Friday, July 24, 2009

The Enchanted Afternoon...

I had a tea party a little while back, a dresses-mandatory, midafternoon little-sandwiches-and-all tea party. I did one last summer (or was it two summers ago?) as well, so I had a little bit of experience. Was that enough to keep me from making WAY too much food?

No. No it was not.

This was the menu:
-bread, cheese and fruit platter
-strawberries and slightly sweetened whipped cream
-scones (plain and raisin)
-lemon curd
-tea-time tassies (mini pecan tarts)
-two tarts, a peach-and-pastry cream one and a lemon-curd-and-raspberry one
-a rhubarb coffee cake
-cucumber sandwiches (with butter or with mint chutney)
-turkey and cranberry-mustard sandwiches (open-face)
-cheese-and-nut sandwiches
-watercress-and-egg sandwiches
-shortbread cookies with chocolate ganache and whipped cream
-cream puffs
- sorbet (which we didn't even eat at the party, because there just wasn't room)
-and, of course, different teas (hot and cold), lemonade, juice and water.

(And may I say that I couldn't have made all these wonderful things without the assistance of my marvelous sous-chefs... I have very tolerant friends!)

Excessiveness is a pretty essential part of any tea party, I think... I mean, the whole thing is completely ridiculous and over the top, and you just sort of have to embrace that. However, the above menu (for about 14 people) is definitely over-the-top. As a two-time tea party host, here is what I've learned about the essentials and superfluities of a tea party:

First of all, the ABSOLUTE essentials:
- Tea. duh.
- Scones. They're just... so tea-party-esque.
- The tea-time tassies. They are small, they are adorable, they are not very hard to make, and they are DELICIOUS.
- Fresh fruit. Easy and a nice, light break from the heavier foods.
- The sandwiches. I mean, it wouldn't be a tea party without them.
- And finally, a fancy dessert. So far, I've done tarts and a trifle, and I think they were both excellent options.

The optional touches:
- Strawberries and whipped cream -- turns the fruit option into something much more desserty.
- Cream puffs. I think they're super-fun to make, and they definitely seemed like a big hit.
- Flavored spreads. I had these at the last tea party -- honey-orange butter, herbed butter, etc. They're really easy (soften butter and blend in the add-in) and they're great on the plain scones.
- Lemon curd. SO good. And not too hard to make, if you heed my super-secret advice. Are you ready? Are you ready for this? Here it is: USE A MICROWAVE. Yeah. Last time I was up until 2 a.m. waiting for my lemon curd to thicken. The microwave can do it in minutes, guaranteed -- you just need to check every 30 seconds to make sure it doesn't overcook.

And the absolutely not needed:
- Coffee cake. It was delicious, but man, what was I thinking? Coffee cake is a great breakfast item, a wonderful snack on it's own -- but too heavy and large for a tea party. Scones fill the carb slot pretty perfectly.
- Bread, cheese and veggies. I set these out because I thought there wouldn't be enough food... again, what was I thinking? Also, clearly much too healthy for a tea party. Although certainly tasty.
- Shortbread cookies. They were just too much. I think they could be perfect for a tea party, but I just had too much food and these weren't bringing much, flavor-wise.
- Sorbet. It was chocolate sorbet, very delicious, totally unnecessary.

So there's my advice, in case you're ever planning on throwing a tea party. Here are a few easy recipes, for good measure:

Sandwiches: (These come from my Tea and Teatime Recipes book, so thanks, Maggie Stuckey!)

Cucumber sandwiches:
Slice cucumbers, sprinkle with a few tablespoons of mild vinegar, salt, and pepper. Toss, and let drain in a coliander for half an hour. Spread softened butter thinly on fresh white bread, then layer cucumbers. Top with another buttered slice of bread, cut off crusts, and slice sandwiches into small rectanbles or triangles.

Cheese and nut sandwiches (these are my favorite!)
Soften 1 brick of cream cheese in the microwave for 15 seconds, then add 2 tablespoons milk and beat until smooth and spreadable. Add 3/4 cup celery, diced, and 3/4 cup walnuts, chupped. Spread thickly on whole wheat bread, top with another slice of bread, remove crusts and slice sandwiches into small rectangles or triangles.

Turkey and cranberry-mustard sandwiches:
Mix equal parts Dijon mustard and cranberry sauce. Spread on sourdough bread and top with a deli slice of turkey. Cut off crusts and either slice sandwiches into small rectangles or triangles, or use a sharp cookie cutter of your choice.

Egg and watercress sandwiches:
Boil eggs and rinse watercress. Butter rye bread, cover with watercress and overlapping slices of egg, then top with another buttered piece of bread. Trim off crusts and cut into small rectangles.

Lemon Curd (also from Tea Time book):

In microwaveable bowl, beat together:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Stir in:
1/4 cup buter, softened
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest.

Heat on high in microwave for 2 minutes, and then for 30-second intervals, beating each time removed from microwave. When it thickens (you'll be able to tell, I promise! it will become more spreadable and less pourable, and start making fun gloppy sounds when you stir) stop microwaving and refrigerate until cold. The curd will be even thicker when it cools.

Tasty and really fancy-seeming desserts:

Make a pate sucree and bake in a tart shell. (That recipe is far more simple and helpful than anything I could write up! If you are having troubles, consult my favorite online pastry expert: Joe. He's got great articles on making, rolling and baking tart shells.)

Let cool completely, then cover the bottom of the tart with cold lemon curd. Dot artistically with fresh raspberries... or just throw them on, it'll taste the same. Chill, and serve cold to ooohs and ahhhs.

Raspberry Trifle:
You will need:
- Cake
- Raspberry liqueur (what a funny-looking word)
- Apricot preserves (my Tea Time book says you can also use baby food pureed fruit. So, maybe try that if you are less weirded out by that than I am).
- Frozen raspberries, thawed to pleasant mushiness
- Fresh raspberries
- Vanilla pudding and lemon pudding
- Whipped cream.

Cut the cake into little pieces. (This is a great way to save a cake that fell apart when it comes out of the oven! I made a chocolate trifle out of a chocolate cake disaster, chocolate ganache and whipped cream, and while it was a dense and intense pile of disguised failure... it was delicious. And nobody will know unless you tell them!)

Cover the bottom of a trifle dish (a clear, straight-sided bowl will do... or lacking that, any clear and bowl-like container) with a layer of the cake. Sprinkle with liqueur, then spread on a thin layer of preserves -- it might help if you heat the preserves so they are pourable. Add half your frozen raspberries, then one of your puddings.

Otra vez! Repeat the above. Top with anything that's left over (if you have more cake, say) and then whipped cream and the fresh raspberries. This makes a HUGE and beautiful and delicious tea party dessert.


andrew david said...

I was at that table! The spread looks good, and very wide and tall. Just invite some fat people. Then you won't make too much and you won't have to change at all! I always make too much too and plate too much thinking people eat as much as me. They do not. Yet I keep thinking the problem is with them and not me, after all, my stomach is on my side. It always says put more more more. Heap it high! I would love to do a tea party- if you replace tea with brandy, and party with by myself in my own room. Nah I kid. If I ever find some friends, I may try one. The cheese and nut sandwhiches sound great! Am I using too many exclamation marks? I say no way!!!!

Camila said...

Okay, it's decided. You get an "I believe in cheese!" tee shirt, and I'll get one that says, "I love tea parties... if you replace tea with brandy and party with by myself!"