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How to Prepare an Elegant Afternoon Tea for Special Occasion Entertaining (or a Relaxing Treat)

Updated on March 7, 2017
Margaret Schindel profile image

Margaret has a passion for cooking, baking and creating recipes to satisfy her cravings for delicious, indulgent and sometimes healthy food.

Learn how to serve a gracious casual or formal afternoon tea service with these delicious recipes and elegant entertaining ideas for serving "high tea"
Learn how to serve a gracious casual or formal afternoon tea service with these delicious recipes and elegant entertaining ideas for serving "high tea" | Source

Afternoon Tea: An Elegant, Festive and Delicious Meal for a Bridal Shower, Wedding Reception, Garden Party or Other Special Event

Afternoon tea has been an elegant and originally aristocratic British custom since the early 1800s. This delectable, dainty meal, which often is referred to (incorrectly) as "high tea" outside of Britain, is the perfect menu to serve guests at a bridal shower, wedding reception, graduation party or afternoon garden party.

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."

— Henry James, "The Portrait of a Lady"

A Delicious British Ritual With a 200-Year History

The custom of taking afternoon tea is believed to have been introduced by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who is rumored to have started taking tea and a light afternoon snack privately in her boudoir (possibly while visiting Belvoir Castle) to tide her over during the long wait between breakfast and dinner (which was served around 8:00 PM). Eventually she started inviting a few friends to join her for a cuppa, a light bite and an afternoon walk. It became such a popular ritual among her circle that it was picked up by other fashionable hostesses, and eventually serving an elaborate afternoon tea became not only a respectable entertainment but also a fashionable custom in the parlors of London's aristocratic society.

These days afternoon tea remains a beloved daily ritual in the UK, although usually it's just a simple cream tea or tea with a slice of cake or perhaps some biscuits (cookies). The original elegant, three-course, full afternoon tea service lives on around the world as a festive special occasion meal usually reserved for celebrations and parties.

Vote for Your Favorite Afternoon Tea Food or Beverage!

Which of the following foods or beverages do you (or would you) look forward to most at a full afternoon tea service?

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Table set for afternoon tea with scones, jam and clotted cream
Table set for afternoon tea with scones, jam and clotted cream | Source

What Is "High Tea" and Why Is It Called That?

If you aren't from the UK and haven't spent much time there, there's a good chance you associate "high tea" with the formal, mid-afternoon, full tea service enjoyed by the cream of London's fashionable society. When you hear that term, do you envision a lavish spread with dainty sandwich fingers and other luxury tidbits, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and fancy cakes and individual pastries, and perhaps even a festive crystal flute of chilled champagne?

If so, it's a common and understandable mistake. In a social context, "high" and "up" usually refer to the elevation of one's social standing or status (high class, upper class, upwardly mobile) while "low" is associated with an inferior social rank (low class, lower class), so it's natural to assume that "high tea" refers to the elegant, formal tea service made popular by nineteenth-century aristocrats.

In the context of afternoon tea, however, "high" and "low" actually refer to the height of the tables at which these meals were usually served rather than to the elegance and formality (or lack thereof) of either the meal itself or the people enjoying it.

Low Tea

Traditionally, afternoon tea, also known as "low tea", was served on low tables in a garden or parlor, typically around 4:00 PM, just before the daily Hyde Park promenade where fashionable members of London society strolled to see and be seen. So what many people and even restaurants outside the UK often refer to as "high tea" is properly called either a full afternoon tea or low tea.

High Tea

"High tea" was something quite different: a hearty late-afternoon, working-class meal served at a high table, i.e., dinner table. As the main meal of the day, high tea traditionally included meat, potatoes, another starchy side dish or casserole, cheese, bread, and baked goods and, of course, tea.

So the correct term for the refined social custom enjoyed by the upper and, eventually, middle classes (and frequently referred to incorrectly as "high tea") is "afternoon tea" or "low tea".

A traditional "high tea" is a hearty mid- to late afternoon meal, such as bangers and mash and a starchy vegetable such as peas.
A traditional "high tea" is a hearty mid- to late afternoon meal, such as bangers and mash and a starchy vegetable such as peas. | Source

Entertain With an Afternoon Tea Service as Elegant as Those Served at Posh Hotels

Many of the world's top hotels offer an afternoon tea service, and there are caterers like the ones we hired for our wedding reception who can help you put together a fabulous menu for your special event. But you also can make your own fabulous, elegant afternoon tea to serve to your guests in your own living room, dining room, backyard or garden! I've put together helpful information for creating and serving a delicious and memorable afternoon tea menu, including how to brew a proper pot of English tea, delicious recipes, menu tips, and suggestions for setting an elegant table. Most are traditional but I've also included some fun, updated variations.

