Friday, May 24, 2013

An Afternoon Tea Gathering

Some people refer to afternoon tea, the one taken at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon to "high tea".  Well, as I have learned while visiting the Tea Museum in Hong Kong, the interchangeable use of the terms is incorrect.


Afternoon Tea, as Wikipedia explains is
Afternoon tea or low tea is a small meal snack typically eaten between 4pm and 6pm. Observance of the custom originated amongst the wealthy classes in England in the 1840s. Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is widely credited as transforming afternoon tea (or low tea) in England into a late-afternoon meal whilst visiting Belvoir Castle, though Charles II of England's wife Catherine of Braganza is often credited with introducing tea to the court upon her arrival in 1662. By the end of the nineteenth century, afternoon tea or low tea had developed into its current form and was observed by both the upper and middle classes: "the table was laid...there were the best things with a fat pink rose on the side of each cup; hearts of lettuce, thin bread and butter, and the crisp little cakes that had been baked in readiness that morning."
Where as High Tea, is defined as.

High tea (also known as meat tea) is the evening meal or dinner of the working class, typically eaten between 5pm and 7pm.  High tea typically consists of a hot dish such as fish and chips, shepherd's pie, or macaroni cheese, followed by cakes and bread, butter and jam. Occasionally there would be cold cuts of meat, such as ham salad. Traditionally high tea was eaten by middle to upper class children (whose parents would have a more formal dinner later) or by labourers, miners and the like when they came home from work. The term was first used around 1825 and high is used in the sense of well-advanced (like high noon, for example) to signify that it was taken later in the day.
Now, why "high" and "low"?
The term "high tea" was used as a way to distinguish it from afternoon tea. Though it is often stated that the words "low" and "high" refer to the height of the tables from which either meal was eaten, the term for the later meal actually relates to the usage of "high" as in the phrase "it's high time". Afternoon tea was served in the garden where possible; otherwise it was usually taken in a day room, library or salon where low tables (like a coffee table) were placed near sofas or chairs generally (hence the fallacy about it being low tea). I learned (TIL)

Which brings us as to why we are talking about tea today :)

I travelled to Hong Kong again in December 2012, while I was there, Mr. Meow and I met up with some classy friends from Tokyo (the one who invited us to the wedding).  Since they were staying at the Kowloon Hotel it is only across a narrow street where the famed and historical Peninsula Hotel holds their daily traditional afternoon tea.  And what better experience than to line up for an hour for a table topped with exquisite treats for a mere price of only $600 HKD ($75 CAD) for two people?  *sarcasm*

Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula
To be fair, I only had a beef about the long line up that we had to wait in, The Peninsula does not take reservations.  But still, it was well worth the money and worth the wait.  Mind you, at $600 HKD for two people, this isn't cheap for the typical Hong Kong resident even considering the location and quality you would get, it is just plain expensive.

Scones, sandwiches, macarons...
Now, this is where I learned that scones aren't supposed to be dry crumbly things, and that clotted cream is a god send.  And seeing that it only consist of scones, sandwiches, cakes, tarts, chocolates and MACARONS, I am determined that I too, can recreate such delicacy.  So, for my birthday, I decided to throw an afternoon tea party (not to be confused with high tea).

I researched about what varieties can be there on my tiered stand.  I aimed for traditional treats and came up with such menu (click on the links for recipe):
        Scones with clotted cream and raspberry-rose jam
        Cucumber and mint sandwiches
        Smoked salmon and dill sandwiches
        Prociutto with fig-port wine infused butter sandwiches
        Lavender-violet macarons
        Salted caramel macarons
        Lemon squares
        Raspberry Bavaria cream and Valhrona white mousse
        Assorted chocolates

Creating a spread definitely requires planning and time management.  I certainly cannot making everything the day of (or even the night before), so my timeline was as such:
       4 days before: ganache for macarons
       3 days before: macarons
       2 days before: mousse
       1 day before: madeleines, lemon squares, clotted cream
       The day of: sandwiches, scones

