26 February 2015

Cucumber Sandwiches - Afternoon Tea Sandwiches

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches / www.delightfulrepast.com

A plate of cucumber sandwiches has been the quintessential component of afternoon tea menus since Victorian times. One simply cannot have an afternoon tea from late spring to early autumn without them. 

Planning the menu for my first outdoor tea party of spring and summer, to be held in the gazebo in the garden, set off a craving for cucumber sandwiches.

While I very much enjoy the typical cucumber sandwiches I'm served at most afternoon teas, I've never had one I like quite as much as my own. 

I do something a little different that makes my sandwiches especially good. A sandwich made with plain sliced cucumber can be quite bland, so I give my cucumber slices a 10-minute bath in a little wine vinegar seasoned with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

Whenever I make these, cutting very thin slices of cucumber and peeled tomato, I think of a line from the wonderful old Britcom To the Manor Born:
"She serves cucumber sandwiches you don't even have to open your mouth for." ~ Mrs. "Poo" describing Audrey fforbes-Hamilton to her son Richard DeVere 
The 10 minutes is just long enough to infuse a little flavor into the slices without turning them into pickles or making them go limp. Very thinly sliced tomato is a nice addition when tomatoes are in season. 

Whatever else you might be tempted to add to my recipe, let it not be garlic. Garlic has no place in a tea sandwich. And mint, though it sounds like a perfectly fine idea, is more often than not overdone. Cream cheese? Love it, but no, not on this sandwich. 

For afternoon tea, I like to serve three sandwiches or savories, so might add Sliced Egg and Dill Tea Sandwiches and Sausage Pinwheels to the menu, along with Classic Scones, Clotted Cream, Strawberry Jam and assorted treats you'll find under Teatime on my Recipes index page.

Of course, the most important thing is knowing How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea!

Update 12/07/16: For how to throw an afternoon tea party and a roundup of afternoon tea recipes, see Afternoon Tea Party Tips.

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches / www.delightfulrepast.com

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches 

(Makes 32) 

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
64 very thin slices of English cucumber
Optional: peeled and very thinly sliced tomato
16 wide* slices good white bread
About 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
About 4 tablespoons mayonnaise 

1 In 1-quart bowl, stir together vinegar, salt and pepper until salt is dissolved. Add cucumber slices; let stand for 10 minutes. Drain cucumber slices and pat them dry. (There is no need to peel a thin-skinned English, or hothouse, cucumber that is going to be very thinly sliced.) 

2 Spread a very thin layer of very soft butter (never margarine) on each slice of bread, and then spread on a very thin layer of mayonnaise. Place 8 cucumber slices (2 rows of 3, then 2 to fill the voids) on each of 8 bottom bread slices. If using tomato, add a thin layer of peeled and very thinly sliced tomato. Top with remaining bread slices. Trim off crusts and cut each sandwich into quarters (fingers or triangles), arranging on a plate in about three layers. 

3 Lay a good-quality white paper towel on top of the sandwiches. Wet and wring out well another paper towel; lay the damp paper towel on top of the dry paper towel. Never place the damp paper towel directly on top of the sandwiches or they will become soggy. Wrap rather snugly with plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least an hour or up to several hours. This will make your sandwiches “hold together” and keep them from drying out. When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator. Uncover sandwiches just before serving.

*Such as Oroweat/Brownberry/Arnold country buttermilk bread that comes in the wider 1 1/2-pound loaves. If you use smaller bread slices (as I do when I have my homemade Classic White Sandwich Bread on hand), you’ll make more full-sized sandwiches to come up with the same quantity of tea sandwiches.

19 February 2015

How to Make Clotted Cream - Also, a Bit of a Rant

Scone with Clotted Cream and Jam / www.delightfulrepast.com

Before I get to the homemade clotted cream, would you mind if I went off on a bit of a rant about a totally unrelated matter? I didn't think so!

