with silver candlesticks. It was lovely - but more importantly, it was fun!
Should you ever give a high tea (or another high tea, if you’ve already had one or more), I have some suggestions, below. As regular readers will know from the irreverent nature of this blog, fun is important to me. Whether in cooking or in life, spontaneous laughter makes us happy and keeps us feeling young.
I once gave a Dinosaur Tea (as in T-Rex). My reasoning for this was that “Only dinosaurs serve high tea!” The invitations and other little touches (including tiny plastic dinosaurs that served as place cards) used a dinosaur theme. However, I’ve also attended the stiff-upper-lip type of tea. Each was equally enjoyable.
I once had high tea at Claridge’s in London, only to learn that the Queen Mother had left five minutes before my arrival. Perhaps she couldn’t wait ...?
High tea served at home has its limitations. With many last-minute things to do before the tea I hosted a few days ago, serving warm Cream Scones was too much for me, though no one seemed to mind that the scones were at room temperature. The recipe for those same scones appears in the post that follows. They’re so good that you don’t need an excuse to make them! If you do give a fancy afternoon tea for a group, these at-home tips work for me:
• Write the name of each guest on a paper doily on the saucer immediately under his or her teacup. No more mix-ups and lost tea cups!
• Brew a large urn of black tea, making sure you remove the tea bags once the tea reaches its desired strength. Refilling a teapot from an urn is much faster than trying to brew tea pot-by-pot. Ensure you also have a kettle of boiling water ready to be decanted into a fancy teapot, so guests can brew their choice of herbal teas, as well. Although most guests want tea at a tea party, some prefer coffee. Prepare a small amount in your coffee maker.
In summary, you’ll need one attractive coffee pot and two attractive teapots (one containing black tea; the other containing boiling water). I also offer the option of decaf coffee. Because decaf tends to be the last choice guests usually seek at a tea party, I don’t brew a pot of it, instead making it by the cup and by request in a single-serve coffee maker.
• Use your computer to make several labels to help your guests find what they need. Have your local stationery store laminate and punch a hole in each label, so you can keep them from party-to-party, tied to your teapots and coffee pot with dainty little ribbons. Mine read “Boiling Water,” “Caffeinated Tea,” “Caffeinated Coffee/Decaf Available on Request.” These labels also work splendidly for buffets.
• Leave a small dish for guests to drop their herbal tea bags. If you wet and leave a squeezed tea bag in the dish before the party begins, they’ll know what the dish is for.
• Allow a total of 3 slices of bread per-person, with the slices cut into rounds, triangles, squares, or rolled and later filled. Using both brown and white bread is more interesting than using white bread alone. Be sure to buy long loaves of square-sided sandwich bread, rather than regular bread. Mandatory: Cut the crusts from your bread! Mine are in the freezer as we speak, ready to be turned into next Thanksgiving’s turkey stuffing.
• At my tea, I had separate plates of sandwiches and pastries labelled “Gluten-Free.” All of this will become second nature as you start to entertain more frequently.
• What kind of tea sandwiches to serve? Tradition suggests that “ladies” should not be exposed to harsh flavors. Thus, no pickles, olives, smoked or spiced meats. No chutneys, mustard, horseradish, or whole nuts. Prepare your sandwich fillings one day ahead, covering and refrigerating them. So here’s what I made:
Egg Salad: I added the slightest bit of mustard to the mayonnaise I used to blend the hard-cooked, grated eggs. I also added a touch of fresh parsley, salt, and pepper.
Chopped Ham: I added the slightest bit of sweet relish to the mayo I blended into the ham.
Chopped Chicken: With mayo as the binder, I added a whisper of flaked, toasted almonds. Dried, sweetened cranberries would have been another good choice.
Cucumber: The recipe for these appears in a separate post, below.
Asparagus: Flatten trimmed slices of bread with a rolling pin, spreading lightly with seasoned mayonnaise. Place pre-cooked, well-dried asparagus spears onto bread, and roll up, securing with a toothpick.
Shrimp: Blend baby shrimp with seasoned mayo for a definite treat. I made just a few because of the high cost of shrimp.
Cherry Cream Cheese: Blending room-temperature cream cheese with maraschino cherry juice and slivered cherries makes a beautiful bite for tea.
Lay each batch of sandwiches you make onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (easier to stack crosswise than plates). Just before serving, transfer a varied and elegant assortment to sandwich trays or platters. Be sure to cover your pre-made sandwiches with a damp, clean tea towel until you’re ready to do that.
• Allow 2-1/2 pastries per-person. If you’re a masochist, a perfectionist, or a professional baker, make these pastries yourself - but I don’t. Pastry-making is an art. I prefer to buy them.
• Although I used fine china for this tea party, I threw everything into the dishwasher and recommend you do the same. How many times a year do you use this stuff? Exactly the point! Life is too short not to go easy on yourself.