Tiered serving plate of afternoon tea sandwiches, scones and desserts
Tiered serving plate of afternoon tea sandwiches, scones and desserts | Source

Traditional Three-Tiered Servers Create a Lovely Presentation for a Full Afternoon Tea

A popular way to display and serve the food at a full tea is on an elegant three-tiered server, with each course on a different tier. Originally the scones were placed on the top tier of the serving dish so that they could be covered and kept warm, but these days the tiers often are filled in order of the courses, with the savories on either the bottom or top and the scones in the middle layer.

If you're serving a very formal afternoon tea, such as for a wedding reception or engagement party, a crystal and silver 3-tier server adds classic elegance.

Provide one tiered serving plate for every two or three people at your afternoon tea party.

Types of Afternoon Tea

A pot of brewed loose tea served with milk and sugar is the only must-have for a traditional British afternoon tea, although thin lemon slices (never lemon wedges) frequently are offered for those who prefer tea with lemon to tea with milk.

Cream Tea

If you serve the tea with scones, jam and clotted cream (also called Devonshire cream or Devon cream), it becomes a "cream tea". In Devonshire, a cream tea traditionally includes freshly-baked scones still warm from the oven and strawberry jam. The scones are split in half and each half is spread with the clotted cream, topped with the strawberry jam and eaten with tea with milk. In Cornwall, at a Cornish cream tea the split scone halves are spread with the jam first and then the clotted cream.

Light Tea

A "light tea" is a cream tea plus sweets, such as biscuits (cookies), cake, or pastries, such as individual fruit tarts.

Full Afternoon Tea

A "full afternoon tea" consists of three courses:

  1. Savories, such as finger sandwiches (sandwiches with the crusts removed and cut into "fingers") or small finger food appetizers.
  2. Scones served with jam and clotted cream.
  3. Sweets such as cookies, shortbread, cake slices or individual serving-sized small cakes, or pastries. When the term "high tea" is used incorrectly to mean afternoon tea, usually it is a reference to a three-course full afternoon tea.

Champagne Tea

A "champagne tea" is a full afternoon tea served with a glass of champagne. Many luxury hotels including Claridge's, The Athenaeum Hotel, The Ritz, The Four Seasons, Brown's Hotel, The Berkeley Hotel, The Dorchester Hotel and The Chesterfield Hotel Mayfair in London serve one or more elegant variations on a full afternoon tea with an optional glass of champagne.

Afternoon Tea Variations

Some establishments offer "afternoon tea" variations that bear little resemblance to the traditional mid-afternoon tea menu. For example, The Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel in London serves not only The Chesterfield Traditional Afternoon Tea and The Chesterfield Champagne Tea but also The Chocolate Lover's Tea that substitutes hot chocolate or a dark chocolate or vanilla white chocolate milkshake for the tea, and a Little Prince and Princess Afternoon Tea that consists of "jam and peanut butter sandwiches, cupcake and ice cream, and a choice of milkshake or soft drink."

No doubt the Duchess of Bedford would be horrified at these entirely tea-less offerings being referred to as "teas", but tourists traveling with children surely appreciate having options tailored to younger palates while the adults enjoy more sophisticated, traditional teatime fare.

How to Brew a Proper Pot of English Tea

If you're going to do up your afternoon tea "right and proper", knowing how to brew a proper pot of English tea is essential.

If you're going to go to serve a traditional English afternoon tea menu with finger sandwiches, homemade scones, biscuits (cookies), shortbread, cakes, fruit tarts, etc., my feeling is that you might as well take the small amount of extra work to brew a traditional pot of loose leaf tea, which will result in a more flavorful beverage. But since these days even proper Brits often use tea bags when brewing their daily cuppa, feel free to do the same if you prefer.

A proper cuppa tea
A proper cuppa tea | Source

What You'll Need

Start by assembling the necessary supplies. Here's what you'll need:

  • A tea kettle for boiling the water on the stove; ideally one that whistles to let you know when the water has built up a good head of steam.
    • Note: You can't achieve the necessary full head of steam by boiling water in a saucepan or in the microwave!
  • A proper teapot made of ceramic or china, preferably one that has sieve-like small holes inside where the spout is attached; silver is more formal, but china or ceramic works better.
  • A tea cosy (AKA tea cozy) to keep the tea hot for proper steeping and serving.
  • Clean-tasting cold water, either soft tap water or filtered water.
  • Good-quality loose black tea or tea bags, preferably from a tin.
    • Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam and Lapsang Souchong are popular choices; note that Lapsang Souchong, which has a deep, smoky flavor, may be an acquired taste for people outside the UK.
  • A tea strainer or small mesh sieve, if you are using loose tea.

Use a Good-Quality Tea Kettle to Boil the Water

I doesn't matter whether you use a stovetop whistling tea kettle or an electric tea kettle as long as it brings the water to a full rolling boil and builds up a good head of steam. I'm partial to the whistling type, because I know that the water is hot enough when I hear the whistle. There's also something delightfully traditional and British about using one for one's tea.

