Well, the name ‘Tea and Crumpets’ is tempting but add a subtitle of Recipes and Rituals from European Tearooms and Cafés, and my attention is captured!
Tea is a drink (or beverage if you hail from North American shores), yes, that’s true, but it’s also an institution, an event, a ceremony. A mug of tea, a doorstep sandwich and a doughnut (don’t write in – I do love them) does not amount to Afternoon Tea… even if you are drinking and eating the aforementioned items during those hours after lunch (that’s dinner if you are from some parts of England) and before dinner (supper if you are from those same parts of England).
Afternoon Tea is a rather formal pause. The table will be heaving with a selection of sandwiches and other small savouries, a cake to slice as well as small individual cakes, perhaps also some biscuits (those flat, crunchy things – cookies). This is somewhat different from High Tea which included a cooked dish and salads and was usually consumed late afternoon or early evening.
The author of Tea and Crumpets, Margaret M. Johnson, presents us with recipes for the best and most classic of Afternoon Tea delights. These are baked goods familiar to European teatime enthusiasts and include many traditional favourites from some of the finest venues in Britain, Ireland and France.
Cucumber sandwiches are a famed afternoon tea staple. Margaret offers Claridge’s Hotel’s version. The classic sandwich has the crusts removed and can best be described as delicate. These dainties would not fill a rugby player but work perfectly with all the other morsels on a three-tier stand. Perhaps crusts were as offensive as piano legs to genteel ladies of centuries past.
Crumpets are the stuff of many a Victorian childhood dream. They come equipped with holes that beg to be filled with soon-to-be-melted butter. Not perhaps a healthy option but if you are going to have a tea party then you should do it well. Crumpets are made with a yeast batter poured into crumpet rings on a skillet (griddle). You could use egg rings or plain cookie (biscuit) cutters. It’s a simple recipe with a unique result.
Traditional scones (a bit like American biscuits – not cookies) are equally “evil”, being, if you are a purist, loaded with clotted cream and strawberry jam. They are perhaps the most celebrated of the teatime array as they also hold centre stage in another British institution, the Cream Tea, which consists of just scones with their garnishes, and cups of tea of course. Most British or Irish tea drinkers will take their regular beverage with a little milk but never cream. Or have those flavoured and aromatic teas without milk, but perhaps add a slice of lemon.
Queen Victoria loved Shortbread. It’s another of those iconic afternoon tea items. They are buttery and rich and come in a range of shapes and sizes. They are not difficult to make but they should never be overcooked. Just done with next to no colour is the secret.
Dundee Cake is another contribution from North of the Border. This is a hearty cake that is a must for those cold afternoons when rib-sticking fare and a roaring log fire (look, this is my review so I can conjure up a log fire if I want one) are in order. Spicy Marmalade Loaf is a lovely alternative and has Dundee orange marmalade as a key ingredient. Oranges don’t grow in Scotland but that country does make some of the most delicious marmalade.
Tea and Crumpets is a travelogue of smart tearooms. It’s a book that will be welcomed by those who would like to participate in the revival of a tasteful tradition. Tea taken at a posh hotel is a marvellous experience, but a real tea party in one’s own home is a pleasure. Get out your grandmother’s bone china service and charm your friends with an artful display of culinary elegance. It’s easier than you might think.
Cookbook review: Tea and Crumpets
Author: Margaret M. Johnson
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: $19.95US, £12.99
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018