It began with a fundraising request: Would I offer an authentic Scottish Highland Tea for four to benefit the organization JAFCO (Jewish Adoptive Foster-Care Options)? The event would be auctioned off at a dinner-dance at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla.
So it happened on a Sunday afternoon, as my dining-room table was transformed from utilitarian to elegant. Snow-white lace tablecloth and napkins, fine Wedgwood china, sparkling crystal and flatware, and all the accoutrements essential for a Highland countryhouse afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea really achieved “upper-class” status in Scotland back in 1875. Kate Cranston — with the help of Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh — created a tearoom in Glasgow that almost immediately became a fashionable destination. Scones and little cakes were served on silver-tiered cake stands, crustless sandwiches were passed around, and there was a grand choice of China and Indian teas.
Now don’t confuse this dainty affair with High Tea, which is a hearty meal usually served in the country and farming areas. With a variety of meats, fishes, cheeses and egg dishes, High Tea takes the place of a 6 o’clock dinner. Interestingly, America may also have been a nation of tea drinkers if it had not been for the heavily taxed tea that prompted the famous Boston Tea Party in 1773. Angered colonists stormed onto the ships, and cases of tea were thrown overboard. Coffee became the beverage of choice.
Our guests had arrived! My husband and host passed around a silver tray, balancing crystal liqueur glasses filled with single-malt whisky “to whet your whistle,” as the Scots say. In this case, the prized brew was a smooth, peaty 18-year-old Macellan brought back from a sojourn on the Scottish Whisky Trail.
Afternoon tea must always start with sandwiches. You’re not allowed to proceed to the scones and cakes until you’ve taken the edge of your appetite with at least one or two of them, allegedly invented by an Englishman — the Earl of Sandwich. Rumor has it that, while at a marathon gambling session, he instructed his servant to bring him a hunk of roast beef between two slices of bread. Gamblers gasped at this brilliance — and the name stuck.
However, for drawing-room teas, sandwiches evolved into dainty little morsels eaten slowly and with poise.
Since sandwiches are essential for afternoon tea, keep in mind the following so that they may be fixed several hours ahead of time. Store-bought packages of thinly sliced white and brown bread are perfect for the job.
Spread one side of each slice with softened butter to prevent sandwiches from becoming soggy. Ingredients like watercress and lettuce should be spin-dried (in a salad spinner) before using. Cut crusts with a sharp knife after filling. Cut into fingers or triangles. Place on a serving platter, cover with a damp paper towel or plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed.
I spike traditional fillings with prepared items like pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Traditional recipes are included below for cakes and shortbread. Dry mixture for scones may be made ahead, but mix and bake an hour or so before serving. Wrap in a clean kitchen towel and present all warmed up.
The aristocrat of sandwiches.
1/2 cucumber, peeled
1 tsp. white vinegar
12 thin slices brown bread
2-3 Tbsps. unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsps. prepared pesto
Cut cucumber into paper-thin slices. Place on paper towels in one layer, and sprinkle with vinegar and salt. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve. Pat off excess liquids with paper towels.
Butter each slice of bread on one side.
To Assemble: Spread 1 teaspoon pesto on each of six slices of buttered bread. Top with two layers of cucumber slices. Cover with remaining bread, buttered-side down.
Press down lightly. Cut off crusts with a sharp knife.
Cut each sandwich into four triangles or three fingers.
Place on a d’oyley-lined platter to serve.
Makes 18 to 24.
Approximate nutrients per sandwich: calories, 42; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 5 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 4 mg; sodium, 84 mg.
Smoked Salmon and Dill: Spread softened cream cheese on one side of bread slices. Cover with thinly sliced smoked salmon. Sprinkle with chopped fresh dill. Cover with another bread slice, cream-cheese-side down. Press lightly and cut into sandwiches as above.
Egg and Watercress: Butter white or brown bread as above. Spread with egg salad (home made or store-bought), top with enough spin-dried watercress to spill over the edges. Cover with another sliced of bread, butter-side down. Press lightly. Remove crusts; cut into triangles or long finger-shaped pieces.
Sweet Milk Scones
Usually served with clotted cream, and strawberry or gooseberry jam. Clotted cream is available in markets or use the recipe below. Use a biscuit cutter, which is deeper than a cookie-cutter, to allow the scones to rise.