Brew the Tea in a Proper Teapot

Earthenware teapots hold in the heat best, but as long as you use a tea cosy a more elegant bone china or porcelain tea pot is fine, too. The Spode Blue Italian teapot is a gorgeous, traditional teapot with the requisite curved spout; you may have seen it on the popular series Downton Abbey.

Keep It Warm With a Pretty Tea Cozy / Cosy

A tea cozy isn't just quaint or pretty, although it is both those things. it's a practical necessity that keeps the water in the teapot hot while the tea leaves are steeping, and also keeps the contents of the pot hot after brewing for those who want a second (or third) cup.

How to Brew a Pot of Tea: Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Warm the teapot and place it next to the stove. To do this, boil some water (the microwave is fine for this part) and pour it into the teapot. Cover the teapot with its lid and swirl the water around inside of the pot to warm it up. Then pour out the water and place the teapot next to the stove (where you will boil the fresh, cold water for the tea). It's important to keep the teapot right next to where the kettle will be boiling to minimize the loss of heat and steam inside the kettle between the time it is lifted from the stove top to the time the water is enclosed inside the covered teapot - hence the old saying, "Bring the pot to the kettle, not the kettle to the pot."
  2. Add the loose tea or tea bags to the warmed teapot. The general rule of thumb is one teaspoon of loose tea or one teabag per full cup of water, plus one extra teaspoon or bag for the pot if you prefer strong tea.
  3. Boil fresh cold water in a tea kettle. Always start with fresh, cold water (if the water is hard where you live, use filtered water). Pour it into the tea kettle, leaving enough headroom at the top so that the water can boil vigorously and develop a strong head of steam. (Some kettles have fill lines.) Heat it on the stove until it reaches a full, rolling boil and builds up enough steam to make the kettle whistle.

    Don't be tempted to boil the water in a saucepan or in the microwave, neither of which will allow the water to heat evenly to the proper temperature.
  4. Steep the tea leaves. Even if you don't use a whistling tea kettle, you'll know when the water reaches a full, rolling boil because steam will be pouring out of the spout. The moment that happens, immediately pour the water over the tea leaves in the warmed teapot and cover it with the lid as quickly as possible. Cover the pot with the tea cosy to keep the tea hot and steep for 3 minutes. Stir the tea and remove the tea bags, if you're using them.

    Helpful tips:

    • Don't leave the water boiling before you pour it over the tea; as soon as the kettle is steaming, immediately pour the water into the teapot. This ensures the perfect water temperature for brewing and retains the maximum oxygen in the water.
    • Don't allow the boiling water to cool and then bring it back to the boil before pouring it into the tea pot. Twice-boiled water has less oxygen in it, which can flatten the taste of the tea. If you aren't able to pour the water over the tea as soon as it builds up a good head of steam in the kettle, pour it out and start again by boiling fresh, cold water.
    • Take care not to burn your hand on the scalding hot steam when you pour the water into the teapot; consider using a potholder.
    • Don't let the tea steep any longer than 3 minutes so it doesn't become bitter. If you prefer stronger tea, add more loose tea to the pot in Step 2.
  5. Pour the tea. If using loose tea, place a tea strainer over each cup before pouring the tea. Allow it to drain and then remove the strainer to a drip cup.

A plate of elegant, stacked, open-face tea sandwiches from the Palace Hotel
A plate of elegant, stacked, open-face tea sandwiches from the Palace Hotel | Source

First Course: Savory Finger Foods and Other Savories

If you're serving a full afternoon tea, the first course should be savory finger foods, usually including an assortment of tea sandwiches. If you're serving a cream tea or a light tea, you can skip this savory course.

Traditional Tea Sandwiches

Traditional open-face tea sandwiches are made with thin slices of good-quality, firm white sandwich bread sliced thinly, buttered very thinly, filled with paper-thin slices of cucumber (peeled or with the peel scored) or radish or with watercress sprigs, smoked salmon slices or egg salad and topped with tasty and attractive garnishes. Then the sandwiches are trimmed of their crusts and cut into small fingers, triangles, or other shapes. These days, however, nearly anything goes, as long as all the layers are thin and the fillings are light.

Make Them Small, Thin and Dainty

When preparing your tea sandwiches, remember that small, thin and dainty are the operative words. Choose a light but firm bread with a dense crumb and slice it very thin so that it doesn't overpower the thin filling layer. Pepperidge Farm Very Thin Sliced Bread in white or whole wheat is a good choice and comes pre-sliced to the correct thickness. Scrape a very thin, even layer of soft butter, mayonnaise or another spread from crust to crust. Optional garnishes also should be dainty (paper-thin slices, small dollops, etc.).

Use a long serrated knife to trim the crusts off each tea sandwich. Then either slice the sandwich into 1" wide strips for sandwich fingers, cut it diagonally into fourths for sandwich triangles, or cut it into shapes with small cookie cutters.

You can dip the cut edges of some your tea sandwiches in finely chopped fresh herbs that complement the flavors of the spreads and fillings, if you wish.

