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Party Planning - Theme Party Ideas - A Proper Afternoon Tea

Party Resource Guide
Presented by Event & Wedding Planners

Tea Party Personalized Photo Cards 5x7 Glossy Finish Invitation Each

Tea Party Personalized Photo Cards 5x7 Glossy Finish Invitation Each


Bridal Tea Party

Invite guests to wear fancy hats and gloves, or search flea markets and antique shops for hats guests can wear during the tea. See instructions below on how to properly brew tea and the customs of taking tea and share what you have learned with the guests. Serve properly brewed tea, along with fancy tea sandwiches, scones and desserts (recipes below). Gifts can be from any general category. Use lace tablecloths and napkins, crystal vases and silver serving dishes. Use your finest china for serving and rent silver tea services for the tea. Decorate with lacy parasols and bouquets of fresh flowers. Guests can go home with assorted packets of tea or pretty tea cups or teaspoons.

Tea Party Traditions, Menu & Brewing

A couple of months ago I put together a week of recipes for a proper afternoon tea, but I shelved the menu for some reason. Then my favorite food magazine featured a story on this fading English tradition, and I took that as a sign that my readers would enjoy learning about this most noble of British customs.

Tea Sandwiches

No proper afternoon tea would be complete without a small assortment of tea sandwiches. I offer several recipes here, but even the most elaborate tea would be complete with just two or three kinds of sandwiches. For best results use thinly sliced white bread with a firm texture, and for an added note of authenticity use the high-fat "European-style" butter that is widely available.

Cucumber Sandwiches

1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Tbs (30 ml) malt or cider vinegar
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
Thinly sliced bread

Toss the sliced cucumber with the vinegar and salt and let sit in a colander at room temperature for 30 minutes. For each sandwich, spread the butter on one side of two pieces of bread. Pat the cucumber slices dry with paper towels and place a layer or two on one of the slices of bread. Top with the other slice of bread and trim off the crusts. Cut diagonally into four triangles.

Chicken Sandwiches

Thinly sliced bread
Thinly sliced cooked chicken breast (use leftover chicken if you have any)

For each sandwich, spread the butter on one side of two pieces of bread. Place a layer of chicken on one of the slices of bread. Top with the other slice of bread and trim off the crusts. Cut diagonally into four triangles.

Roast Beef Sandwiches

Thinly sliced bread
Thinly sliced cold roast beef (use leftover beef if you have any)

For each sandwich, spread the butter on one side of two pieces of bread. Place a layer of roast beef on one of the slices of bread. Top with the other slice of bread and trim off the crusts. Cut diagonally into four triangles.

Watercress Sandwiches

Thinly sliced bread
Coarsely chopped watercress
Finely chopped parsley

For each sandwich, spread the butter on one side of two pieces of bread. Place a layer of watercress and parsley on one of the slices of bread. Top with the other slice of bread and trim off the crusts. Cut diagonally into four triangles.

Chutney and Cheese Sandwiches

Prepared mango chutney, chopped
Grated cheddar cheese (preferably white cheddar)
Thinly sliced bread

Combine equal amounts of the chutney and cheese, stirring to make a coarse paste. For each sandwich, spread the butter on one side of two pieces of bread. Spread some of the chutney and cheese mixture on one of the slices of bread. Top with the other slice of bread and trim off the crusts. Cut diagonally into four triangles.

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches

Thinly sliced bread
Thinly sliced smoked salmon
Chopped fresh dill
Chopped capers (optional)

For each sandwich, spread the butter on one side of two pieces of bread. Place a layer of salmon, a sprinkle of fresh dill, and optional capers on one of the slices of bread. Top with the other slice of bread and trim off the crusts. Cut diagonally into four triangles.


Scones are such a traditional tea-time fixture that it's hard to imagine a proper English tea without them. I don't need to tell you what a scone is, but based on messages I have received from my readers, maybe I should explain a little more about the various forms this light meal has assumed in England.

According to legend, the whole afternoon tea thing began around 1830 when a certain Anna, Duchess of Bedford was feeling a bit peckish one late afternoon. She ordered her servants to bring her a pot of tea with some bread and jam to tide her over until dinner. She enjoyed this afternoon snack so much that she began inviting her friends over to join her, and so a new meal was born.

Today the typical afternoon tea includes a pot of tea accompanied by several small sweet and savory bites. These can include tea sandwiches, cakes and petit fours, biscuits (cookies to Americans), and various other baked goods, almost always including scones.

Many Americans mistakenly refer to afternoon tea (which is usually taken between 3:00 and 5:00 PM) as high tea, but high tea is something different. It is taken later in the day (usually after 5:00) and includes meat and fish dishes as well as the compulsory pot of tea, sweet cakes, and scones. In spite of its lofty name (the "high" might refer to the fact that it was often eaten at the high table in the kitchen or pantry rather than the lower table in the dining room), the high tea is really a light dinner and traditionally was enjoyed by the middle and working classes rather than the aristocracy.

