Something different: High Tea for Mother’s Day

By Tina Wasserman

The act of celebrating Mother’s Day has become a timeworn cliché. Although there is no mother who doesn’t enjoy her children jumping on the bed to present her with breakfast while she feigns sleep, it is the ceremony, not the food, that is memorable. Being treated as a special person and presented with a flower in a crowded restaurant does not discount that the food will be good, but it does create a non-personal atmosphere.
Why not do something difference for your mothers and aunts and grandmothers this year and have a tea party? Take advantage of the warm, breezy weather of May and have a leisurely light, albeit rich, meal in your peaceful surroundings. Many, if not all, can be made in advance with little last-minute preparation.
Enjoy, and a Happy Mother’s Day to all.
Tea Sandwich Spreads
You can make tea sandwiches as simple or elaborate as your imagination allows. We all remember those little rectangular “fingers” filled with pimento cheese or egg salad and the delicate flower shapes cut out of buttery, firm white bread, which were then spread with a subtly flavored butter and topped with thin slices of radish or cucumber.
Here are two basic spreads that allow you to explore the infinite possibilities of toppings from the aforementioned vegetables to smoked trout caviar, or tuna fish. Prepare a variety of flavors and shapes, and your tea plate will look stunning.
Garlic Herb Spread
8 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon sour cream or cream
½ teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons minced basil
3 tablespoons minced scallions
¼ teaspoon salt
4 drops Tabasco sauce
1. Whip the cream cheese with the sour cream in a food processor until smooth. Add the herbs and pulse the machine on and off 5-10 times until herbs are incorporated.
2. Use this spread with thin slices of plum tomato on assorted bread rounds.
Tina’s Tidbits:
• If mixing by hand, have cream cheese at room temperature to avoid any lumps.
• Over-processing a mixture containing green herbs brings out more of the chlorophyll in the herb and makes the mixture bitter.
Lemon Dill Butter
1 stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1. Whip the butter until smooth in a processor workbowl or with an electric mixer. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.
2. Use this spread on white rounds with thinly sliced cucumber or on pumpernickel rounds with a slice of smoked salmon garnished with a sprig of dill.
Tina’s Tidbits:
• For the same reason listed above, if you are mixing the butter by hand, make sure the butter is soft so that the ingredients will blend in well and all will be smooth.
Lemon Curd Tarts
I love the sweet/tart flavor of lemon curd, but I hate when the overwhelming flavor is that of egg yolk. That totally ruins the enjoyment for me. However, this recipe, adapted from Maida Heatter, is an incredible exception to this problem. The essence of lemon lollipop comes through unmasked. This sunny yellow spread is great on toast and scones (see recipe) as well.
The following recipe can be made in advance and frozen. After thawing in the refrigerator and then brought to room temperature they taste as good as freshly baked. Topping each tartlet with a raspberry or candied lavender would be an elegant presentation for a Mother’s Day tea.
Pastry dough:
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, partially frozen
1 large egg
1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a processor workbowl and pulse on and off twice to “sift.”
2. Cut the butter into eight pieces and add to the processor. Process until the mixture is crumbly.
3. Lightly beat the egg in a small glass dish. With the processor running, add the egg to the dough and process only just until a ball of dough begins to form. Divide the dough in half and cover. Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer.
4. Using 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, press the dough evenly into individual fluted tartlet pans. Put a small square of foil over each tartlet and weigh down with a few pie weights or dried beans. Place on a baking sheet.
5. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Refreeze the dough in the tartlet pans until ready to bake.
6. Bake the shells for 13 minutes and then remove the foil and beans. Return the shells to the oven and continue baking for 5 minutes more or until the tartlets are golden on the inside and nicely browned but not burnt on the edges. Remove shells from their pans and cool completely.
7. When the shells are cool, fill with the lemon curd. Serve at room temperature, cold or even frozen.
Lemon Curd Filling
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 stick butter
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1. Place the eggs and the sugar in the top of a double boiler and beat lightly to combine.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir constantly until thick but still pourable. Strain the liquid into a large measuring cup and then carefully fill the tartlets.
