Paula McIntyre: Celebrate afternoon tea in style with these essential savouries and sweet treats

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Tomorrow is National Tea Day, a time to celebrate this iconic drink.

Afternoon tea has had a massive surge in popularity. In the past it was constrained to the parlours of the well off and was a rare occurrence. Nowadays most hotels and many cafes offer afternoon tea. It’s still, and should be, an elaborate affair. There’s something celebratory and elegant about being poured tea from a proper teapot into a china cup and saucer. For the perfect spread there should be the obligatory iconic drink served with savouries and an array of sweet things.

When I was a student in Belfast we went on a trip to London and were given a guided tour of the Ritz Hotel in Mayfair, famed for its afternoon teas served in the Palm Room. Our tour started off in the kitchen and there was a multitude of scones, cakes and confections. There were trays of sandwiches, with the crusts removed, that were covered with damp greaseproof paper – a good tip if you want to make sandwiches in advance and keep them fresh. One of my most vivid memories is of sitting in the Ritz, a fresh faced 18 year old and being served the most exquisite food. I was in London last month with some friends and we thought we’d pop into the Ritz for a bit of a nosey but were asked if we had a booking. The irony of my 18 year old self being treated royally in the place to now not being allowed in was not lost on me!

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To serve a feast at home, keep it simple. Sandwiches are an essential and sorry but I think the crusts should be removed. Don’t overcrowd the filling and cut them evenly. For something a bit different I’ve added a recipe for cheese scones with a devilled ham topping. The ham is a slowly cooked hock – giving you delicious, soft meat and stock for soup to boot. Mix it with mayonnaise, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, scallions and paprika. For another sandwich there’s cherry jubilee sponge sandwiches. Bake an egg sponge in a square or rectangular tin, fill with a cherry mixture and cream and slice into sandwich shapes.

There’s something celebratory and elegant about being poured tea from a proper teapot into a china cup and saucer.  Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty ImagesThere’s something celebratory and elegant about being poured tea from a proper teapot into a china cup and saucer.  Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images
There’s something celebratory and elegant about being poured tea from a proper teapot into a china cup and saucer.  Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

Earl Grey tea is flavoured with Bergamot lemon and as well as being a refreshing drink it’s also a good ingredient. Here the tea is soaked in hot milk before being whizzed into a lemon cake. Its topped with a lemon icing – the perfect end to a proper tea celebration.

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