I had an added challenge, one of my guests is Celiac so everything has to be gluten-free or at least have a gluten-free option.  Now, I can be a dick and make maybe 1/4 of the selection available in gluten-free, but I only reserve this dickishness to people who get on the dietary restriction bandwagon just for the sake of "eating healthy" or "feeling better".  But this poor guest actually has the condition where if she was to consume wheat, the little villi in the intestines (the structures responsible for absorbing nutrients from food), will break off and she dies of malnutrition.  Mr. Meow and I tested out some gluten-free recipes that we've found on the internet, and first tested it out with scones, and well, let's just say that it's better to use a regular tested-and-true recipe and just substitute in the gluten-free flour and add xanthum gum.  I must say, all of our baked goods with the gluten-free flour tasted indistinguishable from regular glutinous recipes so we just simply made the entire spread with gluten-free flour.  We used the gluten-free blend from Planet Organic consisting of white rice flour, potato flour and tapioca flour.  It was the most excellent blend.

Also, aside from learning that we can simply substituting gluten-free flour for regular flour in a normal recipe, Meow learned that this will probably be the last time she does any recipe found randomly on the internet.  Now, this is kinda ironic isn't it?  I'm running a blog with recipes for you to try at home and I'm not a fan of online recipes.  Well, let me rephrase: Meow will not try any recipes found randomly on the internet that isn't adapted from a cookbook by a baking professional.  Why, you ask?  Well, there are a few reasons.  The main one being THEY DON'T WORK MOST OF THE TIME!!  And that is mostly due to the fact that most bloggers aren't professional cooks or bakers and will neglect to mention crucial key procedures in their directions.  Those key procedures are what we home bakers will regard as "tricks", but professionals will regard as "the step that makes or breaks a recipe".  Bloggers also will neglect to mention what to look for when the recipe is mixed correctly.
Example 1: "Whisk eggs and sugar together until thick, yellow and pale".
Well, do you mean just thick, yellow and pale or also fluffed up 3 times its volume?  Because to someone who is inexperienced in making the dish, we won't be certain as to the purpose of such mixing.  So Meow ended up with something like this when she did her first batch of lemon bars (I mixed until fluffed):
How not to make lemon bars
 Meow ended up with a weird crust on her lemon bar and baked lemon foam underneath.
 Example 2: "For whipped ganache, add white chocolate and whipping cream in a 2:1 ratio.  Let cool to room temperature before whipping lightly.
 Bullshit.   You will just get a very liquidy "ganache" that will separate pretty much as soon as you insert the whisk in.  I had to consult my chocolate bible to see how to make whipped ganache and how to repair my "ganache" because Valhrona white chocolate is very expensive!
Sad, separated Valhrona white chocolate ganache
 After much cussing and swearing in the kitchen for 4 days, the end result was fabulous.  Everyone was either in awe of how pretty the spread was and didn't want to defile it or so eager to put such beautiful food in their stomachs.

The spread

Another look at the spread
People checking out teas in the background

Full of scones, madeleines, salted caramel macarons,
lemon squares, mousse, and lavender macarons
All gluten-free except for the chocolates

The "Extremely Gluten-Free" tray.  The sandwiches in the middle are made of gluten-free bread

Gluten-free bread does not stick and crease when cut

 You wouldn't know that these are gluten-free ;)

Prociutto & fig-port wine butter sandwiches

 Cucumber & mint-yogurt sandwiches

Smoked salmon & dill yogurt sandwiches

The amount of clotted cream this chap consumes...

The amount of clotted cream Mr. Meow decides to also consume...

Consequence of too much clotted cream
Meow mother couldn't stop exclaiming about how beautiful the whole set up is.  She also was willingly putting clotted cream (fats, oh noes!) onto her scones.  Everyone was very satisfied and in a sugar coma.

My father, being highly out of character for an Asian father, openly and unreservedly praised my work to friends and family.  "Professional and delicious" were his words.  Since then, they both are harassing me to open up a shop in Asia (it's always bloody Asia with them).

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