There is only exception: Sandwiches made with thin slices from a slender baguette should be served open face, untrimmed, and uncut.

Elegant and Delicious Flavor Combinations for Tea Sandwiches

(click column header to sort results)
Bread  
Spread  
Filling  
Garnish  
Light whole wheat
Mayonnaise
Curried chicken salad
Paper-thin apple slices
Pumpernickel
Garlic-herb cheese spread
Steamed thin asparagus tips
Sprinkle of lemon juice, olive oil
Pumpernickel
Softened butter
Smoked salmon
Sour cream and capers
Firm white or challah
Softened butter
Paper-thin cucumber slices (skin pared or scored)
Fresh dill weed
Firm white
Fig jam
Good quality imported prosciutto
Paper-thin pear slices
Light rye
Honey mustard
Baked ham, thinly sliced
Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
Baguette
Blackcurrant jelly or raspberry preserves
Smoked turkey and brie
Mango chutney
Baguette
Cherry preserves
Maytag Blue cheese and caramelized onions
Chopped toasted walnuts

Other Savory Dishes and Soups

Mini quiches or small slices or squares of a thin quiche are lovely savory finger foods for an afternoon tea, either in addition to or in place of sandwiches.

A very small portion (just enough for a few sips) of hot or cold soup with a pretty garnish is another excellent choice as part of your savory course at an afternoon tea. Hot soups can be served in small cups, such as espresso cups or Japanese tea cups. Since these soups will be sipped rather than spooned, avoid chunky soups, very thick soups, or soups with ingredients that can't be sipped (such as wontons or meatballs). Instead, choose something smooth that will go down easily, like this

Cold soups look beautiful served in pretty schnapps glasses, cordial glasses or shot glasses. Consider a cold fruit soup or a chilled vichyssoise. Hot soups can be served in small Asian style tea cups without handles, espresso or demitasse cups, etc.

When you are serving foods in small glasses, cups, dishes or bowls, appropriately scaled-down utensils such as demitasse spoons or espresso spoons make a nice presentation.

Asian porcelain soup spoons are another option for serving very small, tasting-size portions of soup, savory dishes, pudding or other sweets, and also for condiments or dipping sauces that might accompany them. These spoons come not only in the typical restaurant size but also in smaller sizes that are perfect for the dainty portion sizes favored at afternoon tea. They are sometimes referred to as amuse bouche spoons. ("Amuse-bouche" is a French word for an individual hors d'oeuvre meant to be eaten in a single bite to "amuse the mouth".)

Traditional British scones with jam and clotted cream
Traditional British scones with jam and clotted cream | Source

Second Course: Scones, Jam and Clotted Cream

Whether you're serving a simple cream tea, a light tea with finger sandwiches and savories or a full afternoon tea with sweets and desserts, scones are an essential part of the menu. If you're serving a three-course full afternoon tea, scones with clotted cream and jam should be the second course, after the savory course.

Lemon curd is a delightful alternative to preserves. Homemade lemon curd has an especially bright, fresh taste, and it's quick and easy to make from just a few simple ingredients: lemon juice, fresh lemon zest, sugar, butter, eggs, and sometimes salt. Here are some recipes to try.

Lemon Curd Recipe from Ina Garten

Lemon Curd Recipe and Video from Stephanie Jaworski of JoyofBaking.com

The Best Scones Recipes

Here are several wonderful homemade scone recipes:

And here's my own delicious and somewhat nontraditional Raspberry and Ginger Scones recipe, to be served fresh and warm from the oven with traditional clotted cream and nontraditional raspberry preserves. Enjoy!

Scones with clotted cream and jam on a tiered serving plate
Scones with clotted cream and jam on a tiered serving plate | Source

Fresh Raspberry Ginger Scones

My modern twist on the traditional scone is as easy as it is delicious! Use only fresh raspberries, since frozen berries change the consistency of the batter. Serve these yummy scones warm from the oven with individual cups of Devonshire cream / clotted cream and good quality raspberry preserves for each guest.

