In 19th century Britain, the usual time to serve dinner in polite society was often as late as 9 pm. However, lunch at around midday left a long period without food. Anna, 9th Duchess of Bedford at Belvoir Castle, began ordering tea, bread, butter, and cakes in her room as she was often hungry. Soon she began asking friends to join her. Those friends took the custom back to London, and the fashion for afternoon eating fast became hugely popular, and the tradition of the Afternoon Tea was born.
The genteel tradition thrived well until the mid-20th century. But as the British began a love affair with expensive, plush coffee chains, skinny mochas, and brownies, afternoon tea became little more than a morsel of faded British tradition to dangle before tourists.
However, after economic slumps and recession, everything changed in the early 21st century as many hankered back to more traditional, comforting times. The afternoon tea was back and has stayed with the original finger sandwiches, scones, jam and cream, cakes and tea-cakes are neatly piled high on gorgeous tiered cake stands.
An Afternoon Tea traditionally will only have cold foods; hot food is reserved for High Tea in the UK.
01 of 08
Afternoon tea sandwiches are traditionally finger sandwiches cut into rectangular fingers or more often now, into triangles and always with the crusts removed as this was always deemed more dainty and genteel. The sandwiches are always served on the bottom tier of the cake stand.
These watercress egg salad sandwiches fall right in line with this custom. Though If you don't have watercress to hand, feel free to use a little horseradish instead to add that extra bite to the egg.
02 of 08
Wafer thin slices of smoked salmon are always considered sophisticated when used as a finger sandwich on a traditional Afternoon Tea and these delicate sandwiches are that indeed. This recipe calls for cream cheese, though a soft chèvre or Neufchâtel would also be delicious.
03 of 08
Whether you pronounce it as “scone” or “scon”, no afternoon tea is complete without British scones as they are standard fare on an Afternoon Tea. Fruit scones are served simply with butter, but for a blow-out tea, choose plain scones and serve with clotted cream and jam. However, those with a less sweet tooth may prefer a cheese scone.
Whichever you serve, the scones must be fresh and are even better, still slightly warm from the oven. This scone recipe makes a perfect base to build your favorites.
04 of 08
Once the scones are eaten, it is time for tarts and cakes on the top tier of the cake stand. The pastries or cakes are usually miniatures, dainty and often eaten in just two bites. But for new or less experienced bakers this may be too challenging to attempt. In that case, use a regular-sized cake or tart and keep the slices thin and neat.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Another stalwart of the classic tea is the light and airy Victoria sponge cake with its layers set with whipped cream and strawberry jam. To be true to its name in honour of Queen Victoria, it must only be those two fillings.
Cut the slices thinly or, if you can, make miniature cakes.
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07 of 08
Fashions change and much as we cling to the traditions, occasionally it's time to add in some new ideas.
Cheesecake is not particularly British but has been adopted and can now sometimes be found on an afternoon tea
These Mini cheesecakes fit the bill well and are so delicate, yet they come together in only 5 steps.
08 of 08
All the lovely food mentioned above needs one more thing, a cup of tea. When serving Afternoon Tea, it is possible to match different teas to different courses, much the same as other drinks with food, or stick to one you really like whether it is a heavier dark Indian tea, or lighter China teas as is your preference.