It’s hard to ignore the current celebrations in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and it is a deserving honour given her reign on the throne is currently the second longest for a British monarch (it will only take another three years and 7 months for her to take that crown too). A tea party seems the perfect way to mark the occasion, but let’s do away with the stale biscuits and cucumber sandwiches and make something even the Queen herself would want to attend.
At my youthful age, I cannot remember a time without Queen Elizabeth II in it. She’s that ‘grandmotherly’ figure in the background – and for some probably just as warm – who pops up at all the family’s special occasions, but in this case those events are on a much bigger scale (High Court of Australia opening, Commonwealth Games openings, that sometimes-ignored voice in the corner offering advice or comfort at Christmas and Easter). Like most members in the family, we can look back at an album full of photos and make cheeky comments at how her fashion, especially her spectacles, has changed over the decades. But, just like any grandmother, when word gets out she’s celebrating a milestone you dust off your Royal Doulton and get to work preparing the best bite-sized morsels she can wrap her dentures around.
Traditionally, in England, a ‘high tea’ refers to a meal at dinner time and the fare tends to be on the heavier side. It seems those with aspirations of being aristocratic and important have taken the term and used it to describe what we all know to be ‘afternoon tea’, and ‘afternoon tea’ is called such because of the time of day it is usually taken; late in the afternoon, around between 3pm and 5pm.
There are three courses that must be served in a specific order for it to be considered ‘afternoon tea’ – savoury (sandwiches or other appetizers), scones and pastry (cakes, shortbread and other fine sweets). There is also a rather prescriptive etiquette to be followed (yep, that rumour about ‘pinkies up’ is true and it actually has a practicality behind it). But if ‘clotted cream’ to accompany your scones brings a less-than-desirable image to your mind, then consider the following ‘tried and tested’ afternoon treats that would pass muster with even the most regal of guests.
Goats cheese, tomato and basil crisps
120g soft goat’s cheese
1½ tablespoons basil pesto
24 small thin crackers
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
24 small basil leaves
Combine cheese and pesto in a small bowl. Spoon mixture on the crackers and top with the tomato and basil
Zucchini and corn muffins
2 cups (300g) self-raising flour
½ teaspoon mild paprika
1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
1 egg, beaten lightly
80g olive oil margarine, melted
2/3 cup (80g) grated low-fat cheddar cheese
1 small (90g) zucchini, grated coarsely
125g can corn kernels, rinsed, drained
1 green onion (green shallot), sliced thinly
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 200C (or 180C if fan-forced). Grease a 12-muffin pan and line with paper cases. Sift flour and paprika into a medium bowl and make a well in the centre. Combine the buttermilk, egg, margarine, cheese, zucchini, corn, onion and parsley. Add to the flour mixture and stir to combine (but don’t over-mix, you actually want the lumps). Spoon the mixture into the pan holes and then bake for about 20 minutes or until golden and cooked. Let them sit for about 5 minutes before placing them on a rack to cool.
2 1/2 cups (375g) self-raising flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
30g butter, chopped
1 1/4 cups (310ml) buttermilk
3/4 cup (240g) black cherry jam
1 cup (250ml) double cream
Preheat the oven to 200C (180C if fan-forced). Grease a square cake pan. Sift flour and sugar into a large bowl and rub in the butter (that’s right – you have to get your hands dirty). Add buttermilk. Use a knife to cut the buttermilk through the flour mix to make a sticky dough and then turn that dough onto a floured surface, kneading gently until smooth. Press the dough out to 2cm thickness and cut our 4cm rounds (or squares). Place scones, just touching, in the pan and back for about 15 minutes. Best served warm, and with the jam and cream.
Triple chocolate muffins
1¾ cups (260g) self-raising flour
½ cup (50g) cocoa powder
¾ cup (165g) firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup (95g) dark choc bits
½ cup (95g) white choc bits
1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
2/3 cup (160ml) vegetable oil
12 white chocolate melts
Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan-forced). Line a 12-muffin pan with paper cases. Sift flour and cocoa into a large bowl. Stir in sugar and choc bits. Stir combined eggs, buttermilk and oil. Mix, but allow for lumps. Divide the mixture into paper cases. Bake muffins for 20 minutes and then remove from the oven to top with a choc bit that will melt when you bake it for a further 2 minutes. Allow the muffins to rest for approximately 5 minutes before you remove them from the pan.
Orange semolina cake
½ cup caster sugar
1½ tablespoon grated orange rind
2 tablespoons brandy or orange liqueur
160g (1 cup) semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup ground almonds
whole blanched almonds for decorating
½ cup caster sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat the over to 200C. Grease and line a 20cm round tin. Cream butter, sugar and orange rind until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly. Stir in the brandy/liqueur. Combine the semolina, baking powder, and ground almonds and fold into a creamed mixture. Turn the mixture into the tin and arrange whole almonds on top. Reduce oven heat to 180C and place the cake in the oven to bake for about 30 minutes. To make the syrup, place sugar and orange juice in a saucepan and bring to the boil for five minutes. Cool slightly. When the cake is cooked and removed from the oven, pour the prepared syrup over the hot cake. Allow it to cool in the tin before removing it to serve with cream.
Oh, and whatever you do don’t forget the tea!