Clotted Cream / www.delightfulrepast.com

The Rant

This has been brewing for a while. The daughter of an avid reader and magazine aficionado, I've been reading magazines since I was four years old. I love magazines. You might have read about my magazine addiction. I even write for magazines. 

But, more and more, I find my enjoyment of magazines being interrupted by annoyances. And then, of course, I annoy my husband and interrupt his reading with my outbursts. "Ha, listen to this!" Followed by my reading the offending phrase, sentence or paragraph aloud in a derisive tone. 

As a writer, one must adapt one's style to that of the publication. So I've written magazine articles that made me chuckle at my own high-flown turn of phrase. I understand that. But there are a couple of overused, misused terms that have no place in the food world. 

Last night I was happily reading along in a popular food mag when I came upon "creating a rule-breaking food scene all their own." When I stopped gagging, I sneeringly read the complete sentence aloud to my husband and proceeded to tell him more than he wanted to know about just why the sentence was ridiculous. 

I kept reading but never found out what rules were being broken by these food producers who harvested and cooked local ingredients. Called "mavericks" by the author, they seemed to be doing what farmers, fishermen and chefs everywhere are doing, working on new ways to make use of local ingredients. 

Yes, do tell me about a place and its food, about those who grow, harvest and cook that food. That's interesting enough in itself without embellishing it with nonsense. 

Second only to "rule-breaking" on my list of food writing peeves is "risk-taking." Oh.My.Goodness! Maybe it's not second after all, maybe it's first, at least tied for first. If you're going to tell me about a chef taking risks, you better be talking about one who is setting speed records chopping blind-folded or deep-frying in the nude. 

With more than 13 percent of the world not having enough food, isn't it time for us all to get over our pretentiousness about food?
"If you're going to tell me about a chef taking risks, you better be talking about one who is setting speed records chopping blind-folded or deep-frying in the nude." ~ Jean | Delightful Repast

The Clotted Cream

Okay, I'm done. On to the clotted cream, which doesn't sound that appealing to the uninitiated. You'll sometimes see it called Devonshire cream just because it sounds better, but it's only Devonshire cream if it is clotted cream made in Devonshire. Cornish cream is clotted cream made in Cornwall. 

Scone with Clotted Cream and Jam / DelightfulRepast.com

Here in the US, imported clotted cream is quite expensive and few tea rooms make their own. So it's usually only seen at the poshest of afternoon teas. Its unique taste and texture take a simple scone to new heights. In Devon, the tradition is to put cream on the scone first, then jam. In Cornwall, it's jam first, then cream. 

Update 08/25/16: Fresh Peach Scones don't need jam, but would be great with a dollop of clotted cream.

Update 12/07/16: For how to throw an afternoon tea party and a roundup of afternoon tea recipes, see Afternoon Tea Party Tips.

Pot of Clotted Cream / www.delightfulrepast.com

There's nothing difficult about making clotted cream. Though it does take time, it's time you actually spend going about your business while the cream does its thing. So I don't know why there are so many "mock" versions out there. 

One popular American television personality and celebrity chef would have you strain cream through a coffee filter and call it clotted cream. Sorry, that's just not the real deal. Others would have you add various things to whipped cream. Again, no, just no. 

Some people prefer to make it with raw cream, but pasteurized cream works just as well. I haven't actually tried it with ultra-pasteurized cream, but I'm told it doesn't work well. Besides having been heated to higher temperatures, ultra-pasteurized creams contain added stabilizers.

Update 09/10/16I have used organic heavy whipping creams minimally pasteurized, pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized; none were homogenized. All worked well. I have yet to try this with a popular organic brand that is both ultra-pasteurized and homogenized.  

There are two ways to make clotted cream in your oven: covered and uncovered. I made it both ways and then conducted an informal blind tasting (also known as serving tea and scones to my husband and friend).