In the area surrounding Devon in the southwestern part of England, the Devon cream tea (or just cream tea) has taken on the status of an unofficial "national dish" of the region. In its simplest form it consists of a pot of tea and scones topped with clotted cream and strawberry jam, but it is not unusual to find tea sandwiches and small sweets served at a cream tea as well.

So, regardless of whether you are serving afternoon tea, cream tea, or high tea, there should be room at your table for a scone or two. Below are some recipes for both sweet and savory variations to choose from.

Basic Tea Scones

1 Tbs (15 ml) softened butter
2 1/2 cups (625 ml) self-rising flour
1 Tbs (15 ml) sugar
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
3 Tbs (43 ml) lard or butter, cut into 1/4-inch (5 mm) bits and thoroughly chilled
1 egg
1/2 cup (125 ml) milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) dried currants (optional)

Grease a large baking sheet with the butter and set aside. In a large chilled mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt and lard. Rub the flour and lard together with your fingertips until the mixture looks like flakes of coarse meal. Beat the egg until it froths and set 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of it aside in a small dish. Beat the milk into the remaining egg and add to the flour mixture (along with the currants, if used). Mix gently until the dough can be made into a ball. On a lightly flowered surface roll the dough, handling it as little as possible, to 1/4 inch (5 mm) thickness. Using a cookie cutter or rim of a glass, cut into 2-inch (5 cm) rounds. Re-roll and do the same with the scraps. Place rounds about 1 inch (3 cm) apart on the baking sheet and brush lightly with the reserved beaten egg. Bake in the middle of a preheated 400F (200C) oven for about 15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Best served immediately. Makes about 12 scones.

Date Scones

2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour
1 Tbs (15 ml) sugar
2 1/2 tsp (12.5 ml) baking powder
1/4 (1 ml) tsp salt
2 Tbs (30 ml) butter
1 cup (250 ml) dates, chopped
2/3 cup (160 ml) milk

Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and cut in the butter using a fork. Add the milk to make a soft dough, kneading slightly. Roll out half the dough 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick. Spread with the dates and cover with the remaining dough. Roll up, then roll out to a square 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Cut in squares, then in triangles. Brush top with melted butter and bake in oven on cold tray for 10 minutes at 450F (230C).

Dried Cherry Scones

2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (80 ml) sugar
1 1/2 tsp (7 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 ml) baking soda
6 Tbs (90 ml) chilled butter cut into small pieces
2/3 cup (160 ml) dried sour cherries
1/2 cup (125 ml) buttermilk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 egg

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or the tines of a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the remaining ingredients to form a soft dough, mixing as little as possible. Pat the dough into an 8-inch (20 cm) circle on an ungreased baking sheet. Cut into 8 wedges using a serrated knife. Bake in a preheated 400F (200C) oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the scones comes out clean. Cool slightly before serving. Makes 8 scones.

Cheddar Cheese Scones

2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour
1 Tbs (15 ml) baking powder
1 Tbs (15 ml) sugar
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
1/2 tsp (2 ml) dry mustard
3 Tbs (45 ml) butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces
3 oz (80 g) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg
1/2 cup (125 ml) milk

Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and cut in the butter using a fork. Add the cheese, stirring just enough to incorporate. Beat the egg and milk together and add to the flour mixture, stirring as little as possible. Turn out onto a floured surface and pat down to a thickness of about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm). Cut into 2-inch (5 cm) rounds and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 425 (220C) oven for 13 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Makes about 12 scones.


No proper afternoon tea would be complete without scones, as I have already discussed, and no scone is complete without clotted cream and strawberry jam. Etiquette dictates that scones be eaten like bread - that is, small, bite-size pieces should be broken off before being dressed, but I doubt you'll attract any dark glances or hurled projectiles if you choose to add the clotted cream and jam to the entire scone before eating it. The clotted cream is always added first, forming a soft, fluffy white bed for a small dollop of strawberry jam.

The area surrounding Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset is known for its dairy products thanks to a mild climate, rich pastures, and the type of cows they tend - mainly Jerseys and Guernseys whose milk is rich in fat. Traditionally made by gently simmering large vats of milk until a thick layer of cream can be skimmed off the top, clotted cream is the trademark gem of the area's dairy industry. Also known as Devonshire, or just Devon cream, it is available in finer supermarkets and gourmet shops worldwide, usually sold in small glass jars with a shelf life of several months. If you can scrounge up a jar in your neighborhood, I suggest you use that. However, if you can't get your hands on the real thing, the following recipe makes a pretty good substitute.

Mock Devonshire Cream

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (125 ml) mascarpone*
1-2 Tbs (15-30 ml) sugar

* Mascarpone is an unfermented cheese from Italy, similar to cream cheese, that is available in the deli section of most supermarkets.

Whisk the ingredients together to form a thick, smooth cream. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 1 1/2 cups (375 ml).

The truth is that any selection of jams or preserves can be served at a proper afternoon tea - red currant, raspberry, and plum are among the favorites - but anyone who has grown up with the custom will tell you that strawberry really must be one of the choices. Any store-bought preserves can be used, but homemade preserves are the mark of a good hostess, especially when fresh fruits are in season. Here is a quick and easy strawberry preserve that should be made only with the finest ripe berries.

