I reckon I’ve had more than a 1000 afternoon teas. Call them Cream Teas, Afternoon Tea, Devonshire Tea, Afternoonsies, or a mid-arvo cuppa and cake – I’ve had them.
This wasn’t a genteel affectation I grew up with. As a kid it was a biscuit and a glass of cordial and as a teenager, “there’s a biscuit in the tin and I’ll have a cuppa too love”.
My emerging addiction to the afternoon ritual began in the 1970s when I ended up in a little kiosk in the Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains after a rigorous three-day bush walk.
Tired and footsore we ordered tea and scones. The heavenly warm scone-clouds wafted towards us and we had a bowl of strawberry jam and thick, just-whipped fresh cream. I was hooked – and happy.
I didn’t seek out the afternoon tea in my day-to-day working life. I saved the event for special guests at home (cake and homemade biscuits only as I am a terrible scone baker) and as part of my holiday plans.
I’ve indulged in the grand teas of the establishment hotels and traditional tea houses, casual café catch-ups around the world and surprise teas served in the bush and even in the jungle.
Sacher torte – a sweet treat from Austria.
Years ago I was in Darwin visiting my dad. Now, Bill was a pretty cool dad and a rough diamond who did like a beer or several. My partner and I persuaded him to head down the track to Katherine in the ute for a road trip. It was a wonderful couple of days and on the way back home to Darwin I insisted we stop at Daley Waters for afternoon tea. My father was in a lather of panic. Cups of tea in pretty china and slices of packet rainbow cake was served on a rickety table on the lawn of a truck stop joint. As we sipped tea overlooking the highway my father said: “what if someone sees me”. Nah, it will be fine, who would think you were here.
And while he drew the cup to his lips and jokingly stuck his little finger out a truck drove past and tooted its horn and the voices called out “Onya Bill”.
Aside from out-of-the-way afternoon locations I’ve managed to enjoy exquisite pastries served with fragrant teas in many places all over the world.
Austria is up there for beautiful cakes and I’ve been known to linger over a Vienna schnitzel lunch so that I can call strudel and cream afternoon tea instead of dessert.
Years ago in England around the Devon region I convinced a none-dairy eater to try clotted cream lathered on fat, hot scones with a scrape of raspberry jam. I promised them heaven – and I delivered. A committed clotted cream convert now.
My homemade lemon yoghurt cake – yum.
I’ve enjoyed aromatic Chinese teas in China served with delicate egg tarts with buttery, crumbly pastry. It’s not exactly called afternoon tea there – just another small meal among many during the day.
I was at the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne once having afternoon tea and sipping on a Lady Grey when I overheard a conversation behind me and it was one of the Twining’s’ family. And he was drinking coffee – quel traitor!
Strudel in a welcoming window in Innsbruck, Austria.
I do love a hotel afternoon tea – there is so much design put into the presentation. Little finger sandwiches around the bottom level, baby quiche and crab tarts second level, scones next one and on the top petit pastries and creamy cakes – and hopefully refillable pots of tea.
I was recently in Beverly Hills, California and slipped into the new Laduree café on Beverly Drive. It’s so fresh and new and green and white! It hasn’t quite settled into itself yet but the coffee was ok and I had two macarons – research!
I’ve also devised a way of eating while on holidays that keeps the weight down. True! Stick to two and a half meals a day.
Late breakfast, mid afternoon tea (with cake and pastry) and a late-ish dinner – do not order dessert.
But of all the afternoon tea experiences – it’s when I manage to bake a decent cake, have friends around, bring out the best cups and saucers, use a pretty tablecloth and go old-school all the way – that this institution of culinary happiness is enjoyed the most.
Following, the recipe for Ginger Earthquake Cookies, adding a little spice to your afternoon tea:
100g butter (chopped)
1/3 cup (80ml) golden syrup
1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
3/4 cup (155g) brown sugar
1 egg, lightly whisked
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 (45g) pure icing sugar
- Combine the butter and golden syrup in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until butter melts and mixture is well combined. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.
- Add the flour, brown sugar, egg, ginger, mixed spice, cloves and bicarbonate of soda and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 45 minutes or until cool and firm.
- Preheat oven to 180deg.C. Line 2 oven trays with baking powder. Sift the icing sugar onto a small plate. Roll tablespoon of mixture into balls and roll in icing sugar. Place on the lined trays, 6cm apart, allowing room for spreaading.
- Bake in preheated oven, swapping trays halfway through cooking, for 15 mins or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and set aside on trays to cool completely.
Writer Bev Malzard recommends these cookies for an afternoon break with a cup of Chinese White tea. She intends to continue searching for the definitive afternoon tea – and welcomes all suggestions.