Wednesday, September 7, 2011
How to Host an Afternoon Ladies’ Tea Party
One of my favorite ways to get a group of ladies together is by hosting an afternoon tea party. A lot of people choose a tea party format when hosting bridal and baby showers, going-away send-offs, and birthday celebrations, and that usually works out very nicely. But you don’t need a special reason to have a tea party. Usually I’ll plan a tea every fall, and that’s just because I’m happy that the hot weather is over and it’s time to bring on some hot tea, coffee and pastries! In fact, I will be planning a “Happy it’s fall” tea party really soon. (While you can do tea parties any time of the year, somehow sipping on hot tea just sounds a whole lot better to me during the cool weather months.)
In the past, I’ve hosted themed tea parties—for instance, for a group of new moms or expectant mothers, for a group of teen or elementary school-aged girls, or for several retired ladies or widows. Other times, there may have been a couple of new ladies at church or at the office and I hosted teas to give them the opportunity to get to know some of the other women. Most of the time, though, when I host a tea, it’s just to get a group of friends together and catch up on what’s going on in our lives.
So what exactly is needed to host a tea? Well, you can go super elaborate and set a dinner table with your best china for a dozen or more people, or you can go simple and casual and just set out your tea service on the coffee table in your living or family room for just two or three friends. You could also serve a “garden style” tea out on your patio or porch or in a sunroom (If you didn’t already have a picnic table out there, you would just need to set up folding or card table.). I think they’re all fun, but I particularly enjoy planning the big, formal productions. (Anyone who’s read my blog for a while, probably isn’t surprised at me saying that!)
Afternoon teas traditionally take place between 1 and 5 pm. At the very minimum you will need a teapot, tea, teacups and saucers, creamer and sugar bowl, dessert or luncheon plates, eating utensils, and some food accompaniments such as finger sandwiches, tea breads, pastries or cookies on nice serving plates. Some fresh fruit, such as chocolate-dipped strawberries or fruit kabobs (whole strawberries, blackberries, cherries, orange segments, and cubed pieces of melon and pineapple on appetizer-sized skewers) are also a nice addition. Try to have several selections of both sweet and savory foods to choose from.
Set each place setting with a plate, teacup and saucer, napkin, dessert fork and spoon. Place the teapot somewhere near center of the table. If it’s not out of your price range, it’s also nice to have a fresh flower centerpiece or even a small vase of fresh flowers for the table.
If it’s a more formal tea party, you may want to put out place cards and assign your guests a specific seat at the table. You can buy some really cute tea pot-shaped place card holders online (just do a Google search for “tea pot place card holders” and you’ll have several to choose from) and these are ideal for tea parties. Usually, though, I just set the table (or tables) and let guests choose where they want to sit.
Be sure to have several different types of teas on hand, so that everyone at the tea party can take their pick. “You might want to fill the teapot with a standard blend like Earl Grey or orange pekoe, and then have a tea kettle with hot water on hand to fill individual cups with alternate choices such as herb or green teas or flavored black teas,” suggests Marsha Yarbrough, owner of The Lavender House Tea Room in McKinney, Texas. I usually set out a small dish or pretty wicker basket filled with a variety of flavored and herb tea bags.
“You can either buy the standard bagged teas, or loose leaf teas,” says Yarbrough. “If you do the latter, you’ll need a small tea infuser for each guest and a large brewing basket for the teapot. You should start steeping the tea for the teapot right before the guests arrive.” To do so properly, she recommends you fill the pot with very hot boiling water and steep your tea 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how strong you like it.
Even though it’s a “tea” party, I’ll usually I’ll make up a pot of coffee as well. There’s always at least one guest (if you ask for an honest answer!) who prefers coffee over hot tea. If you have a coffee pot in your china pattern, that is an ideal way to serve the coffee. A thermal coffee carafe can also be nice.
Exactly which foods you serve at your tea all depends too on how much time you have to cook. If you’re short on time, you could buy some cakes and tea cookies from your local bakery or coffee shop. But if you have time, by all means, do some baking! Here are the recipes for some of my favorite tea party treats:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter, cold and in pieces
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Combine first four ingredients. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture has the texture of coarse crumbs. Add heavy cream, sprinkling a little at a time, stirring just until mixture is moistened and holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 5 times. Roll into four 6-inch circles about 1/2-inch thick. Cut each circle into 8 pie-shaped wedges. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet or scone pan. Bake in 375 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 32 scones. Serve with clotted cream (you can buy this in specialty food stores, or make your own), lemon curd, butter or jam.
If desired, frost each scone with orange glaze before serving. To make the glaze, blend together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 T. shredded orange peel, and 1-2 T. freshly-squeezed orange juice.
HOMEMADE DEVONSHIRE CLOTTED CREAM (spread on scones and muffins)
1 cup heavy cream
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Beat all the ingredients together until mixture is thickened, smooth, and holds its shape. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Best when served the same day.