Tip: Making your own homemade crystallized ginger is much less expensive than buying it ready-made, and it's extremely easy to do. Alton Brown has a good recipe on The Food Network site.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup raspberry yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon high quality pure almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger AKA candied ginger
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries, plus a few extra for garnish if desired
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • About 2 tablespoons additional granulated sugar or coarse sanding sugar, to sprinkle on top
  • Good quality raspberry preserves
  • Devonshire or clotted cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Rinse and pick over the raspberries and set them in a wire sieve lined with paper towels to drain without being bruised.
  3. Sift together the flour, salt, 1/4 cup sugar, and baking powder onto a large sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper. Lift the paper by the edges, taking care not to let the dry ingredients spill, and pour the sifted ingredients lightly into the bowl of a food processor.
  4. Cut the cold butter into small pieces, sprinkle them over the dry ingredients, and pulse briefly until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Place this mixture into a medium size bowl.
  5. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and then stir in the yogurt, almond extract, lemon zest, and crystallized ginger. Place large spoonfuls of this wet mixture on top of the dry ingredients in the other bowl and stir just until combined. Fold the raspberries gently into the thick, wet dough.
  6. Generously flour a rolling surface on your counter (or the counter itself). Turn out the dough onto the floured surface, flour your hands well, and pat out the dough 1-inch thick. Cut it into 10 triangles with a floured knife or cut as many round scones as you can using a floured plain or fluted biscuit cutter. Place them on a well buttered baking sheet or a baking sheet covered with baking parchment. (Alternatively, you can scoop or spoon the dough into a well buttered scone pan or mini scone pan.) Brush the tops of the scones with melted butter and then sprinkle them liberally with sugar.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the scones are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out dry. Cool the scones on a wire rack until they are slightly warm and serve them with the raspberry preserves and clotted cream. Garnish the serving plate with the reserved raspberries, if desired.

Like My Fresh Raspberry Scones Recipe? Please Rate It!

Cast your vote for Margaret's Fresh Raspberry and Ginger Scones

"When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things."

— Muriel Barbery, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog"
A silver tray of elegant petits fours and miniature tarts, eclairs and puddings
A silver tray of elegant petits fours and miniature tarts, eclairs and puddings | Source

Third Course: Sweets and Dainty Desserts

Nearly any dessert that can be made or served in very small, individual portions can be served in the sweets course of your afternoon tea menu.

French Macarons

Get these from a good French bakery or, if you're feeling adventurous, make your own. This French macaron recipe from the Not So Humble Pie blog includes detailed troubleshooting tips! There's also a lot of great information in this article on French macarons.

Tiramisu

Make it in a large, shallow pan and cut it into 1 1/2" squares. Try this tiramisu recipe and be sure to use caster sugar (superfine sugar vs. regular granulated sugar) and crisp Savoiardi-type ladyfingers rather than soft, spongy ones.

Miniature Éclairs or Cream Puffs

Get them from a good local bakery or make your own. They're actually a lot of fun and easier than you might think! Try this easy and excellent Cream Puffs and Éclairs Recipe from the talented bakers at King Arthur Flour.

Tricks for Making Perfect Eclairs or Cream Puffs:

  • Dump all the flour at once into the boiling water, butter and salt mixture and IMMEDIATELY start beating it in vigorously and fearlessly so you don't get a bunch of lumps.
  • Let the cooked mixture cool for a few minutes and then beat in the eggs quickly, one at a time, at high speed and continue to beat for another two minutes so the mixture is smooth and thoroughly homogenized.
  • When the pastries are baking, don't open the oven door until it's time to remove the pastries, so that they don't deflate (the same reason you can't peek inside the oven when you're baking a soufflé).
  • After removing them from the oven, quickly cut a slit in each eclair or cream puff and return them to the oven for another five minutes to let the steam escape. This is the secret to a crisp rather than a soggy pastry shell!

Mini Cheesecakes

Top each mini cheesecake with a perfect, fresh berry (or several).

Large, Ripe Strawberries Dipped in Melted Dark Chocolate

Drizzle them with melted white chocolate (or dip them in white chocolate and drizzle them with dark or milk chocolate).

Victoria Sponge AKA Victoria Sandwich (Layer Cake)

This is a classic Victorian English sponge layer cake, two cake layers filled with jam and dusted with powdered icing sugar; named after Queen Victoria, who is said to have enjoyed a slice with her afternoon tea. What could be more traditional?

Try this Victoria Sponge recipe from Food.com. Be sure to weigh the ingredients and use caster sugar (AKA superfine sugar).

A Hot or Cold Dessert Soup

Serve your soup in in demitasse cups or tiny glasses. Try this Chocolate Soup recipe from Chef George Duran.

Petits Fours

See my World's Easiest Petits Fours recipe, below.

Trifle

Serve your trifle in mini trifle bowls or small glass cups or glasses with espresso spoons. See my Lemon Curd Trifle recipe.

Dessert Tartlets or Mini Tarts

Pecan tassies, mini chess pies, mini fruit tarts, lemon tartlets, etc. Try my Lovely Lemon Curd Tarts recipe.

Iced and decorated petits fours, a favorite for formal afternoon tea.
Iced and decorated petits fours, a favorite for formal afternoon tea. | Source

The World's Easiest Petits Fours Recipe

When I was a girl, my mom came up with this quick and simple recipe for making petit fours* recipe so that I could have fun decorating the little cakes with icing, silver dragées, sprinkles, nonpareils, and other embellishments. As I got older and more deft with my decorations, she started serving them at parties. Eventually I started making more sophisticated variations to keep in the freezer to serve to unexpected company with a cup of tea or coffee.

The following version is the quick and easy version Mom used so I could have fun decorating the petit fours, followed by some of the more elegant variations I use these days.

