Fashions come and go and right now afternoon tea has never been more popular, my nieces have recently discovered the joy of a nice afternoon tea. My American friends really love a tea party when they visit. Tea at the Ritz is wonderful, but you have to book way-WAY in advance. So here I hope to give you a few pointers on how to throw a simple, elegant party.
In the example I’m using I catered for 40 people, sounds like a lot of effort, but if you plan ahead, make a list and stick to it you will find that the event goes smoothly and you have time to enjoy your guests.
Way in advance you need to think about a few things
- Your menu
- Fruit cake
Get collecting fine bone china, start way in advance. China, especially the fine bone china that I prefer is very expensive if you buy it new. You will be very surprised how far a few £s or $s will go if you shop in junk shops, charity shops and garage sales. There you will find incomplete sets that have very little value to a lot of people, however to me they are very valuable.
I choose to serve each person with what the folks in the trade call ‘a matching trio’; that is a matching cup, saucer and plate. With not spending much cash you can have quite a variety of trios, all from different sets creating a charming effect. I need to have a count up, but from memory I have over 100 sets, plus a variety of serving plates teapots, jugs and more.
It is important that you set your menu way in advance, that way when you find items at a good price then you can set them aside. Work out what you can make and freeze, what you will have to get fresh on the day.
An important question is to add a drinks aspect to your party or not. Trust me I like a drink, actually I’m gagging for a glass of chilled white wine as I type! The posh London Hotels all offer a glass of bubbly as an extra, but this is one time when I do not think it goes; I just don’t think it’s appropriate. But this is a decision you will need to make – we are all different. Without the addition of drinks a tea party is a shorter event and I’m happy with that.
I make my fruit cake 3 months before I need it. The recipe Erik and I like is from Delia Smith; it’s her light fruit cake. It is more fruit than cake and the fruit is bathed in booze overnight before you make the cake. This is delicious when served fresh but we like to keep the cake (undecorated) in an airtight, feeding it weekly with brandy! So that is one thing that you can make in advance, it needs decorating in the week before and this only takes a few moments.
I made up three types of sandwiches;
- Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese (Brown Bread)
- Ham and Tomato (White Bread)
- Beef and Horseradish (Granary Bread)
I have not catered for those who need a gluten free diet, nor for our vegetarian friends, but you could make something special for them. If you are catering for those with special needs make sure that their food is kept aside from the main food, however it is a nice touch if their food does not look totally different, don’t make them stand out.
Now the uninitiated amongst you may stress over making up a lot of sandwiches, I’m only showing one tray here – I made 4 full trays! However you can make them the day before, I know people who swear that they plate them up in the fridge and they stay fresh, however I make up several sets of each flavour (except the ones with fresh tomato in them – the tomato adds too much water overnight). Fit the filled sandwiches snugly into a tray or container that will go into the fridge, spray a clean tea-towel with a little fresh water and wrap the towel around the sandwiches – poking the damp cloth down the sides of the container. It is important to cling film the whole piece otherwise the fridge will dry them out overnight.
The next morning make the ones with fresh tomato: get the others out of the fridge. I then stack one each of the three types of sandwich on top of each other. Whilst they are still cold I trim off the crusts, then slice through all 3 layers of sandwich cutting the stack into thirds.
On the serving tray I lay each group of three sandwiches on their side (as shown in the photo above) and add a little Rocket (Arugula for my US readers) or lettuce to keep each triple slice separated from its neighbour. Then when you come to serve you pick up a group of three finger sandwiches with their green garnish and pop it onto your guest’s plate. Keep a small stash of sandwiches aside to cater for people’s tastes or dietary requirements.
For my tea party I made
- 3 types of sandwiches
- Mini scones served with jam and clotted cream
- Fruit Cake
- Chocolate Fudge Cake
- Chocolate Fudge Cake with Coconut White Chocolate Frosting
For large numbers like my 40 people I make two fudge cakes and prepare different frosting for each of them. The recipe is from Nigella, it is her chocolate fudge cake and I make up double the recipe ending up with 4 moist dark chocolate sponges. The first one I fill and cover with her fudge frosting (part of her recipe). The frosting for the second cake is made up in the same way as the dark chocolate one but I substitute white chocolate. I stir a handful of coconut into the frosting that I am using to sandwich the sponges together (leaving the remainder of the frosting plain). I coat the outside of the cake with the frosting and then press dried coconut into the surface.