MY GRANDFATHER James wasn't exactly your typical Englishman. For noe thing, he became a naturalized American citizen. For another, he thought tea bags were a jolly good,labor-saving invention. But despite his defection to the U.S. and tea bags, he still made a cup of tea that would do any Englishman proud.
As far as he was concerned, teatime was an important ritual. So every afternoon he took over the kitchen. Humming hymns, he would put on the kettle, choose the tea, and ready the teapot. Once the tea was brewed, the family would gather. It was a special time when they would sip their sweet milky tea, eat their toast or tea cakes, and talk over the day's events. All in all, an appealing custom, and one well worth maintaining.
The first step toward a satisfying afternoon tea is to know how to make a proper cup of English tea. To do so, put a kettle filled with fresh cold water on to boil. Shortly before the water boils, pour some of the warmed water into the teapot. Let it stand for a few moments, swirl it around until the inside of the pot is warm, and pour the water out. Then measure the loose tea into the warmed pot. (The amount of tea may need to be adjusted to suit your taste, but a good rule of thumb is one teaspoon of tea per cup of water.) When the water comes to a full rolling boil, pour it over the tea leaves and place the top back on the teapot. Place a cozy -- one of those quilted homespun covers -- over the teapot and let the tea steep for about five minutes. The tea is then ready to be poured.
In England tea is usually served with milk, but never with cream since the higher fat content in the cream affects the flavor of the tea. Sugar can be added if you wish. If tea is allowed to stand for a period of time, it becomes too strong and tastes of tannic acid. So it's best to make a fresh pot of tea when you're ready for another cup.
To round out your teatime, try some of the following.
Crumpets are most similar to what we Americans call English muffins. They are cooked on a griddle using flan rings, English muffin rings or -- as James Beard suggests -- "empty 7-ounce cans, such as those in which salmon and tuna come packed, with both the top and bottom smoothly removed."
CRUMPETS (Makes 8 to 10) 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup boiling water 1 package active dry yeast 1 teaspoon sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water Butter for flan rings
Combine the milk and boiling water and cool to lukewarm. Add the yeast and sugar and allow to proof. Blend the salt and the sifted flour, combine with the yeast mixture, and beat thoroughly for several minutes with a wooden spoon or with your hands. Let the batter rise in a warm place until almost double in bulk and rather bubbly. Add the dissolved soda and beat into the batter. Allow to rise again until double in bulk.
Spoon the batter into buttered rings placed on a moderately hot unbuttered griddle to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Cook until dry and bubbly on top. Remove the rings, turn the crumpets, and brown lightly on the other side. Let cool. To serve, toast and spread with butter. From "Beard on Bread," by James Beard
TEA SCONES (Makes about 20) 2 cups all-purpose flour 4 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature 2 eggs 6 tablespoons light cream or milk
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl combine the eggs and cream (or milk) and add to the dry mixture, combining well. Turn out onto a floured board and roll to a thickness of about 1/2-inch. Cut into small rounds with a 2-inch cookie cutter or the rim of a glass.
Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven 15 minutes or until done. Serve warm with butter and marmalade.
SEEDY CAKE (Also called Seed Cake) (Makes makes 1 8-inch single-layer cake) 1 cup butter, softened to room temperature 1 1/2 cups sugar 4 eggs 3 tablespoons caraway seeds 2 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt Butter for greasing pan
In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the caraway seeds. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently fold the flour mixture into the caraway batter.
Grease an 8-inch round cake pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with waxed paper and then butter the paper. Spread the batter into the pan and bake the cake at 375 degrees for 1 hour, or until it begins to shrink from the sides of the pan and is firm to the touch.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn it out on a wire rack, peel off the paper, and let it cool completely.
SPICED ROCK CAKES (Makes about 25)
When I make these rock cakes, I always remember the first time I had them on a cold winter day in a cozy tea shop in the Cotswolds. My traveling companion persuaded the local baker to share the recipe with her, then kindly passed it on to me as well. 1 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature 3/4 cup light brown sugar 3/4 cup dried fruit (a good combination is half dried currants and half coarsely chopped dried apricots) 2 small eggs Sugar for sprinkling on cakes
Mix together the flour, baking powder, spices, butter and sugar. Then mix in the dried fruit. Add the eggs and mix well. Shape into 1 1/2-inch balls and place on a greased and floured baking tray. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned (about 10 minutes). Cool on a wire rack. While still warm, sprinkle the cakes with granulated sugar.
ALMOND RICE CAKES (Makes about 18)
The rice flour called for in this recipe can be found in most oriental markets. Brown rice flour may be substituted; it is a bit easier to find since it's carried by most health food stores and specialty food stores. 1 cup butter, softened to room temperature 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 egg, beaten 2 tablespoons milk 1 teaspoon almond flavoring 1 cup rice flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 3 cups all-purpose flour Pinch of salt Butter for greasing muffin tins
In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, milk and almond flavoring. In a separate bowl, mix together the rice flour, baking powder, all-purpose flour and salt. Add these to the first mixture, beating all the while.
Grease a muffin tin. Fill each cup with 2 to 3 tablespoons of dough. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. Cool briefly on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Adapted from "The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook," by Elizabeth Bond Ryan and William J. Eakins.
MINTY SLY CAKE (or Currant Pie) 1 3/4 cups, plus 2 tablespoons flour 7 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup lard or vegetable shortening 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 1/2 tablespoons ice water 1 1/4 cups dried currants 1/2 cup, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon water
In a large bowl combine the flour, 6 tablespoons of the butter cut into small pieces, lard and salt. Blend the ingredients until they are well combined and add the ice water. Toss the mixture until the water is blended in, and form the dough into a ball. Knead the dough lightly for a few seconds with the palm of the hand to distribute the fat evenly, and reform it into a ball. Dust the dough with flour, wrap it in waxed paper, and chill it for 1 hour.
Divide the dough in half and roll out one half to an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured board. Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Spread it with currants and sprinkle the currants with 1/2 cup sugar. Add mint, 1 tablespoon water and remaining tablespoon butter cut into small pieces.
Roll out the remaining dough and arrange it over the currants. Trim the excess dough from the rim of the pie pan and seal and crimp the edges of the dough. Cut several small slashes in the dough to let the steam escape. Brush the dough with 1 teaspoon water, and sprinkle it with 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar (enough to cover it lightly).
Bake the cake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake the cake for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until it is golden.
This recipe calls for a British product, Lyle's Golden Syrup. Fortunately, it is available in many of the area's specialty food stores. If you have to make a substitution, a mixture of half honey and half corn syrup is a close facsimile. 3/4 cup golden syrup 4 eggs 3/4 cup light brown sugar 3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature 4 cups flour 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder Grated rind of 1 lemon
Warm the syrup slightly so that it pours well. (Rinsing out the measuring cup with hot water before measuring the syrup will also help prevent it from sticking.) In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the syrup, stirring constantly. Add the sugar a little at a time. Beat in the softened butter. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, ginger and baking powder. Add the lemon rind to the dry ingredients and gradually add to the egg mixture.
Grease a 9-inch square shallow pan. Fill it with the batter. Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour or until cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Serve plain or with the Golden Cream Sauce that follows. Adapted from "The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook," by Elizabeth Bond Ryan and William J. Eakins.
GOLDEN CREAM SAUCE 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup golden syrup (substitute 1/4 cup each honey and corn syrup) 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Beat the cream until thick but not stiff. Then beat in the syrup and lemon juice. Serve over ginger cake or pound cake.