Sunday, February 21, 2016

Masterpiece Eat-a-Ter: Afternoon Tea at Home

Next to brunch, Brandy regards Tea Time as the most important meal of the day, or as Brandy puts it, "When I first came to the United States and realized that a proper four o'clock tea was not a recognized tradition, I almost turned tail and ran back home to Old Blighty."  But in recent years, there seems to have been a resurgence in the mid day snack, perhaps due to a few popular British television transplants, perhaps due to the changing landscape of the American work hours, or perhaps people have just finally wised up to how spectacular a good cream tea can be.

Afternoon Tea at Home by Will Torrent
Ryland Peters & Small, $24.95;
Photo credit: Photography by Matt Russell
Luckily, a new cookbook recently came to Brandy's attention; Afternoon Tea at Home by Will Torrent.  Chef Torrent, a world class patissier and chocolatier who has worked with the best of the best in the British culinary world, has set out to make the sometimes finicky and staunch world of high tea service a little less intimidating for the home cook.  The book is sectioned off into classics and essentials at the front, then recipes divided by season in the middle, and handy menu guides for designing tea service for different occasions at the back. Brandy found the photography absolutely gorgeous, showing off all of the detailed decorations and luscious fillings.  Though the pictures sometimes made the delicacies look complicated, the conversational tone of the writing combined with the clear directions made each recipe very easy to follow.

To design her tea service, Brandy had a few criteria.  "We must have a scone, a cookie, a cake, a sandwich, and something special," she sketched out.  She chose the Blueberry Buttermilk Scones with Honeycomb Butter, a nice little twist on the classic English treat.  The scones had the perfect tender texture with bursts of fresh berries and a little tang from the buttermilk, but the accompanying butter, which had been cut with crispy honeycomb candy, made these goodies very unique and extremely decadent.  For her cookies, Brandy couldn't resist making the Earl Grey Teapots.  These simple shortbreads were spiked with bits of actual Earl Grey tea, making them a fresh and sweet accompaniment to a hot brewed cuppa.  The cakes were a very easy Strawberry and Cream cake, made with clotted cream for an extra touch of Englishness, and came out rather buttery and crumbly, much like an American strawberry shortcake.  The sandwiches she chose were the Bloody Mary Shrimp sandwiches, which had a lovely creamy filling that packed plenty of punch to cut through the sweetness of the rest of the treats.  Finally, Brandy went full molecular gastronomist and made a batch of Lime and Mint Prosecco Jellies, topped with an infused foam.  Not only did these beauties make for a lovely presentation, they were actually quite easy to prepare.

"Oh, how I have missed having a good old afternoon tea!" Brandy exclaimed as she beheld the deliciousness before her, "And with these recipes being even easier than I had thought they would be, I now think I'm confident enough to attempt some of the more complicated goodies.  Now, to find a piping bag, some gelatin sheets, a few pieces of gold leaf and... on second thought, I should probably eat what I've already made."

Bloody Mary shrimp sandwich
The addition of some of the ingredients that make up a Bloody Mary cocktail to a classic Marie Rose sauce takes a simple prawn/shrimp sandwich to a whole new level. The crushed avocado butter elevates it even further, which in my opinion, when done right, is simply stunning.

400 g/14 oz. cooked north Atlantic prawns/shrimp
3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon paprika
a splash of Tabasco
1 tablespoon vodka (optional)
a dash of Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

75 g/5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 ripe avocado
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

8 thin slices brown bread
2 heads little Gem lettuce, shredded
celery salt, to taste

Makes 8

Pat the prawns/shrimp dry with paper towels and tip into a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, ketchup, paprika, Tabasco, vodka (if using) and a shake of Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix well to coat the prawns/shrimp. Taste and add a drop more Tabasco if you prefer the Bloody Mary sauce a little spicier. In another bowl, beat the butter until soft. Peel and mash the avocado flesh, and add to the butter with the lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Lay the bread slices out on the work surface and spread with the avocado butter. Cover half of the slices with the prawn/shrimp mixture and top with a neat handful of shredded lettuce. Cover with the remaining bread slices and press gently together. Using a serrated bread knife, cut the sandwiches in half or into neat triangles or fingers. Arrange on serving plates and sprinkle with a little celery salt before serving.

Blueberry and buttermilk scones with honeycomb butter
These are a weekend breakfast favourite of mine but are also perfect on an afternoon tea stand. Super simple to make and even quicker to eat… all of them! Serve warm from the oven with a dollop of honeycomb butter melting over the top – the perfect treat for a lazy weekend morning or leisurely tea. You can use frozen blueberries if you can’t find fresh.

350 g/2. cups plain/all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
3 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
125 g/1 stick butter, chilled and diced
75 g/generous .⁄1 cup caster/granulated sugar
175–200 ml/.⁄1/2 cup buttermilk
150 g/1. cup fresh or frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons demerara/turbinado sugar

100 g/3. oz. honeycomb or 2 chocolate-covered honeycomb bars
175 g/1. sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
a pinch of salt
2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment

Makes 16

Start by making the honeycomb butter. Tip the honeycomb into a freezer bag, twist the end to prevent any escaping and crush the honeycomb using a rolling pin. Cream the butter and vanilla bean paste in a stand mixer until really soft. Add the crushed honeycomb and mix again until combined. Lay a piece of clingfilm/plastic wrap or baking parchment on the work surface and spoon the butter down the middle to form a rough sausage shape, wrap up the butter tightly to make a smooth log, twist the ends to seal and put the butter in the fridge to harden until needed. Alternatively you can make the butter fresh while the scones are baking and use immediately. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the chilled, diced butter and rub into the dry ingredients using your hands. When the mixture resembles sand and there are only very small pieces of butter remaining, add the caster/granulated sugar and mix to combine.

Make a well in the middle of the mixture, add the buttermilk and blueberries and stir to combine using a rubber spatula. Once the dough starts to come together, use your hands to form a rough ball. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Very lightly knead for about 30 seconds to bring the dough into an almost smooth ball but do not overwork the dough. Cut in half and flatten each half into a round disc each about 16 cm/6. inches in diameter. Using a long, sharp knife cut each disc into 8 triangular wedge shapes.

Arrange the wedges on the prepared baking sheets and brush the tops with a little milk, scatter with demerara/turbinado sugar and bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 12–14 minutes, or until well-risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack and serve slightly warm with slices of the honeycomb butter ready to spread on top.
The writers of this blog were given a copy of this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

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