Afternoon tea: a great British tradition

August 10th to 16th is afternoon tea week, with events for tea lovers going on up and down the country, so here at Cosy Home we thought we’d celebrate this most British of traditions.

History of afternoon tea

While tea itself has been with us since the mid seventeenth century, the practice of sitting down for a light meal at 4pm didn’t become popular until almost two hundred years later.

In 1840, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, found that between lunch and the fashionable hour of 8pm for dinner, she’d start to get a little hungry.

She began to take a light meal, consisting of tea, bread, butter and cake, in her room, and began to invite friends to join her for a chat over the tea table.

The meal filled a gap in the middle of the fashionable day, and soon society introduced the idea of ‘tea gowns’, to be worn when visiting smart upper class drawing rooms in the late afternoon.

Image: Pixabay

The components of afternoon tea vary a little, but traditional elements include scones with jam, small sandwiches cut into fingers, slices of cake such as  Victoria sponge and smaller cakes like maids of honour or fairy cakes.

Part of the enjoyment of afternoon tea is the ceremony, so tea should be served in a pot and milk in a separate jug. Tea should be made with loose leaves and poured through a strainer – teabags are definitely infra dig!

Cream teas with scones and clotted cream are popular in the south west of England, and at a Scottish meal you might find drop scones or bannock cake. Afternoon tea at a smart London hotel can cost up to £100 per person, but will prove a truly decadent experience for a treat.

If you’d rather treat yourself to a meal to home, here are a couple of our Cosy Home favourites.

Traditional scones

Scones are the backbone of afternoon tea, and are simpler to make than you might think. Here’s our tried and tested recipe:
  • 60g butter or margerine, softened
  • 450g self raising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 120g sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • milk
  • 120g dried fruit – sultanas are traditional, but experiment with chopped apricots, dates or cranberries as well

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Put the butter or margarine in a large bowl, and add the flour. Rub the fat into the flour with the tips of your fingers until it’s all absorbed and there are no large lumps of fat.

Stir in the sugar and the dried fruit. Break the egg into a measuring jug, and add enough milk to bring the total amount of liquid to 150ml. Pour the liquid into the flour mixture, and work it all together until you get a soft dough (add another tiny drop of milk if you need to, but don’t let the dough get too sticky or the scones will spread outwards during cooking).

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and roll it out to about 3cm thick (you should get around 8 to 10 scones). Transfer to a baking tray, and bake for around 15 to 20 minutes until pale gold on top. Transfer to a wire cooling rack until just warm, then serve with jam (preferably homemade), and cream. These scones freeze very well if there are any left!

Date, apricot and banana muffins

Not as traditional as scones, these moist, sticky muffins still make a delicious teatime treat. Note, though, that you need to start it a couple of hours beforehand, or even the night before.

  • 200g of self raising flour
  • 175g sunflower oil
  • 125g soft light brown sugar
  • extra tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • 2 small ripe bananas
  • 200g plain yoghurt or creme fraiche
  • 200g chopped dates and dried apricots,mixed
  • 100ml boiling water

What to do:

A couple of hours before you start baking, put the chopped dried fruit in a heatproof bowl and add 100ml boiling water. Leave to soak.

When the fruit is plump and hydrated, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius then put the bananas into a large mixing bowl and mash them with a fork.

Add the flour, oil, sugar, eggs and creme fraiche and mix everything together thoroughly. Add the dried fruit and any remaining liquid, and mix it up again.

Spoon into a muffin tin lined with paper cases, and sprinkle the tops with a little brown sugar. Bake for around 15 to 20 minutes until well risen and golden, and serve warm. Makes around 10 muffins.

By Sara Walker

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