Note: Although the correct spelling of these miniature cakes is "petits fours", many people whose native language isn't French use the Anglicized spelling "petit fours" so I've included it here, too.

Ingredients

  • 2 frozen Sara Lee pound cakes
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of good quality berry jam (preferably tart and not too sweet)
  • Vanilla buttercream frosting
  • Apple or red currant jelly (or other flavor of your choice)
  • Pourable icing - tinted pale pastel with food coloring (see Easy Petits Fours Icing recipe below)
  • Purchased tubes of decorator's icing (if not using buttercream frosting)
  • Edible decorations of your choice (optional)

Instructions

  1. Slice the top and edges off each frozen pound cake using a sharp serrated knife. Then slice each block of trimmed cake into nice, thin, even slices (about 1/4" thick). Reserve 1/4 of the cake slices and spread the remaining slices with jam. Then add a layer of vanilla buttercream frosting (see recipe below), if you wish. Cover and reserve the remaining buttercream in a cool place.
  2. Stack three of the jam and buttercream topped layers and top them with a reserved plain cake layer. Repeat with the remaining cake slices. Wrap each stack in plastic wrap and freeze for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Melt the jelly in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often. Remove the pan from the heat. Take the layer cakes from the freezer and cut them into small cubes, diamonds, triangles, circles, ovals, or other shapes with a long, sharp knife and/or tall petits fours cutters.
  4. Space the petits fours approximately 3/4" to 1" apart on large icing/cooling racks set on top of wax paper. Drip the warm jelly glaze from the tip of a spoon over the top and sides of each petit four in a thin, even layer. When the glaze has set, replace the jelly-covered wax paper sheets with fresh wax paper.
  5. Place fresh wax paper under the racks and spoon the pastel-tinted pourable icing very slowly and evenly over the top and sides of each petit four, allowing the excess to drip onto the wax paper. If you run out of icing, scrape up the excess icing, thinning it with a few drops of milk or cream if necessary. Allow the icing to set and then move the petits fours from the racks to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Decorate the iced petits fours with the reserved buttercream, if using (thinned with a few drops of milk, if necessary) or with purchased tubes of decorator's icing. Pipe the frosting out in tiny dots, slender stripes, swirls, etc., and add additional edible decorations such as nonpareils, edible glitter, or silver dragées, if desired. Refrigerate the petits fours for 1 to 2 hours.

Simple Vanilla Buttercream Recipe

You can use store-bought buttercream in a pinch, but most of them taste pretty bad. This simple vanilla buttercream recipe is super quick and easy and tastes yummy!

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. confectioner's sugar (AKA powdered sugar or icing sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt (not Kosher salt or sea salt or other salt)
  • 2 to 4 Tbsp. heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Soften the butter at room temperature (NOT in a microwave!) until it can be cut easily with a butter knife. It's important not to let the butter get too soft, which would prevent it from being creamed to the proper consistency.
  2. Sift the confectioner's sugar onto a large sheet of wax paper.
  3. Cream the softened butter in the large bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed, using the mixer's paddle attachment and scraping the bowl and beaters occasionally, until the butter is silky smooth and paler in color (roughly 3 or 4 minutes). Reduce the speed to low and gradually add 3 cups of the sifted confectioner's sugar.
  4. Increase the mixer speed to medium. After about 30 seconds, add the vanilla extract, salt, and 2 Tbsp. of the cream. Beat for about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl and beaters once or twice. The frosting should be smooth, fluffy, and thick enough to hold its shape but thin enough to be piped easily. If it's too thin, beat in another 1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar at a time (up to 3/4 cup) to get the desired consistency. If it's too thick, beat in another tablespoon of cream (and a second, if necessary).
  5. Variation: For a richer vanilla flavor, stop creaming the butter after 2 minutes, slice open a vanilla bean pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the butter with the tip of a paring knife, then continue creaming the butter. Omit the vanilla extract.

Easy Petits Fours / Petit Fours Icing Recipe

It takes just a few minutes to whip up a batch of this easy petits fours icing!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. confectioner's sugar (AKA powdered sugar or icing sugar)
  • 2 tsp. pure almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 Tbsp. whole milk or cream
  • Food coloring

Instructions

  1. Sift the confectioner's sugar into a medium-large bowl.
  2. Stir in the almond and vanilla extracts and 3 Tbsp. of the milk or cream with a wire whisk until smooth. If the glaze is too thick, stir in another teaspoon of milk or cream at a time (up to 3 teaspoons) until it has the consistency of a pourable icing.
  3. Tint the icing a very pale pastel color with a tiny amount of food coloring.