Clotted Cream Two Versions / www.delightfulrepast.com
Left: cream cooked covered / Right: cream cooked uncovered

He preferred the texture of the cream that had been uncovered, but she and I preferred the cream that had been covered. Here is what they looked like just out of the oven:

Clotted Cream Cooked Covered / www.delightfulrepast.com
Clotted Cream Cooked Covered
Clotted Cream Cooked Uncovered / delightfulrepast.com
Clotted Cream Cooked Uncovered

The cream that was cooked covered developed a softer top layer and had a smoother texture. The cream cooked uncovered developed a buttery yellow "crust" and after cooling and stirring had tiny bits of yellow butter throughout the finished cream.

Though we were divided on which we thought was best, we all thought both versions were very good.
Since the finished clotted cream only keeps for a few days (some say as long as 2 weeks, but I haven't tested it yet), it's best to make no more than you need. My friend really loves it and has no problem using it up! She says adding a dollop to a mug of hot chocolate is unimaginably good. 

Update 12/09/16: I've found that the clotted cream freezes beautifully, with no loss of quality, and so divide the cream between two 4-ounce jars and pop them into the freezer.

Do let me know if you have any questions or comments about the recipe (or the rant!). And if you like this post, be sure to Pin it and share it on your social media! 

Clotted Cream 

(Makes about 1 cup) 

1 pint (16 fluid ounces, 473 ml) pasteurized organic heavy whipping cream

Note: I like to put it in the oven at 6 a.m. and take it out at 6 p.m., refrigerate it until 6 a.m. the next morning, then scoop it into a container.

1 Preheat oven to 180F/82C. 

2 Pour cream into an 8-inch (20 cm) diameter baking dish (I use a Pyrex). It can be any shape, as long as the cream is about 1/2 to 1 inch (1.25 to 2.5 cm) deep.

Clotted Cream Step One / www.delightfulrepast.com
A pint of organic heavy (40% butterfat) whipping cream in 8-inch baking dish

3 Place foil-covered or uncovered (I prefer to cook it covered--see the comparison above) dish of cream in preheated oven and set timer for 12 hours.

4 Remove from oven, lift foil a bit to vent, and let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes; cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. 

5 Using a flattish spoon, scoop up layer of clotted cream into jar or serving dish. Keeps for about 3 days, covered and refrigerated. Save the leftover liquid in the pan to use in your next batch of scones, pancakes or whatever you happen to be making. I like to make Classic Cream Scones with the leftover cream.

Note: I've found these cute little Ball 4-ounce freezer-safe canning/storage jars with plastic caps perfect for clotted cream. One recipe makes two jars. 

Now put the kettle on and Make a Proper Cup of Tea!


12 February 2015

Pastry Heart Jam Tarts

Pastry Heart Jam Tarts \ www.delightfulrepast.com

Couldn't think what to call these: Pastry Heart Jam Tarts, Puffy Heart Pastries, Strawberry Heart Tarts ... I was in the mood for jam tarts, but I still had hearts on my mind from the Hearts and Roses afternoon tea party I gave a few weeks ago. (Yes, I do get theme-y from time to time!)

Needed to make a special treat for myself as this week is my ... drum roll, please ... Fifth Blogiversary. Can't believe I've been at this so long! Five years of weekly posts. Of my English comfort food, Southern comfort food, comfort food of all sorts, sweet and savory.

Afternoon tea is my favorite bit of comfort, so these whatever-you-call-ems are going to be appearing at lots of future tea parties. But they're good anytime and go with coffee as well as tea. They're sort of like mini pies, and "pie and coffee" is a classic combination.

Please don't make these with store-bought refrigerated pie crust; they won't turn out so puffy and flaky as these, and they won't have the right flavor. Be sure not to overfill them and to seal the edges so the jam doesn't escape. My heart-shaped cutter is about 2 1/2 inches, and I used about half a teaspoon of jam in each. The jam should be quite thick and cold.

Pastry and bread are my favorite, most satisfying things to make. How about you?  

Pastry Heart Jam Tarts / www.delightfulrepast.com

If you like it, please Pin it and share it!

