Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Afternoon tea - what a slog!

By: Mrs Robot

I've tried making afternoon tea* a number of times over the years, and have reached this conclusion: if you're actually cooking the things yourself, the more frequently you do it, the easier it gets. This is because you need a decent variety of items, which means baking an awful lot of different things from scratch. If you make it regularly, you can stick some things like scones (frozen baked) and pastry cases for tarts (frozen before cooking) in the freezer for next time, which reduces the work considerably. If you don't make it regularly, it can feel like a lot of work and a bit wasteful, though if you're very greedy, like Mr Robot and myself, you'll settle for eating a whole cake, a whole batch of scones, or all of whatever other baked goods you make.

This afternoon tea came about because Great British Bake-Off is on telly again and in Cake Week everyone had to make madeira cake for the signature challenge. It struck me that I had never made madeira cake, so decided to give it a go. Cake making is an 'interesting' thing in the House of Robots because all the temperature indicators have rubbed off our oven dial, and our oven thermometer has broken, so I simply have to guess what the temperature is. Anyway, my lemon one worked well, and had a decent crack along the top, which the Bake-Off judges insisted was essential. Perhaps it's because I used a recipe from an old volume of Beeton; I doubt she could control her oven to within 10 degrees either.

At the same time, I had a yearning for something baked and cheesy. It could have been cheese scones, but I decided to make Dorchester biscuits, a recipe from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book. Basically butter, flour, cheese and nuts, they're the very antithesis of the current 'clean eating' trend and for that reason alone are well worth your time making. Dirty, dirty biscuits! Best eaten with an expression of utter bliss while sitting opposite someone who's bored you rigid with tales of quinoa and kale salads, I reckon. They're incredibly simple, and very addictive. No type of nut is specified, though I like peanuts with cheddar. If I'd used stilton – Berry recommends cheddar, but experimentation is a good thing – I'd prefer walnuts.

In a piece of truly awful planning, I didn't realise we'd all but run out of bread until I'd started making sandwiches (ham and chutney), so filled in the gaps with tomatoes cut in a waterlily shape, then filled with coils of ham and mayonnaise rosettes piped on top, and savoury eggs. I hardboiled the eggs, chopped them in half, removed the yolks, mashed the yolks with more mayonnaise and a bit of curry powder, then piped it all back into the eggs. Quel faff, as Holly Golightly might've said. They did taste nice, though. I put the whole lot on vintage pressed glass cake stands**. Job done.

And after all that baking and work, we demolished the whole lot in about 20 minutes. Maybe I'll have another go in about six months...

*We all know the difference between afternoon tea and high tea, don't we? The latter is a rustic meal, usually with a substantial hot element – the sort of thing the Famous Five seemed able to drop in and enjoy at random farmhouses. If it's a dainty affair, it's afternoon tea. 'High' refers to the time it was eaten; afternoon tea is the earlier meal, enjoyed by fine ladies in drawing rooms, whereas high tea would be had later and was the early evening meal rural workers would have when they came in from the field. People seem to confuse the two nowadays and it sends me into a ranty rage, it really does. British people, know your culture! Non-British people, stop dicking around with my culture! 

 ** You can get these absurdly cheap in charity shops. My tall one cost £3.


  1. I promise-no dicking around with your culture!

    My first stove was a wood-burning sort that was reliable enough, but had different temperatures throughout. I never did get very good at calculating what to put where, and for how long. If you can master waving your hand in the oven to gauge the temperature, it will make you a better cook. From the looks of that cake, I'd say you're doing great.

    "Clean eating" is a phrase that alternately makes me want to laugh, and punch someone.

  2. I laughed out loud about your rubbed off temperature indicators. When I first started cooking in earnest, I lived on a houseboat with a tabletop oven that had to be turned on with a pair of pliers. No temperature indicator. I liked Goody's idea of judging temperature by waving your hand in the oven.

    Also agree with you both about "clean eating" - if someone seeing that photo of your cake, biscuits and DIVINE SOUNDING eggs with curried yolks piped in, doesn't want to eat it all immediately, they are bonkers.