There’s nothing quite like a traditional afternoon tea (in fact I think it’s one of my all time favourite indulgences) but, for most of us, it’s an occasional treat reserved only for special occasions.
Afternoon tea for me is not just about the yummy little bite-sized sandwiches with the crusts removed, the gorgeous scones with lashings of clotted cream, or even just the wonderful taste of a good old cuppa. It’s about the whole experience. You know what I mean... the tradition, the ritual, the Britishness, the use of delicate cups and saucers and the ‘chinking’ sound of teaspoons against them, tea pots, sugar lumps and pretty floral table cloths, all of which are so reminiscent of childhood tea parties with your favourite dollies and teddy bears (or is that just me?!)
However, let’s face it, traditional afternoon tea is not exactly nutrient packed (unless you count the strawberries in your conserve as one of your five a day – or is it seven a day now?!) and we’d all be the size of a house, and a heart attack waiting to happen, if we stuffed ourselves with cake and cream every day. But it’s not just that, even if the health implications of consuming such calorific treats too often don’t put you off, then surely the cost does. Oh yes, those lovely little tea-rooms and fancy country hotels know how to serve an afternoon tea in style, but they also know how to charge for it!
Well, strapped for cash or not, you can treat yourself to a delicious home-made afternoon tea, anytime, with relatively little cost or effort. And, whilst I can’t claim the home-made version is any more healthy for your body, it is perhaps healthier for your mind and soul... imagine the satisfaction, having created your very own scrumptious sarnies and fluffy sponges, and then devouring them with a smug smile on your face, knowing that it’s cost you next to nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you start rustling up afternoon tea on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. Afternoon tea is a special thing and arguably, as such, should be reserved for special occasions. But if you do just fancy having friends and family round in the afternoon, for a bite to eat and a cuppa, and would like to make it that little bit extra special, then read on and have a go. I did this one for Mothers' Day but it would make a lovely tea-time treat for any occasion – add a few little glass dishes of mini eggs and a bunch of daffies to your table, and it would be perfect for Easter Sunday.
The beauty of afternoon tea is that it’s one of those meals you can completely prepare the day before... yes including the sandwiches, no, they won't be soggy. So on the day itself, all you have to do is enjoy!
I’m a very thrifty missus these days, and do most of my food shopping at Aldi. I managed to get everything I needed from there to make my afternoon tea (except the clotted cream) for just under £45 (including a few bottles of fizz). This isn’t far off what you might pay per head in a tea-room or hotel, and there was more than enough to leave 6 adults feeling full to bursting, and also to make up two packed lunches for the following day.
Mary Berry top tip for fresh, moist sandwiches – made the day before. Use fresh bread (obviously), mix of wholemeal and white, crusts removed (of course!), and don’t use fillings that are too ‘wet’, such as tomatoes. Cut your sandwiches into quarter triangles and place them on a tray, packing them tightly together. Cover with a clean moistened tea towel (tucking in around the edges). Cover the whole tray with cling film or foil and pop in the fridge. I did a selection of egg mayo and cress, ham and mustard, tuna mayo and cucumber, smoked salmon and cream cheese, pastrami and red onion chutney.
Mary Berry Orange Butterfly Cakes
I adapted the recipe for these gorgeous little cakes, and used lemons instead of oranges, as I thought I might struggle to find orange curd in any of my local supermarkets. Click here for full recipe.
Mary Berry Tea Time Scones
I added a few sultanas to this recipe and served them with fresh strawberries, strawberry conserve and clotted cream. Click here for full recipe.
Mary Berry Chocolate Tray Bake
The best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted! Beautifully crumbly and melts in the mouth. My feather icing wasn’t hugely successful (perhaps just need a bit of practice)... but who cares, it tasted amazing. Click here for full recipe.
The Finishing Touches
I love setting a nice table, and actually enjoy this bit far more than making the food. For an afternoon tea table, I think it looks delightful when everything’s a little bit mixed up, not matching and a tad ‘vintage’ in style. I’ve kind of stuck with a colour ‘theme’ but the whole table’s made of up odds and ends, bits and pieces, either collected over the years, borrowed, or found in my local charity shops. My dining chairs aren’t upholstered so, to make them a little more comfortable for my guests, I placed a different coloured / patterned scatter cushion on each, which looked really lovely. By having a bit of fun with this, enjoying being creative, and using the little finishing touches that make me smile, I hope you'll agree, I managed to achieve the charming, and ‘evocative of a traditional tea party’ look I was going for.
Floral table-cloth, £2.50 local charity shop
Tea-light holders, collected over the years (gifts, charity shop finds, borrowed from daughter!)
Glass vase, £1.99 Ikea (beautiful tulips, Mother’s Day gift)
Cake stands - £2.99 each, Poundstretcher
Cups and saucers, some Ikea, some charity shop, some Next
Tea-pot, £4.99 Wilkinsons
Coloured champagne flutes £1 each, Poundstretcher
Have fun and enjoy!