Pastry Heart Jam Tarts

(Makes about 12*)

The Pastry

1/3 cup milk (I use 2%)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 dip-and-sweep cups (6.25 ounces/177 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces/99 grams) cold unsalted butter

The Filling

About 2 tablespoons* thick, cold strawberry jam

* Depending on what size cookie cutter you use

1 In glass measuring cup, stir together milk and vinegar; let stand a few minutes until needed.

2 In medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Using a coarse shredder, shred butter into flour mixture. With fingers, quickly work the butter into the flour, leaving some pieces the size of small peas. 

3 Gradually sprinkle the soured milk over the flour mixture while stirring with large fork. If dough is coming together with less liquid, don't use all of it. If more liquid is needed, add a little water a half teaspoon at a time. 

4 Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten slightly into an inch-thick disk; refrigerate for 1 hour.

5 If dough is thoroughly chilled, let it stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to about 1/8-inch thick.

6 Using heart-shaped cutter, cut out hearts (My 2 1/2-inch cutter made 24). Using your finger, wet the edge of a heart with water. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of jam in center. Place another heart on top, press edges to seal and crimp with a fork. Repeat. Place filled hearts on parchment-lined baking sheet and place in freezer while preheating oven.

Note: If you need to re-roll scraps, use those hearts on the bottom.

7 Preheat oven to 400F/205C/Gas6. Bake pastries for 15 to 17 minutes, or until golden. Remove to wire rack to cool.  


05 February 2015

Small-Batch Coconut Cupcakes - Rum Buttercream Frosting

Coconut Cupcakes / www.delightfulrepast.com

Don't you just love coconut cupcakes? When I was growing up everyone in town, except my mother, was using the popular brand of sweetened coconut. Ever look at the label? Besides added sugar and water, it contains propylene glycol and sodium metabisulfite. Well, I'm not having any of that! 

I make my coconut cupcakes with organic unsweetened shredded coconut and less sugar than usual, but even my "sweet-tooth" friends like them. Like the Small-Batch Chocolate Cupcakes I posted last week, this recipe can be stirred up quickly by hand and makes exactly six generously frosted cupcakes. 

My Cuisinart convection toaster oven easily handles a 12-cup muffin tin, but even if yours has a smaller capacity it can likely handle a 6-cup tin. If you don't have a toaster oven, you can pop a little batch of six cupcakes in with whatever else you've got going in your regular oven. 

Since there is no water added to the organic unsweetened shredded coconut, I stir the coconut into the melted butter and give it a few minutes with the wet ingredients to soften it just a bit before adding the dry ingredients. 

I'd love to hear your comments on cupcakes, coconut, organic, food additives or whatever's on your mind! 

Coconut Cupcake / www.delightfulrepast.com

Small-Batch Coconut Cupcakes 

(Makes 6 standard-size cupcakes) 

The Cupcakes 

2/3 dip-and-sweep cup (3.33 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

The Frosting 

3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 packed cups (6 ounces) powdered sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon rum, optional
1 tablespoon cream or milk 

1 Preheat oven* to 350 degrees. Put standard paper bake cups in one 6-cup standard muffin tin. *I use a Cuisinart toaster oven. 

2 In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt to "sift." 

3 In 1-quart glass measuring cup or bowl, melt butter in microwave. Whisk in coconut, then sugar. Add egg, milk and vanilla extract; whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds. Add flour mixture and whisk vigorously for another 30 seconds. 

4 Using a 1/4-cup measure, fill the bake cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they test done with a toothpick. 

5 Immediately remove from pan and cool on wire rack for an hour. They must be thoroughly cool before frosting. 

6 In 1-quart bowl, with a hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the powdered sugar and salt. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract, rum and cream or milk; beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. You will likely have to add the liquid ingredients before adding all the powdered sugar.

7 With a pastry bag fitted with a 2D tip or a 1M tip, pipe frosting on cupcakes.

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