Traditional British tea was started in the mid-1800s among the wealthy class in England. It is typically enjoyed as a late afternoon meal, served between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. A variety of teas, along with light sandwiches and sweets, make up this meal -- although a variety of luscious, rich desserts are the focal point. You can choose to serve cakes, cookies, pastries and fruit that are standards in this English tradition.
An array of fruit, fruit preserves and spreads are usually served at teatime. Ripe strawberries can be sliced and then filled with clotted cream, an ultra-thick sweetened cream made from cow’s milk. Lemon curd is another traditional tea offering. A rich spread made from Meyer lemons, it is tangy yet sweet and can be used to top biscuits or as a filling for cakes. Preserves made from a variety of berries, such as raspberry or strawberries, are another accompaniment used to top breads or stuffed into cakes and pastries. Sweet orange marmalade is another preserve that can be served at tea.
A traditional English tea would not be complete with scones -- small sweet biscuit-type breads. These can be topped with butter, cream, jam, fresh fruit or lemon curd. Another typical pairing with tea is cream puffs. These hollowed-out bread shells are usually filled with rich, clotted cream. Strawberry shortcake is a biscuit piled with fresh strawberries, cream and often filled with jam. Traditional turnovers are stuffed with an apple filling but can be made with any number of sweet berries.
Petit Fours, Cakes and Tarts
Battenburg cake is a classic cake baked and then covered in marzipan. Once sliced, it reveals a pink and yellow-checkered pattern. Pound cake is made by using a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. This moist cake is sliced into small pieces and topped with cream, fruit or chocolate. Sponge cake layered with cream and preserves and then rolled is another standard offering with tea. It also reveals a pretty pattern when sliced. Lush tarts made from fruits can be served alongside a traditional British tea.
A variety of small sweet treats can be served to round out the desserts served at tea. Linzer cookies are filled with jam and then sandwiched together. There is usually a small cutout in the top layer to reveal the filling inside. Shortbread cookies dusted with powdered sugar or dipped in chocolate pair well with tea. Madeleines, buttery cookies, are actually tiny cakes. First created in France, these small bites feature a ribbed surface with a slightly crisp edge and a moist, soft center. They can be plain or filled with lemon and poppy seeds.
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Candi Canncel is a writer covering food and drinks, travel and lifestyle. Her work has appeared on Food and Wine Travel, Craft Gossip, Belltown Local and other publications. She also teaches cooking classes and hosts food/wine seminars.
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