Tina’s Tidbits:
• Overhandling dough, especially if it is too warm, can make it tough so gently and quickly press your dough into the tartlet pans.
• Your knuckle is cooler and more efficient to press dough into a mold. Use your fingertip to finish the task.
Rose Geranium Tea Biscuits
The addition of the rose geranium leaves gives a subtle flavor to these cookies. This plant looks like a typical geranium but instead of the leaf having a musty smell, the leaf has a lemony herb scent to it. If you cannot find a rose geranium then look for lemon thyme at the plant nursery. Basil also makes an interesting flavor enhancement but rose geranium knocks their socks off.
1½ cups hazelnuts or pecans
2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup rose geranium leaves, finely chopped
1. Place the nuts in a food processor workbowl and pulse on and off until the nuts are ground very fine. Remove to a bowl.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in the same processor work bowl (no need to wash), using the metal blade. Add the vanilla and process for 5 seconds.
3. Combine the flour and salt with the ground nuts.
4. Add the flour nut mixture to the workbowl and process 5 seconds.
5. Add the rose geranium leaves and process until the mixture is well combined and just begins to form a ball.
6. Place the dough in the leftover flour bowl and cover. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use parchment paper to line 2 cookie sheets.
8. Form cold dough into 1-inch balls and place 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Cool for 10 minutes.
9. Completely cool before storing in an airtight container. They taste even better if allowed to sit for a day.
Tina’s Tidbits:
• Always pulse your machine when chopping nuts to prevent a fine nut butter from forming on the bottom of the bowl. Pulsing throws the nuts up and then down into the blades to efficiently chop.
• If you choose, you can roll cookies in powdered sugar before serving or if storing at room temperature for a day or two.
• Coating cookies with powdered sugar before freezing is a waste of time, as sugar will appear to disappear or look blotchy when defrosted.
Strawberries with Cracked Pepper
It doesn’t get any simpler or more elegant than this. The brandy combined with the pepper makes these simple berries burst with intriguing flavor. Think of pepper as a cousin to cloves and cinnamon instead of the fraternal twin of salt.
1 pint strawberries or mixture of strawberries and blackberries
Granulated sugar to taste
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns, cracked
1. Cut the washed strawberries in half and place in a bowl with the sugar.
2. Add the brandy, orange liqueur and cracked peppercorns. Let sit for 15 minutes and serve plain or with a little crème fraiche.
Tina’s Tidbits:
• Cracking black peppercorns is different from using a pepper mill unless you can open the aperture wide enough to give you big pieces of pepper.
• An easy way to crack peppercorns is to place them in a small plastic bag and then pound them with the bottom of a heavy pan or the flat side of a meat mallet.
Orange juice, balsamic vinegar or a combination of the two can be substituted for the alcohol if needed.
Tea Scones
Scones used to be the pastry you ate when you went to London or when you got dressed up and went for High Tea at an elegant hotel or tea room. Nowadays, you can find scones at almost every coffee emporium, and the quality generally leans toward the heavy, pasty variety. This recipe does not need to be a substitute for a hockey puck. Light, flaky and yet dense, scones can be simple and buttery or orange scented with dried fruit buried in their crevices. They are easy to make and are superb served with clotted cream, crème fraiche or mascarpone cheese. Raspberry jelly is pretty fine, too.
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 egg, beaten
½-¾ cup milk
¼ cup currants
1. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the processor workbowl and pulse on and off to “sift.”
2. Cut the butter into 6 pieces and add to workbowl. Pulse on and off for 5 seconds or until a coarse meal is formed.
3. Combine the egg and ½ cup milk. Slowly pour this mixture into the processor while machine is running. When a fairly sticky mass forms, stop. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk.
4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and sprinkle the dough with the currants. Gently knead the currants into the dough, using only 15 or 20 strokes.
5. Roll or pat dough out to ½-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch cookie cutter.
6. Place dough on a greased or paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees. for 12 minutes or until golden. Serve with clotted cream and preserves.

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