A little sunshine, schools soon to let out, flowers in bloom, thoughts of a possible summer vacation — all these serve to brighten the horizon of our lives.
Time maybe, to get together with some favorite friends and have a celebratory tea party. A festive flower-filled table, a variety of teas and pretty cups; champagne, of course; a bowl of gorgeous strawberries to enhance the trademark scones — and grace the champagne glasses as well — and sweet little sandwiches to augment your choice of sweet cakes or cookies. What could be nicer?
Plain white or wheat bread (de-crusted) can be prepared by virtue of buttering the insides of every other slice and spreading cream cheese (perhaps sparked with minced chives) on the other halves. All you need is to add the variety of fillings you’ve chosen, such as thin-sliced cucumber, smoked thin-sliced salmon, egg salad, black olive tapenade, etc., each enhanced with chopped parsley, a sprig of watercress, dill, a fennel frond, and perhaps a dash of black salt on the cucumber and/or a few capers folded into the salmon; then place the tops on the sandwiches, cut corner-to-corner for triangles, and place them on a pretty platter. Though cheese isn’t often included in tea sandwiches, Cheddar “biscuits” (actually more of a cookie as per our photo) are a tangy addition; here’s how.
Cheddar Cheese Biscuits
(About 2 dozen)
2 cups loosely packed shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 Tb. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Mix Cheddar, butter and Worcestershire sauce in large bowl until well blended. Add flour and stir until thoroughly combined. Shape dough into 10-inch long log. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut dough into 1/4-inch thick slices; space evenly on baking sheets. Sprinkle with seeds —some with poppy, some with dill, etc., so about each quarter of the biscuits features a given seed flavor. Bake just until edges are golden-brown, about 15 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 15 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
As always, the scones come first. Accompanied by a butter-dish and a jar of strawberry preserves, they — and cups of the tea assortment give credence to the age-old ritual.
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons pure cane sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 Tbs. butter, cut into `10 pieces
¼ cup currants or raisins, if desired
2 large eggs, well beaten
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
Set oven to 425. Sift flour, baking powder, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and the salt into a mixing bowl. Add butter a piece at a time, working into the flour mixture with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add currants and toss.
Make a well in the mixture and add eggs and ½ cup of the cream*. Mix with a wooden spoon until dough begins to clump together then knead in the bowl for about 30 seconds: do not overwork the dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a round 1/3-inch thick, then with a 2 1/2-inch cutter, cut out rounds. Transfer to a buttered baking sheet 2 inches apart and let stand for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400F, and bake the cones for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden.
For wedge-shape scones, form dough into two balls and flatten each into a circle about ¾ inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Cut each into 6-8 pie-shaped wedges, brush with remaining cream, place on lightly buttered baking sheet, sprinkle with remaining sugar and bake for 12-15 minutes or until light golden.
If you’re not into the rolling out and cutting regimen, simply shape the dough into a large ball, and with buttered palms, cut or tear out pieces of dough (about a generous half-cup’s worth) and place in greased muffin tins. Brush tops with remaining cream and sprinkle lightly with remaining sugar. Bake in center of oven about 10-12 minutes.
* If you wish to add (or substitute) raisins, dried cranberries (1/4 cup each), candied fruits and/or finely chopped walnuts (1/2 cup), mix into the eggs before adding them to the dry mixture. Stir until dough is formed, then turn out to knead.
No matter which form of scone you make, do NOT over-bake. They will only be very light beige, and will continue to “bake” when removed from the oven; fluffy lightness will turn to a heavier density in the matter of only half a minute. Immediately remove from pans or sheet and place on a tea towel or wooden cutting board to cool slightly.
Pour the champagne and bring out this elegant Kahlua tea cake for a dazzling dessert!
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1/2 cup Kahlua
4 large eggs
1/ 4 cup milk
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. EACH baking soda and salt
3/4 cup grated coconut
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Grease 10-inch tube pan. Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in flour 1/2 cup at a time, with baking powder, soda and salt. Beat on low speed until well-blended, then beat at medium for 2 minutes, scraping bowl as you beat. Stir in coconut and nuts; turn into prepared pan. Bake 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to stand 10 minutes. Invert on cake rack; remove pan. When fully cooled dust with powdered sugar.
Our next Chef column will enlarge on the tea concept with more goodies for a snack and finger-food get-together.