HOMEMADE LEMON CURD (spread on scones and muffins)
3 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar (preferably, “super fine”)
1 T. grated lemon peel
1 cup lemon juice
4 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
In sauce pan, beat eggs until frothy. Whisk in sugar, lemon peel and lemon juice. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened—about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and mix until well-blended. Store in refrigerator. Can be made up to 3 days before serving.
OPEN-FACED CUCUMBER SANDWICHES
1 package cocktail bread (rye, whole wheat or white)
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced very thinly (1/4 to 1/8 inch slices)
2 packets Good Seasons Zesty Italian salad dressing mix
1 (12oz.) tub spreadable or whipped cream cheese spread
Optional: Fresh dill for garnish
In a small bowl, blend cream cheese spread and Italian salad dressing mix together. Spread this mixture onto individual slices of cocktail bread. Top each with a cucumber slice. Arrange on platter. If desired, garnish each cucumber sandwich some fresh dill weed.
TUNA SALAD APPETIZER PUFFS
“Cream puff” style shells:
½ cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup white flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 large eggs
Spray 2 large baking sheets with cooking oil spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium saucepan, heat butter and water to a rolling boil. Add flour and salt and stir until the mixture becomes smooth and leaves the side of the pan. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat until mixture loses its gloss. Drop dough by rounded teasponfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, allowing 2-3 inches between each spoonful of dough. Bake about 15 minutes in preheated oven until puffed and lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool away from draft. Makes about 48 to 80 appetizer-sized puffs. No more than 2-3 hours before serving, split shells in half and fill with chicken salad. Refrigerate until serving time. Fill with tuna salad filling.
Tuna Salad Filling:
2 (7 ounce) cans tuna, drained and flaked
½ cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup sweet pickle relish
¼ tsp. minced onion flakes
1 T. dried parsley
Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate until you’re ready to fill the puffs.
MINI SPINACH APPETIZER QUICHES
Pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen, thawed and chopped spinach
1 large onion, chopped
2 T. butter
2 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 ½ cups grated Swiss cheese (or a combination of Swiss and Provolone cheeses)
Divide pie crust among two 12-cavity tartlet pans. Set aside. Defrost the spinach. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Sauté the onion in butter. When the onions have become translucent, remove from heat. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs and cream until smooth. Add to onions. Add the salt and black pepper. Mix well. Drain any excess water from the spinach. Then mix the spinach and one cup of the Swiss cheese into the egg and onion mixture. Then divide evenly into 24 tartlet shells. Top mini quiches with remaining half cup of Swiss cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until center of quiches is set. Do-ahead tip: can freeze and reheat (10-12 minutes at 350 degrees) before serving.
POPPY SEED MUFFINS
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
6 T. poppy seeds
Cream sugar, butter and extracts together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Fold in poppy seeds. Spoon batter into greased or paper lined muffin tins about three-fourths full. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes.
1 cup white flour
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup butter
2 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp shredded lemon peel
Juice of one lemon
2 T. white flour
¼ tsp. baking powder
First prepare crust. Stir flour and confectioner’s sugar together. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press onto lightly greased 8X8-inch square baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 12-15 minutes, or until crust is slightly golden around edges.
While crust is baking, prepare filling. In small bowl, whip eggs until fluffy and lemon-yellow in color. Add sugar, lemon peel and juice. Blend several minutes, until mixture is smooth. Mix in flour and baking powder, and stir until all ingredients are blended together well. Pour over baked layer, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until filling is set. Remove from oven, and let cool. Then sprinkle with additional confectioner’s sugar. Cut into bars. Makes 16.
PUMPKIN CRANBERRY BREAD
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup solid pack pumpkin
1 cup cranberries, chopped
In large bowl, combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. In small mixer bowl, beat eggs; beat in sugar, oil and pumpkin. Pour pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients; stir just until moistened. Stir in cranberries. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 60 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans. Makes 2 loaves.
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
9 T. granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups white flour
1 tsp. salt
4 cups unsweetened, flaked coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two 9” diameter tart parts with removable bottoms. Cream butter and sugar together; add vanilla. Stir in flour and salt. Blend in coconut and mix together until well combined. Divide dough between prepared pans and press to cover bottoms. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Then bake 25 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes. Remove sides from pans. Cut each shortbread into 12 wedges. If wedges are soft or moist, place on cookie sheet and bake until crisp, up to 7 minutes more.
APPLE STREUSEL TARTLETS
Pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
5 cups fresh apples, sliced thinly
1 cup granulated sugar
3 heaping T. flour
½ tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Line individual tart pans with pastry. Divide the apple filling among the 24 tartlet cavities. (Alternatively, as a time-saver you can use 2 cans of apple pie filling instead of making your own peach filling.) Top each cavity with about 1-2 tablespoons of streusel topping (recipe below).
¾ cup white flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 T. butter (cold—straight out of fridge)
Bake tartlets in a 375 degree oven, for 25-30 minutes—until crust is golden and filling is starting to bubble. When done, cool on cooling rack. These tartlets taste good warm, fresh out of the oven, or cool.
Finally, some chocolate dipped ‘n drizzled strawberries is always a nice addition as well.
I hope I’ve inspired you to plan and host your own tea sometime soon!