Easy Petits Fours - More Sophisticated Variations

  • Use homemade pound cake, substituting almond extract for the vanilla extract if desired, and bake in a sheet pan instead of a loaf pan.
  • Glaze the cake stacks with the warmed jelly and an extremely thin layer of rolled marzipan (NOT pure almond paste) before cutting them into individual petits fours and icing them.
  • Divide the prepared Easy Petits Fours Glaze in half. Into one half, stir 2 ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate and 1 Tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder. Pour the vanilla glaze over half your petits fours and pour the chocolate glaze over the other half.
  • Substitute the Poured Fondant Icing recipe from King Arthur Flour site for the Easy Petits Fours Icing and ice and decorate the petits fours within a few hours before serving, but after icing and decorating them don't refrigerate or freeze them.

Lovely Lemon Curd Tarts Recipe

The basic recipe for these lovely miniature lemon tarts couldn't be simpler or quicker! Just assemble the three ingredients — no measuring or mixing required. You can buy the tartlet shells and/or lemon curd ready-made, or for more luscious tarts you can use homemade shortbread tartlet shells, homemade lemon curd, or both.

Lemon curd tart with raspberries
Lemon curd tart with raspberries | Source

Ingredients

  • Baked and cooled tartlet shells AKA mini tart shells, preferably shortbread crust
  • Lemon curd, purchased or homemade
  • Fresh berries
  • Garnishes, optional (see suggestions below)

Instructions

  1. Fill the tartlet shells with lemon curd.
  2. Top with your choice of fresh berries or serve them on the side, if you prefer.
  3. Add additional garnishes if desired.
  • Sift confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) lightly over the top of each tartlet. (If you have cupcake stencils, you can sift the powdered sugar over them to make pretty designs.)
  • Spoon or pipe whipped cream (preferably homemade) either next to or on top of the tartlets.
  • Alternatively, spoon or pipe meringue decoratively on top of the tartlets and briefly and lightly brown the meringue under the broiler or with a crème brûlée torch (butane kitchen torch). The photo shows a lovely lemon tartlet topped with lightly browned peaks of meringue, sprinkled with a few blueberries and garnished on the side with fresh blackberries and raspberries. You can see how these simple garnishes add a tremendous amount of visual appeal as well as flavor.
  • Drizzle the lemon tarts or the serving plate decoratively with slightly warmed seedless raspberry jam, fresh kiwi purée, or both, from the tip of a teaspoon or a clean squirt bottle (which makes the decorative drizzles much neater and easier to control). To make fresh kiwi purée, process slices of kiwi fruit in a food processor with superfine sugar and fresh lime juice to taste.
  • Another way to garnish the lemon tartlets is with thin strips (julienne) of easy-to-make candied lemon peel, or use candied lime peel or candied orange peel for a nice pop of contrasting color. Homemade candied citrus peels and candied citrus slices taste infinitely better than the store-bought variety! Tip: Try the easy, foolproof candied lemon peel recipe at with variations for making other flavors of candied citrus peels on The Luna Cafe website.
  • Another beautiful and festive garnish for the tartlets or the serving plate is edible fresh flowers that were grown organically without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, preferably in your own organic garden. You can use the edible fresh flowers plain or use them to make crystallized edible flowers or flower petals.

Individual trifle served in a wine glass
Individual trifle served in a wine glass | Source

Lemon Curd Trifle Recipe

Another Quick, Easy, Pretty and Delicious Lemon Curd Dessert to Serve with Afternoon Tea

Sweet and tangy lemon curd, fresh berries and pound cake take the place of pouring custard, jam and sponge cake in this toothsome and popular twist on traditional English Trifle.

Although a store bought pound cake works just fine, for something even more special use your own homemade pound cake in this recipe. If you decide to bake your own, try the Easy Lemon Pound Cake recipe from Food.com.

Serve these pretty individual trifles in small crystal wine glasses or thin-walled juice glasses or even shot glasses, depending on how many other desserts and sweets will be on your afternoon tea menu.

You can add layers of other fruits, such as chopped mango or pineapple, if you wish, as shown in the photo.

Note: The amount of each ingredient you will need will depend on the number of servings and the size of the glasses you use.

Serving Size

Serves: 10-20, depending on size of glasses

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (approx. 2 lbs.) fresh ripe berries in season
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon pound cake loaf, purchased or homemade
  • Grand Marnier or Chambord liqueur, (optional)
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups lemon curd, homemade or Wilkin and Sons TipTree brand
  • 1-1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
  • 5 Amaretti cookies (crisp Italian almond macaroon cookies), crushed into crumbs