Six-Minute Strawberry Preserves

Adapted from James Beard's American Cookery (Galahad Books, 1972)

6 cups (1.5 L) whole strawberries, hulled
6 cups (1.5 L) sugar
3 to 4 Tbs (45 to 60 ml) lemon juice

Place the strawberries in a colander and immerse it in enough boiling water to cover the strawberries. Let them remain immersed for 1 minute. (This makes them better able to absorb the sugar.) Drain the strawberries thoroughly. Place the berries in a 6 to 8 quart (6 to 8 L) kettle and add half the sugar and the lemon juice. Bring to a rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down) and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and skim any foam off the surface. Add the remaining sugar and boil another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and skim. Allow to stand overnight, pushing the berries down into the syrup occasionally. The berries should absorb some of the syrup and become plump. If the syrup is too runny due to strawberries with a high water content, boil them again for 1 minute. After the strawberries have cooled store them in hot sterilized jars. Makes about 6 cups (1.5 L) of preserves.

Any kind of small sweet cookie (or biscuit to my British readers) can be served at a proper afternoon tea, and a small assortment is usually offered by accomplished hostesses. Feel free to include your favorite homemade or store-bought varieties, but don't forget these chocolate-dipped shortbreads.

Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread

2 cups (500 ml) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (450 ml) powdered (confectioner's) sugar
4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour
2 Tbs (30 ml) granulated sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup (125 ml) chocolate morsels melted in a small
pan set over (not in) a pan of simmering water

Cream the butter and powdered sugar, and mix in the flour a little at a time until thoroughly blended. Spread in about 1/2 inch (1 cm) thickness on a cookie sheet, and prick all over with the tines of a fork. Bake at 300F (150C) for about 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Sprinkle with granulated sugar immediately after removing from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into bars or squares. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan. Pour the melted chocolate onto a piece of wax paper and coat the bottoms of the shortbreads. Place on a clean piece of wax paper until the chocolate is cool and firm. Makes about 30 to 40 squares.

A Proper Cuppa

You didn't think I would publish a week of Proper Afternoon Tea recipes without instructions on the brewing of a proper cup of tea, did you? There are dozens of customs surrounding the brewing of a perfect pot of tea, and I have tried to condense as many as possible in the following description. Methods and manners vary around the British Isles, but I assure you that if you follow my directions you will not be embarrassed when you pour for the Queen.

Bring water - enough to fill your tea pot twice - to a boil in a heavy kettle over high heat. Your tea pot need not be fancy or expensive, but it should be made of china (preferably bone china) or earthenware because of their unique thermal properties. Fill the pot with boiling water. (Tradition says that the pot should always be brought to the kettle and not the other way around - this assures that the water is as hot as possible when added to the pot, and also prevents people from running around their kitchens carrying large kettles of boiling water.) Return the kettle to the heat. Let the water sit in the pot for a minute or two to warm up the pot before pouring it out. Add the tea to the pot. Any fermented tea (as opposed to green Asian-style tea) can be used, depending on your preference. English Breakfast tea is a favorite but many people consider it too strong for an afternoon tea. Other popular choices include Earl Grey, flavored with the rind of bergamots, full-bodied Darjeeling, the ever-popular Ceylon, and the distinctive, smoky Lapsang Souchong. Herbal tea is a perfectly acceptable choice, especially if you or your guests are avoiding caffeine, and chamomile tea is a traditional favorite. The rule of thumb is to add one teaspoon (5 ml) of tea for each cup plus one for the pot, but experienced tea brewers know whether to add more or less depending on how they like their tea. Now fill the pot with boiling water - the water should be at a full boil when the kettle is removed from the heat - and allow the tea to steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Some people believe that giving the pot three revolutions helps to speed the process. Your pot of tea is now ready to be poured.

Traditionally a small amount of milk is placed into the cups before pouring the tea in order to help the cups absorb some of the shock of the hot water, but nowadays many people offer milk (never cream) as an option and add it later. Either way, pour the tea directly into the cups through a tea strainer. You don't need an elegant antique sterling silver tea strainer (although if you have one, by all means use it) - any small fine-mesh strainer will do. The use of tea bags eliminates the need for the strainer, but their use is frowned on in proper circles. Offer your guests sugar (always white sugar in the form of sugar cubes) and a thin slice of lemon or a dollop of milk. (Notice that the lemon-milk thing is an either-or proposition - adding both will curdle the milk.)

Wait for your tea to cool a bit before drinking it because blowing on it is a definite faux pas. Sip your tea quietly, without slurping or making that "whooshing" sound often made when drinking hot beverages. The tea cup should be held with the handle between the thumb and the curled forefinger (not with the finger poking through the handle mug-style), and you can hold your pinky any way you like. Makes 1 pot of proper tea to serve 2 to 6.

Reproduced by permission of Worldwide Recipes.

Worldwide Recipes, the world's largest daily recipe service, delivers a free recipe by email every day - a complete gourmet menu every week. Subscribe by sending a blank email to or by visiting It's easy, and it's FREE!


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