Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Royal Wedding Tea Party


I've always loved tea parties.  When I was little, my aunt gave me a miniature tea set in porcelain, and I played with it for hours.  I had to hide it from my younger siblings to keep it from being destroyed.  My mom and I used to make a slot in our travels to have tea and for my parents' 25th wedding anniversary, we kids surprised them with a formal tea to welcome them home from their trip to Paris.

So I guess you could say that tea is in my blood.  What I like is that stopping for a hour or so for this mid-afternoon respite just seems really calming after the chaos of running around doing errands or sightseeing.  A tower of plates filled with tiny sandwiches, scones, and miniature cakes or pastries just feels welcoming and refreshing, the perfect bridge from lunch to a dinner a bit later in the evening.  I can think of no better way to celebrate The Royal Wedding on Friday than to hold a tea party, one of England's major traditions, whether for a group or solo in one's pjs.


I wish I could point you in the direction of the be-all, end-all scone recipe, so I would love for anyone to share his or her favorites.  I've made lots of them over the years and just can't quite pick the exact one that I think is perfect.  For pastries and sweets, I recommend getting some from the best bakery that you can find.  In New York, Ceci Cela in Soho is one of my top picks.  When I am in that neighborhood in the afternoon, it is impossible for me to resist picking up a slice of their Opera Cake or a Napoleon.  By way of a travel tip, they also have a tiny little cafe in the back where you can order and eat drinks, salads, sandwiches, and desserts.  On the sandwich front, however, here are some recipes that I've put together to help you celebrate the big day.

Cucumber Sandwiches

In "The Importance of Being Ernest," Algernon eats all the cucumber sandwiches before his wealthy aunt arrives for tea and then lies to her about the vegetables not being available in the market that day.  Hopefully, you will be able to resist scoffing these down before your guests arrive.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Serving Size: 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:
1 cucumber
Pinch sea salt
4 slices good quality white sandwich bread
Unsalted butter


Assembly:
Peel cucumber.  Cut 1/4 of it into very thin, not-quite-transparent slices.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Set to one side.

Cut crusts off of white bread slices.  Cut each slice in half.  Spread each quarter with a thin layer of unsalted butter.  Place cucumber rounds on four of the slices.  Cover with the other four slices.  Place on a plate to serve.

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches

Smoked salmon was always one of those special treats when I was growing up.  There are many variations that can be made, but this is what I've typically had in an English tea service.  If you want something a bit more daring, I highly recommend using a slather of Schoolhouse Kitchen's Horseradish Dill Mustard in place of the butter for a sandwich with a kick.


Prep Time: 10 minutes
Serving Size: 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:
4 slices good quality hearty wheat bread
Unsalted butter
2 slices smoked salmon


Assembly:
Cut crusts off of wheat bread slices.  Cut each slice in half.  

Spread each quarter with a thin layer of unsalted butter.  Cut each of the smoked salmon slices in half.  Place salmon on four of the slices.  Cover with the other four slices.  Place on a plate to serve.

Egg and Watercress Sandwiches

This is a little bit of a cheat.  Tiny, peppery watercress leaves like the kind that usually appear on sandwiches in the UK seem to be impossible to find here.  Often there are large, withered looking stems of greens in the market.  I decided to modify this recipe to use micro-greens which I can find in my farmers' market to achieve that same creamy egg, crunchy salad balance.


Prep Time: 20 minutes
Serving Size: 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:
2 eggs, hard-cooked according to your preferred recipe
2 tsp. mayonnaise
pinch salt
pinch pepper
1 Tbsp. tiny watercress leaves, chopped watercress or microgreens
4 slices good quality hearty wheat bread


Assembly:
Peel eggs and separate whites from yolks.  Chop whites into tiny pieces.  Add mayonnaise, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.  Chop yolks into tiny pieces.  Gently fold into the whites and mayonnaise.  Add watercress or microgreens and fold into the egg-mayonnaise mixture.

Cut crusts off of wheat bread slices.  Cut each slice in half.  Place egg-mayonnaise-greens mixture on four of the slices.  Cover with the other four slices.  Place on a plate to serve.

Ham Sandwiches

I'm including this sandwich on the plate even though I don't always see it in a formal tea service.  You could add a thin sliver of English Cheddar cheese to this to dress it up some more.  Putting mustard on it would take it way outside of what is usually on the plate, but I leave that to you.


Prep Time: 10 minutes
Serving Size: 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:
4 slices good quality white sandwich bread
Unsalted butter
2 slices good quality cooked ham


Assembly:
Cut crusts off of white bread slices.  Cut each slice in half.  

Spread each quarter with a thin layer of unsalted butter.  Cut each of the ham slices in half.  Place ham on four of the slices.  Cover with the other four slices.  Place on a plate to serve.

To put together the plate for tea, place one of each sandwich type at opposite sides to create a star-type pattern.  Alternate between white and wheat bread for a balance of colors and textures.  


Buon appetito!

2 comments:

Nicole said...

There is almost nothing as tasty as ham with butter. So sinful yet so good. I can't resist!

The Experimental Gourmand said...

It really is delicious, especially with good local butter. The best ham sandwich I ever had was in Italy, in a cafe/bar right across the street from where the bus stops on the way to Fiesole. That would have been perfect for this tea party.

I'd take some of the fava beans that are in season in Rome now to mix with the leftover ricotta from Sunday's brunch, too! They are so hard to track down here.

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