Instructions

  1. If using homemade cake, prepare, bake and cool the pound cake (see recommended lemon pound cake recipe link, above).
  2. If using homemade lemon curd, prepare and chill the curd (see recommended Homemade Lemon Curd Recipes, above).
  3. Rinse, drain and dry the berries. If using strawberries, slice them. In a medium-large bowl, mash 1 cup of the berries with the superfine sugar and lemon juice. Stir in the remaining berries. Cover and let berries macerate at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Place the chilled heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cover and refrigerate the mixing bowl and the mixer's whipping blade / whisk attachment for 2 hours.
  5. Slice the lemon pound cake into 1/2-inch thick layers. Prick the surfaces of the cakes with a fork and sprinkle them lightly with liqueur, if desired. Slice the layers into 1/2-inch squares, creating 1/2-inch cake cubes.
  6. Place the chilled bowl of cream on the mixer and attach the chilled whisk attachment / whipping blade. Stir in the granulated sugar and almond extract and whip until stiff peaks form.
  7. Layer the trifle components in the glasses in the following order: a single layer of cake cubes, a layer of macerated berries, a layer of lemon curd, a layer of whipped cream. Repeat twice more, ending with a layer of whipped cream. Cover with plastic wrap for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 24 hours.
  8. Remove the trifles from the refrigerator just before serving and sprinkle the tops lightly with amaretti crumbs or chopped toasted almonds.

"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea."

— Bernard-Paul Heroux

© 2013 Margaret Schindel

Have You Ever Served or Been Served Afternoon Tea?

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    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks, Sandy. I do love a nice, hot cuppa, especially when I allow myself to have a scone, pastry or small slice of cake to go with it!

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 2 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      That is a lot of tea. Pastry and tea does sound good.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
      Author

      Margaret Schindel 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks very much, Merry! I, too, was surprised to learn that the formal afternoon tea we think of as "high tea" was actually called "low tea" and that high tea was a hearty working man's lunch. Calling it by the wrong name will be a hard habit to break. So glad you enjoyed my recipes!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 2 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      What an amazing article, Margaret. It was a surprise to know that high tea was more of a meal, while low tea was what we think of afternoon tea. Your recipes look wonderful too! The tradition of it alone makes it a delightful pleasure, doesn't it? Sweet!

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I love everything about it. Goodness, I truly enjoyed reading this lens. I really and truly got lost in it and am now craving some petits four and savory finger sandwiches. Wonderful lens.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      There are a couple of places that serve elegant tea here in San Francisco, and we treat ourselves to them a few times a year. It is great fun. Thank you for the history lesson and all the how-tos. I'm especially keen to try your ginger raspberry scones and to look up some of those lemon curd recipes. Excellent lens. Thank you for all your work on it.

    • profile image

      tonyleather 3 years ago

      As a Brit, I REALLY love this lens, because it reminds me that, on occasion anyway, I can give way to decadence and indulge myself in a local cafeteria, with a truly indulgent afternoon tea! Great lens!

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      Never thought about afternoon tea at all until we stayed at a boutique hotel in San Francisco one year. They had a regular afternoon tea, and we rushed back to enjoy it. Turns out, what we liked best were the other gets. Teas, etc., are just good excuses for slowing down long enough to get acquainted.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
      Author

      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @lollyj lm: Thanks so much, lollyj! Replying is a very creative workaround to the temporary commenting bug, and I really appreciate your lovely feedback! :D

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 3 years ago from Washington KS

      @Margaret Schindel: What an exceptional lens!!! I've never had high or low tea but would love the experience. Thanks so much for sharing the details. (PS. I'm commenting as a reply because there was no "comment" button.)

    • HomeStuff profile image

      HomeStuff 3 years ago from Canada

      Love this lens! My wife is English and we occasionally have an eccentric afternoon tea!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a wonderful lens. I had a terrific one in Disney at the Grand Floridian where the manager then and the pastry chef were personal friends. You just reminded me to bring a friend here at the Metropole.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 4 years ago from United States

      What a fabulous resource for an afternoon tea! I smiled when I saw the lemon curd recipes! Years ago I had a recipe that called for lemon curd and simply had the worst time finding lemon curd or a recipe to make lemon curd. I, did indeed, see several recipes featured here that I would enjoy trying and I am definitely ready for a nice afternoon tea!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
      Author

      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      @DvdMovieGirl: I know! Wouldn't it be lovely if we had time to prepare a full, elegant, three-course afternoon tea with all the trimmings - or even just time to relax and enjoy one that someone else prepared for us? I don't have the time to do it often these days, but when I do I confess I love every moment. :) Thanks for your wonderful comment and compliments! :)

    • DvdMovieGirl profile image

      DvdMovieGirl 4 years ago

      Fabulous Lens! Oh please invite me to tea - so civilised and all so delicious! Where did those days go? Now we all rush rush rush and work all the hours and grab and go. Time to turn the clock back I think.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      @LynetteBell: I loved having a posh afternoon tea with my mom, too, when she was alive and back when we both were living in Manhattan. Somehow the men never got into it, but Mom and I sure loved it! Glad I was able to help demystify the dinner as "tea" issue :)

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 4 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      When my mother was alive I loved to take her to one of the posh hotels and have an afternoon tea with all the trimmings.

      One thing I can't get used to in NZ is people calling dinner 'tea' but your explanation of the meal for tea explains it:)

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      @anonymous: Thanks for the lovely feedback!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

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    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      @seosmm: I couldn't agree more! :)

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