- “Under certain circumstances there are few hours more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” - Henry James - The Portrait of a Lady
Beautiful china, tranquil surroundings, fabulous friends and delicious cakes – what more could anyone want on a Saturday afternoon in October? There was a time when my best friend and I (who was born just two weeks before me) celebrated our birthdays by dancing until the early hours. These days we might not get past ten o’clock and a more sedate celebration is called for! Inspired by the feature on afternoon tea in the 2015 Dairy Diary, I booked us into the Great John Street Hotel in Manchester for a truly decadent afternoon tea.
The Ladies Afternoon tea began with delicate finger sandwiches filled with smoked salmon, egg, beef, cream cheese and cucumber, served with the pièce de resistance three tier stand with light, crusty scones and rich clotted cream accompanied by a variety of homemade cakes and pastries. This was served with tea and a glass of Perrier Jouet champagne. After all it is a ladies prerogative to enjoy only the finer things in life!
The concept of afternoon tea began with Anna Maria Russell, the 7th duchess and one of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, who, at 4 o’clock would send for a pot of tea and ‘a little something’ to tide her over until dinner. Once she started inviting friends to join her in the privacy of her rooms, society hostesses soon cottoned on to the idea and tea parties progressed from boudoir to drawing room.
Tea consisted of dainty sandwiches with not a crust in sight, pastries and cakes plus bread and butter and biscuits. It was an informal occasion, although informal then is not the same as informal now. Tea gowns were worn and hats – gloves were optional. Tea was poured by the hostess and cups handed round by any menfolk present or the daughters of the house.
I am truly inspired by Duchess Russell (and the Great John Street Hotel) and plan to host my own afternoon tea – tea gowns optional – on a regular basis. All I need is my trusty Dairy Diary for delicious recipes, pretty china and peace and quiet. I think we can manage without any menfolk to pass around the cups!
Win a gorgeous china cake stand
I would also LOVE this fabulous cake stand (though sadly I am
not allowed to enter).
Enter our prize draw to be in a chance to win it and a 2015 Dairy Diary.
Tempted by afternoon tea? Add this classic to your repertoire.
Iced Lavender Loaf
Time: 35 mins
Makes 2 loaves
Fat 10g of which 6g is saturated
Suitable for vegetarians
Suitable for freezing
Milk 75ml (3fl oz)
Fresh lavender flower heads 6, plus extra for decoration, or 1 tsp dried lavender
Unsalted butter 175g (6oz) softened
Caster sugar 175g (6oz)
Lemon 1, finely grated zest
Eggs 3, beaten
Self-raising flour 175g (6oz)
Icing sugar 225g (8oz)
Violet food colouring
1 Put milk and flower heads, or dried lavender, in a small pan and bring slowly to simmering point over a low heat. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
2 Strain milk into a bowl and discard lavender.
3 Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4.
4 Beat butter, caster sugar and lemon zest together until soft and creamy. Beat in eggs a little at a time, adding a tablespoon of flour with each egg. Fold in remaining flour and 2 tablespoons of lavender milk.
5 Spoon the mixture into two loaf tins and level the top of each one. Stand the tins on a baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
6 Leave to cool in tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
7 Sieve icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough lavender milk to make a smooth paste that just holds its shape. Tint icing by mixing in a little violet food colouring and then spread it over tops of cakes with a palette knife. Decorate each cake with small sprigs of lavender flowers. Leave to set before serving.
A Dairy Diary recipe.