2 cups, plus 1 Tbsp., all-purpose flour, divided
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 tsps. baking powder
4 Tbsps. butter or margarine
2 Tbsps. plain yogurt
3/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Dust a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon flour, shaking off the excess.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar and baking powder.
Cut in the butter or margarine, or rub in with fingertips until the mixture resembles soft breadcrumbs.
Make a well in center. Stir in the yogurt and enough milk to make a soft dough.
Roll out on a floured board to about 1-inch thick. Cut out with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Place on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake in for 12 to 15 minutes, until risen and golden.
Wrap loosely in a towel.
Serve warm, either with clotted cream or preserves.
For “Clotted” Cream: Stir 1 to 2 tablespoons vanilla yogurt into 1 cupful whipped cream.
Makes 1 dozen.
Approximate nutrients per scone: calories, 128; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 19 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 13 mg; sodium, 172 mg.
This was named in honor of Queen Victoria, who adored afternoon tea parties. Butter is added to a classic sponge-cake mixture resulting in a cake that, when wrapped in plastic wrap, keeps moist for two days.
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1 cup self-rising flour, or 1 cup all-purpose flour and 11/2 tsps. baking powder
1 cup heavy cream
3-4 Tbsps. of strawberry preserves
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spray a round, nonstick 8-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter, sugar and orange extract until pale and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, with 2 tablespoons flour (flour prevents curdling). Beat in remaining flour gradually. Spoon into prepared cake pan.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until cake springs back when pressed lightly in center with your finger. Loosen edges with a round-bladed knife. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
Whip cream until stiff.
Split the cake into two layers.
Sandwich together with the strawberry jam and whipped cream. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Cut with a serrated knife.
Approximate. nutrients per serving: calories, 348; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 31 g; fat, 24 g; cholesterol, 125 mg; sodium, 231 mg.
Rosemary-Scented Petticoat Tails
It’s believed that these were made by an Edinburgh baker, who named them from the wooden hoops worn under women’s dresses in the 19th century.
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dried currants
2 tsps. dried crushed rosemary
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy.
Beat in flour, about a half a cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. With a spoon, work in currants and rosemary.
Shape half the mixture into a round about 6-inches in diameter. Place on a baking sheet.
Press with a fork around the edges to make a decorative border. Prick all over with a fork.
Cut into 8 or 10 wedges. Repeat with remaining mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until edges are golden.
Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 20 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 153; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 16 g; fat, 9 g; cholesterol, 25 mg; sodium, 2 mg.
From my most recent book, Mackerel at Midnight. Caraway seeds, which have a nutty, anise flavor, come from the parsley family. They are widely used in Eastern European cooking. Store in a cool, dark place. Discard after six months, as they quickly lose their pungency.
6 oz. (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. frozen orange-juice concentrate, thawed
11/2 tsps. baking powder
2 Tbsps. caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, with a little flour to prevent curdling. Stir in the orange juice.
Add the baking powder and remaining flour, about a quarter cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Stir in the caraway seeds.
Spoon into the prepared pan, smoothing top with a spoon.
Bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool slightly before loosening edges with a round-bladed knife.
Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 12 slices.
Approximate nutrients per slice: calories, 228; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 25 g; fat, 13 g; cholesterol, 84 mg; sodium, 7 g.
The amount of brandy in this recipe is insignificant. Recipes vary, but crisp cookies such as these are always called brandy snaps. To be decorative, dab a dot of whipped cream at each end, if desired.
4 Tbsps. butter
1/4 cup soft brown sugar
4 Tbsps. dark corn syrup
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
pinch white pepper
1 tsp. brandy
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Spray two baking sheets with nonstick baking spray.
In a small saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, syrup, ginger and pepper over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Stir in the brandy. Gradually stir in the flour.
Drop mixture by heaping teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, five on each baking sheet spaced at least 21/2 inches apart.
Bake for 12 minutes, or until browned. Let cool three minutes, or until the snaps can be shaped without cracking.
With a palette knife, lift each onto a board. Gently roll up like a loose jelly roll. Cool on wire rack to crispen.
Makes 10 snaps.
Approximate nutrients per snap: calories, 107; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 16 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 12 mg; sodium, 16 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Reach her at: www.kosherfoodconsultants.com .