A new twist on the traditional afternoon tea social

Recipes include: Savory Mini Scones, Chicken Salad in Endive Boats, and Classic Cucumber Sandwiches

There is something so refined, so refreshing and oh, so English about tea. For me, teatime is a civil respite in the day, when frenzied schedules are reduced to gentle calm. Of course, there is no doubt that the English custom and fine art of afternoon tea can range from a simple “one lump or two?” to the more elaborate high tea that has been copied worldwide.

From tony hotels to B-and-Bs, four o’clock seems to be the magic time for putting on the kettle and laying out the necessary assortment of biscuits, tiny sandwiches and scones with clotted cream that draw us to this pleasant ritual. If it were up to me, afternoon tea would be mandatory for everyone!

As warmer and brighter days approach, why not do something fun and different? Host “a come for tea” that is inspired by the newness of everything around us—from the taste of just-picked, fresh herbs to colorful spring flowers. Here’s a chance to take out those little-used china cups and saucers, and your Aunt Tilley’s antique teapot.

Unlike at high tea, which is accompanied by a large assortment of finger foods, I prefer to keep things simple, and host a mini-tea with three or four savory and sweet nibblers. The nice thing about this approach is that you won’t be spending lots of time preparing.

Classic cucumber sandwiches are a must for tea, but simple as they sound, there is an art to making them. Cucumbers must be sliced paper thin, then salted, rinsed, dried and sandwiched with a thin layer of butter on really soft but good crust-less bread.

For a contemporary choice, chicken salad served on small endive leaves is a brilliant and attractive addition, and can be made ahead.

Scones—another star of the tea tray—can also be made ahead, and be sweet or savory, depending on what is mixed in the dough. For sweet, add raisins or dried fruits. For savory, add cheese, ham or fresh herbs (tarragon or rosemary will do nicely).

As for the tea itself, just remember that, in the words of the English, “you cannot make a cup of tea, if not the water boiling be.”

Savory Mini Scones

Makes 48

These adorable mini scones are perfect served with tea. The recipe makes a lot, so freeze a bunch for your next social!

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup grated Swiss cheese
2 tablespoons fresh, minced thyme leaves or other fresh herb
½ cup ice water

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Make a hole in the center of the ingredients and add the butter, buttermilk, cheese and herbs. Mix and add the water in small amounts until the dough comes together.

2. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and, with floured hands, pat each piece out to a 4-inch diameter. Place the rounds 3 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets and, with a paring knife, score each round into 8 equal pieces.

3. Bake the scones for 10–12 minutes. Cool on the parchment paper for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Recipe courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito

Chicken Salad in Endive Boats

Makes at least 24 boats

You can make this delicious and filling chicken salad early in the day, and then refrigerate until ready to serve.

2 boneless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
1 whole bay leaf
¼ cup lemon juice
Salt, to taste
1 cup finely minced celery
1 carrot, finely minced
¼ cup minced chives
2 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup diced dried apricots
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
1 whole Belgian endive, leaves separated, well washed and dried

1. Place the chicken breasts in a pot and cover with cold water. Add the bay leaf and lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and poach the chicken, partially covered, for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken to remain in the water for 10 minutes, and then drain well.

2. Pat the chicken dry, then mince well and place in a bowl. Add the salt to taste, celery, carrot, chives, parsley, walnuts and apricots, and combine well. Add the yogurt and mayonnaise, and add salt to taste. Set aside.

3. Cut the Belgian endive leaves into 2-inch crosswise pieces. Top each piece with a tablespoon of the chicken salad and dust with a whiff of paprika. Place on a serving dish.

Recipe courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito

Classic Cucumber Sandwiches   

Makes 40 squares

These classic cucumber sandwiches can be made about one hour before serving. I step out of tradition by adding fresh sorrel, a lemon-flavored herb. Other possibilities are watercress or arugula.

1 large English cucumber, peeled
Salt, to taste
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup minced sorrel
20 slices good white bread, crusts trimmed

1. Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible with a sharp knife or use a mandolin. Place the cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Let them drain for about 15 minutes, then rinse well and pat dry. Place them on paper towels.

2. In a bowl, combine the butter and sorrel, and mix until smooth. Spread a thin layer of the butter mixture on each of 10 slices of the bread.

3. Top with overlapping slices of cucumbers. Cover with the remaining slices of bread. Press down lightly on each sandwich, and, with a sharp knife, cut each into quarters.

4. Place the sandwiches on a tray and keep them covered with a slightly dampened towel. Uncover and arrange on serving dish just before the tea is poured.

Recipe courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito

Categories: Food & Recipes