I was really excited about baking for this Mothers’ Day tea party. It was my first Top Secret Tea Party since mid-December as the February event was cancelled because of snow – who’d have thought the weather could change so dramatically by mid-March – birds singing in the blue sky and sunshine warming our hearts – absolutely lovely. Secondly because seven daughters were bringing their three Mums and I wanted to create something special – no one wants to ruin Mothers’ Day, do they! Thirdly because this was another chance to hold a tea party at Tilly’s Vintage Workshop and Craft Studio in Chesterton, Peterborough. Tilly’s barn just gets cosier and cosier. There are currently lots of vintage wedding gowns hanging up – amazingly Tilly is going to cut them up to add to wet-felted scarves she’s creating with designer Sue Hughes (it’s thanks to Sue that I wear colourful felt flower corsages when I get to ‘be’ Lemony Drizzle) – think ‘cobweb’ fine merino wool in delicate colours, with lovely vintage wedding dress detail added in – beautiful – and although it sounds scandalous to cut something up that’s old and wonderful – it will be ‘reborn’ into something equally beautiful rather than simply hanging up, never to be worn again.
Usually I take three days, minimum, to prepare for a tea party but due to the pressures of work I only had two days so it felt like a mammoth bakeathon to get everything baked and ready for the tea table.
I served elderflower cordial, chilled, in champagne flutes on arrival and bought in more almond loose tea from Imperial Teas of Lincoln. I LOVE this tea, which I first served at my chocolate themed tea party last November. It’s so delicate and refreshing, with or without milk. I also served an assam blend and Blue Lady, which is similar to Earl Grey.
I decided to try a new sandwich filling for this event – coronation chicken. I thought it was something grand and sophisticated, suitable for the gathering of mums and daughters. I used an old recipe, which required poaching chicken in water (I used free range chicken breasts) with bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, carrot and onion. I left the chicken to cool in the cooking liquor before pulling the meat into small chunks. I then cooked finely chopped onion, well seasoned, in some olive oil and butter with a little garam masala and turmeric. Once the onion was cooked and cooled, I mixed it with mayonnaise, mango chutney, lemon juice and zest and a little fromage frais to loosen the mixture (I intended to add some cream but it didn’t need it).
I also served cheese scones topped with sundried tomato and lemon mousse. I’d been up to my elbows in scone dough that morning (well, not really but it felt like it) as I made cheese scones, plain scones, cherry scones plus a batch of gluten free scones. There was a moment of panic when the guests got their hands on the plate of gluten free sandwiches and scones, specially prepared for one guest who can’t eat wheat but luckily I managed to shout STOP before they’d eaten the lot!
The plain and cherry scones rose so much during baking that they actually toppled over in the oven. I’m not sure there’s any such thing as a scone that’s ‘too high’ though?! They were all eaten, topped with strawberry or cherry jam and lashings of clotted cream.
As for the cake selection….one of the guests had asked me to serve her favourite, carrot cake. No problem really, except I decided to use a different recipe than normal. I also decided to make it gluten free so that all the guests could eat it. It was a three layer carrot cake, completely covered in cream cheese and butter frosting. I was a tad nervous but as you can see from the picture, I needn’t have worried – it really was moist and delicious with a hint of orange (added to the batter and with zest grated onto the top; I also decorated the frosting with toasted coconut).
I made a chocolate and hazelnut torte which, as it’s a flourless recipe, is a relatively ‘flat’ cake, covered in a thin and glossy chocolate glaze which I then scattered liberally with chocolate flakes and toasted hazelnuts. I’ll certainly make this again as it was very moreish. One guest commented it would be nice served warm as a dessert with a dollop of cream and I couldn’t agree more. I certainly enjoyed eating the crumbs when I was clearing up, as that was all that was left!
Also gracing the table (well, actually, a side table as we couldn’t fit everything on in one go) were pretty fondant fancies, Florentines and meringue with coffee mascarpone cream and pools of caramel. The only sweet item that the wheat-free guest couldn’t have was the fondant fancies. I think it’s important not to ‘single out’ guests with particular dietary requirements – it’s really quite easy to provide ‘naturally’ gluten free baked goods, like flourless tortes, meringues etc. and substituting GF flour for wheat flour can produce equally good results in your usual cake recipes (just make sure there is adequate liquid in the batter otherwise the texture will be very dry). Of course if the guest can’t take any risk that their tea has come into contact with food containing gluten then it wouldn’t be advisable that they attend; and as for catering for ‘fussy’ eaters with dietary demands…No, I don’t think so, but I’m happy to try to include guests like this lady who simply can’t eat wheat.
I hadn’t made Florentines before but they were generally declared to be ‘yummy’. Next time I would flatten the mixture with a spoon to ensure they come out wafer thin. I always like making up concoctions to partner a fluffy meringue and this version worked well. I flavoured the meringue mix with coffee extract (you could just use a few drops of espresso or even instant coffee granules diluted in hot water as that works equally well) and then added the same to some mascarpone cream along with some icing sugar. I made a lovely creamy golden caramel sauce and put a small pool into the top of each meringue before topping with the coffee mascarpone. To finish off I mixed more coffee with muscovado sugar and sprinkled the mix on the meringues, along with a shard of toffee – inadvertently created when the caramel started to go lumpy – waste not, want not!!
Conversation at the tea table centred on keeping chickens, baking disasters, Master Chef, children with special needs and reminiscing about school (two guests realised they knew each other as teenagers!). Once everyone could eat no more I insisted they pack away the leftovers into the tins and tubs they’d helpfully brought with them (a suggestion of mine which worked in everyone’s favour!) and they left, emerging from Tilly’s into the beautiful Spring sunshine.
I hope everyone enjoyed it – I packed up and headed off to see my own mother and grandmother along with the rest of the family – and ate more cake, drank more tea and, finally, put my feet up whilst Mr Tea very kindly washed up.
Lovely. Now it’s time to start planning for April’s tea party. Details are on the ‘events’ page of the blog.
Lemony x x