by Jolene Adams, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
I love planning menus for parties, weddings and big family gatherings. A few months back I put together a birthday tea party birthday for a little girl. I was inspired and amazed by all of the darling desserts and dainty sandwiches. It has been my favorite party to plan so far.
The afternoon tea became a custom among the wealthy classes of England in the 1840s. Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is widely credited as transforming afternoon tea in England into a late-afternoon meal while visiting Belvoir Castle. By the end of the 19th century, afternoon tea developed to its current form and was observed by both the upper and middle classes. For the more privileged, afternoon tea was accompanied by delicate cucumber sandwiches or egg and cress sandwiches, bread and butter, possibly scones with clotted cream and jam and usually cakes and pastries.The sandwiches typically have the crusts removed and are cut into small segments, either as triangles or fingers. This style became known as tea sandwiches.
Nowadays, a formal afternoon tea is more of a special occasion. The food is often served on a tiered stand. The menu can be composed of traditional sandwiches and pastries, or not so traditional items, which are the treats I favor when planning a tea. I like to have a little fun, get creative and make a statement with the food and décor.
I like to take a classic recipe, re-invent it and serve it up with flair. For instance, take the classic cucumber sandwich, which consists of cucumber, butter and bread and change it up by adding herbs such as chive to the butter. Use a brioche bread for a different flavor. Use a cookie cutter the same size as the cucumber to cut out thin rounds of bread. Spread a little of the chive butter mixture on the bread, top with a cucumber slice and tiny dollop of butter and sprinkle with chive. This gives the traditional tea sandwich the look of an updated hors d’oeuvre.
Give your sandwiches an updated, polished look by finishing them off with an edible bow. Take a small rectangular sandwich cut out, wrap a chive around it and tie it as though you were gift wrapping it. Long thin slices of cucumber also work well to wrap around the middle of a sandwich. Start by slicing the cucumber down the length. Wrap one long slice around a sandwich and secure with a tooth pick. Use a spiral cutter to make thin curls from carrots or other vegetables to top the sandwich for the look of a curly bow. No spiral cutter? Don’t worry, just use some frisée lettuce to complete the look.
Forgo the traditional sandwich all together and opt for bruschetta instead. One of my favorites is a fresh strawberry and honey bruschetta. See recipe below. t is simple to make and the fresh strawberries add a pop of color to a springtime tea.
Avoiding gluten or carbs? Try changing up the traditional chicken salad sandwich by serving it in a leaf of endive. The small boat shaped leaves of endive make it the perfect vessel for a dollop of chicken salad.
For a quick and easy sandwich, just spread your favorite jam on a slice of bread. Cut out with a shaped cookie cutter such as a heart. Cut out the same shape from a piece of plain bread. Then, with a smaller cutter of the same shape, cut out the center of the plain bread which creates a window. Top the jam covered bread with the window bread and the jam with show through the center cutout.
When it comes to sweets, there are always fun ways to update the traditional. For the little girl’s birthday tea party, I made cupcakes and then transformed them into a teacup. Start with a white cake recipe, color the batter any color you like. Bake the cupcakes. Cool and remove the wrapper. Take an unused paper cupcake wrapper and flatten. Set aside to use as the base, or “saucer” for the cupcake. Melt colored chocolate melts and pipe them in a backwards “S” shape on parchment. The chocolate will eventually be the handle for the teacup. Let the chocolate dry and harden. Meanwhile frost the cupcakes with a knife for a flat icing. Place the chocolate “S” on the side of the cupcake with a dab of icing and place on the flattened cupcake wrapper. They look like a tea cup and saucer!
Another fun idea is to turn cupcakes into flowers. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a pro at making icing flowers. One of the easiest ways to create a flower is to use cut marshmallows as petals. Step by step instructions are below. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that it is easy to create a variety of petal shapes to form exotic looking flowers.
Another trendy new dessert is apple roses. They look impressive, but are actually easy to make. See recipe below for instructions.
Strawberry Honey Bruschetta
Yield 20 servings
*20 slices of French baguette, about 1 large baguette
*4 ounces cream cheese
*1 pint strawberries, diced
*4 tablespoons honey
* Fresh thyme, optional
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place baguette slices a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Spread cream cheese on cool bread. Top with diced strawberries, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with fresh thyme.
Marshmallow Flower Petals
Yield 60 petals
*12 large marshmallows
*1 1/2 cups colored sugar (I use ½ cup of 3 different colors for variety)
*M&Ms, or spice drops, assorted colors
*1 dozen cupcakes
* Frosting of your choice
Place each color of sprinkles in a separate bowl. Working with one sprinkle color at a time, cut a marshmallow crosswise into 5 thin slices, letting slices drop into sprinkles. Toss to coat sticky areas of marshmallow with sprinkles. Repeat with remaining marshmallows and colored sprinkles to make 20 petals of each color.
Working on one cupcake at a time, spread top with frosting and make smooth. Arrange 5 same-color marshmallow slices in a circle, like the petals of a flower, on top of each frosted cupcake. Press an M&M or spice drop in the center of each petal arrangement. Repeat with remaining cupcakes and marshmallow slices.
Or, layer petals. Start on the outside edge of the cupcake and place a ring of petals. Move inward slightly and lay another ring of petals, making sure to slightly offset and overlap the first ring. Continue to move inward toward the center, each time overlapping the last ring slightly. This method produces a flower that resembles a zinnia.
Yield 12 roses
*1 package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
*4 red apples
*1 cup water
*2 tablespoons lemon juice
*1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, to sprinkle the counter
*3 tablespoons apricot preserves
* 1/3 cup powdered sugar
Thaw the puff pastry at room temperature, about 20-30 minutes.
Combine water and lemon juice into a microwave safe bowl.
Cut the apples in half, remove the core and cut the apples in paper-thin slices. Leave the peel so it will give the red color to your roses.
Immediately place the sliced apples in the lemon water mixture to prevent them from browning.
Microwave the apples in the bowl for about 3 minutes. This will make them slightly softer and easy to roll. The apple slices should be cooked just enough to bend without breaking. If they break, you need to cook them a little more.
Unwrap the puff pastry over a clean and lightly floured counter. Using a rolling pin stretch the dough into a rectangular shape of about 12 x 9 inch. Cut the dough in 6 strips, each about 2 x 9 inch.
In a bowl, combine apricot preserves with two tablespoons of water. Microwave for about one minute so that the preserves will be easier to spread. Spread a thin layer of preserves on each strip of dough.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain the apples.
Arrange the apple slices on the dough, overlapping one another. Make sure the top (skin side) of the slices sticks out over the top of the dough strip. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Fold up the bottom part of the dough.to cover the bottom of the apple slices.
Starting from one end, carefully roll the dough, keeping the apple slices in place. Seal the edge at the end, pressing with your finger, and place in a greased muffin tin. Repeat for all 12 roses. Bake at 375 for about 40-45 minutes, until golden brown. If after the first 30 minutes the apples start to brown, cover loosely with aluminum foil and finish baking. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.