An invitation to a tea party brings great cheer and jollity. It can be a sensory feast, a riot of colour and an excuse to celebrate nothing in particular but the importance of friendship, family and cake.
Creating a fun collection of little cakes, tarts and biscuits is a form of therapy; it is comforting and satisfying and does not have to be over complicated - just remember you can cover up a multitude of mistakes with whipped cream or icing!
I have chosen four recipes here, but you can make whatever you fancy, just try to vary the flavours and colours of each cake, tart or biscuit - you really don’t want five plates of brown, however delicious they each may be. If you have a favourite cake recipe, just pour the batter into individual tins or cupcake moulds and decorate with abandon – as I have with the Victoria sponge.
Why not go to town with it and throw some party decorations up around your kitchen, call your friends and encourage them to bring something to the party too – sweet or savoury – and let the party begin!
There is no better time to bring a bit of joy into one’s life and others, so put some loud music on, tie up your best apron and let’s get baking.
These delicious brown butter cakes keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week (so I always double the recipe) but they are more delicious warm from the oven.
- Makes approximately 12
- 40g plain flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 120g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra to dust
- 45g ground almonds
- Pinch of vanilla sugar or 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 4 egg whites
- 65g butter
- Ripe raspberries
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the icing sugar, ground almonds and vanilla, stir to mix. Add the egg whites and mix well with a wooden spoon for 1 minute.
Heat the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat, until it starts to go brown and smells nutty. Immediately tip the butter into the financier mixture and mix well to combine. Leave to rest for 5-10 minutes. Preheat oven to 170c/340f/gas 3.
Lightly butter your bun tin – you can use regular cupcake tins or go miniature, which will yield about 25 financiers. If you are using regular cupcake tins pour in enough mixture to come just half way up the mould – if using smaller, fill just below the top of the mould. Place 2 raspberries in each and bake for 10-12 minutes.
Take the financiers out of the oven and leave in the moulds for 2 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool a little.
Dust the financiers lightly with icing sugar before serving.
Mini Victoria Sponges with Jam and Cream
Makes approximately 18
- 3 eggs
- Butter, room temperature
- Caster sugar
- Self-raising flour
- Pinch of salt
- Fresh double cream, whipped to soft peaks
- Jam of your choice
- Berries and icing sugar to decorate
You may have noticed that I have not written any quantities for the butter, sugar and self-raising flour. The trick to a wonderful Victoria sponge is that all the ingredients should be of equal quantity. So the first instruction is to weigh your 3 whole eggs, in their shell. Once you have determined their weight (which will be somewhere between 170-190g) you can then weigh out the butter, sugar and flour to exactly the eggs’ weight.
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. In a large mixing bowl using a hand held whisk, or in a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until really pale, light and fluffy. This may take longer than you think - which is why I like to do this in a stand mixer – but this is another trick to a really light and fluffy sponge, so persevere!
Whisk your eggs together in a bowl and then very slowly, little bit by little bit, add them into your butter and sugar mix, while whisking all the time and allowing a good whisking between additions. You will have a beautiful voluminous, mousse like mixture.
Sift in the self-raising flour and then fold into the mixture gently, using a large metal spoon. Add a splash of milk and fold in with the spoon. The mixture should drop off the spoon easily, when held above the bowl. If it doesn’t, add another splash of milk and fold in.
Lightly butter your bun/muffin tins and pour in the cake mix, levelling it out carefully with the back of a spoon. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes or when the cakes are lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean. Leave the cakes in the tin for a few minutes before turning them out and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.
Once cooled, cut the cakes in half horizontally and spread one half with your jam of choice and the whipped double cream. Place the other half on top and press down gently, just to secure them. It’s lovely to see a bit of the cream and jam oozing out of the sides, so be generous!
I like to top the cakes with another dollop of whipped cream and a berry that represents the jam you have chosen and then sift over a light dusting of icing sugar.
Salted Caramel Brownies
Makes 32 little ones
- 225g butter
- 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
- 225g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 150g plain flour
For the caramel:
- 80ml double cream
- 30g butter
- 120g caster sugar
- 80g golden syrup
- Sea salt
Start by making your caramel. Put the cream, half the butter and a good pinch of sea salt into a pan and cook, whisking, over a low heat for about 3-4 minutes until it’s just bubbling. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
Place the caster sugar and golden syrup into a medium heavy-based pan over a low heat. Don’t stir, just gently swirl the pan to help dissolve the sugar.
Turn up the heat to medium and keep swirling until the sugar turns a golden caramel. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the hot cream mixture carefully. Return it to a low heat and stir in the remaining butter until fully incorporated. Take off the heat.
Scrunch up a large piece of greaseproof paper, wet it under the tap and shake off excess water. Place it flat on a baking sheet and pour over the caramel, sprinkle with another good pinch of sea salt and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Start the brownies. Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. Grease and line a 20cm x 30cm baking tin.
Chop the butter and chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl over a pan of simmering water until melted. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir in the sugar. Once cooled slightly, whisk in the eggs and vanilla essence, then sift and fold in the flour until incorporated. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
Take your caramel out of the fridge and scoop out spoonfuls and dot them into the brownie mix, pressing until they submerge. Once you have a third of the caramel left, retain it to drizzle it over the top of the baked brownies.
Bake in the oven for about 20 - 25 minutes, until cooked but still gooey in the middle. I check after 20 minutes and make a judgement call – remember that the brownies will still cook a little while it cools.
Take out of the oven and leave to cool for at least an hour before cutting into squares.
Individual Lemon Meringue Pies
Makes approximately 8
- 300g gingernut biscuits
- 150g butter, melted
- Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
- Juice of 6 large lemons
- 50ml water
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 175g caster sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 25g butter
- 4 large egg whites
- 250g caster sugar
- 1 ½ tsp cornflour
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
Crush the ginger biscuits to a fine crumb in a food processor and mix with the melted butter.
Divide the mixture between your eight 10cm loose-based tart tins and press the mixture onto the base and sides to line them. Place in the fridge to set.
For the filling, put all the filling ingredients EXCEPT the butter into a small heavy-based saucepan. Heat gently, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. This will take 10-15 minutes, so be patient and don’t be tempted to turn up the heat!
Stir in the butter to make a thick glossy lemon curd. Spoon a good layer over the biscuit bases and leave to cool.
Heat your oven to 190c/375f/gas 5.
Whisk the egg whites in a large, clean bowl until stiff, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking well between each addition, until you have a thick glossy meringue. Add the cornflour and vanilla essence and quickly beat again until incorporated.
Spoon or pipe the meringue generously over the lemon layer and bake for 15 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned on top. Alternatively, you can just toast the meringue with a blow torch, if you have one.
Remove the tarts from their cases and serve.