The joys of Afternoon Tea

A marvellous institution in itself, you do not need a reason to justify taking Afternoon Tea: wonderfully indulgent, it is one of the most pleasurable ways to spend what should be several unrushed hours, allowing gasps of excitement to escape out as both sweet and savoury goodies are presented.

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In this post I share my love of, and even addiction to, Afternoon Tea. However, I enjoy preparing Afternoon Tea for gatherings and further suggestions for what could be served if preparing it at home, and how to plan for it in a stress-free manner, are on my Afternoon Tea ideas page.

A real weakness!

Afternoon Tea is very much a weakness of mine and apart from the sense of occasion, it is the bite-sized nature of the components that add to the excitement. If a hotel in which I am staying serves Afternoon Tea then it is hard for me not to partake!

There are several emporia I look forward to returning to, each time getting that same frisson of excitement as plates of great wonderment come out.

All images in this post are of my bakes, any of which could feature as part of an Afternoon Tea: links to some of my recipes are given later in this post, although I have an Afternoon Tea category for searching on this blog: after all, it deserves its own category!

Inspired by Afternoon Tea

I always get ideas for bakes when eating out, but Afternoon Tea provides more inspiration for me than any other dining; it is rare for me not to come away from eating Afternoon Tea without having scribbled down recipe ideas or, in some fortunate cases, a full recipe given to me by the kitchen.

It it always a priviliege to be given a recipe, although I am prone to making the occasional tweak here and there, as I do with most recipes – not least my own! – to ring the changes.

A taste of yesteryear?

Afternoon Tea is always a civilised affair and more often than not you can walk through the doors only to feel the decades roll away. In several establishments Time has, quite rightly, stood still inside, with the exhausting bustle of modernity banished firmly for a couple of hours.

I often feel I could be in the 1920s, set in an Agatha Christie novel: the excited chatter from parties dining, the chinking of china around the lounge, a selection of old favourites being played unobtrusively at a piano, romantic couples feeding each other pieces of cake….actually at this point I would brazenly throw a clotted cream-laden scone at the nearest such couple if I didn’t want to eat it for myself!

At times the only thing missing is a scream from a far corner as a murder has been discovered! The Ritz  is particularly effective at evoking the whole Agatha Christie-eque feel: glorious! Now, a Murder-Mystery Afternoon Tea – that is an event I would love to attend.

Preparing Afternoon Tea

More often than not I opt for a more traditional approach for Afternoon Tea when preparing it for friends: a selection of the freshest crust-less sandwiches (on different flavoured breads); some warm scones with clotted cream and home-made jam; a plateful of dainty cakes and pastries, each no more than a couple of bites before they are gone.

On many occasions, however, an Afternoon Tea with a bias towards savoury items is the order of the day – after all, it is savoury food that often excites me more than sweets: freshly made quiches, crumpets, sausage rolls, savoury scones…..all smaller scale versions so that a couple of each satisfies but still leaves room for the sweets.

For me, the sweet finale of an Afternoon Tea should consist of a few miniature treats, with perhaps one large cake to be sliced ceremoniously at the table. And this can can be a very simply made classic cake or a more elaborate affair.


I have long been a fan of great sandwiches – the ultimate in finger food. I applaud an Afternoon Tea establishment that replenishes the sandwiches: I am no fan of places that serve just three or four small slices per person that are gone in moments, without any hope of a top-up, no matter how stunning those sandwiches happened to be! It is so much more thrilling, not to mention far less guilt-inducing, when you are asked if you would like another plate of sandwiches, rather than having to pluck up the courage yourself to ask!

Besides, savouring the sandwiches just a little longer also builds up the expectation for what is to come!

Ideas for Afternoon Tea at home

While I love rustic food and appreciate non-fussy cooking a lot of the time, Afternoon Tea is the ideal opportunity to give in to my fussier tendencies and be a bit more creative, especially with the sweets. Fondant fancies, a simple-looking treat, are often a must for me, but the icing inside and out has to be well flavoured and, in the case of fruity fondant fancies, they should be zingy with fruit flavour.

When I am preparing Afternoon Tea for gatherings, and this is probably no more than once every couple of months or so, I aim for 3 or 4 sandwich flavours, using a variety of good breads. I always plump for smoked salmon as one of the sandwiches – Afternoon Tea just doesn’t seem the same without it!

My current favourite smoked salmon sandwich to serve is an open sandwich on slightly toasted brioche, a little dill and caper butter, topped with good quality smoked salmon: the contrast of slightly sweet bread, tangy capers and salty salmon is heavenly!

But even a few fingers of toasted sandwiches hit the spot very easily: Parma ham, mozzarella with a touch of piccalilli is particularly wonderful when toasted!

I usually make either plain or fruit scones (served with clotted cream and home-made jam) before rounding things off with sweet items. Mind you, savoury scones make a wonderful change.

For sweet and savoury components to an Afternoon Tea I will dip into a large list of things that I find exciting to eat and full of flavour: and often these are delights that I would serve as canapés (savoury) before a meal or petits fours (sweet) after a meal.

For the sweets, and these are made or cut up into little more than bite-sized pieces, I usually make a small selection from some of my favourites such as:

Battenberg cake
Salted caramel shortbread
Chocolate teacakes
Fondant fancies
Mini doughnuts
Coffee & walnut fancies
Home-made jaffa cakes
Miniature rum babas
Small pecan & maple syrup Danish pastries
Lemon curd shortbreads
Blackcurrant & raspberry éclairs
Chocolate & salted caramel éclairs
Passion fruit & peach tarts
Mango & passionfruit cheesecakes
A tangy drizzle cake
Victoria Sandwich
Mini Joconde mousse cakes

For savouries to be served with Afternoon Tea – over and above sandwiches! – I go for a selection of the list below, and as with the sweets, this is not an exhaustive list by any means as I often come up with other ideas:

Smoked haddock tarts
Vol au vents
Savoury scones
Tomato & pesto tarts
Savoury macarons
Toasted focaccia sandwiches
Warm crab choux
Goats cheese & beetroot tartlets, with walnut pastry
Mini caramelised onion & smoked cheese tarts
Chorizo and fennel sausage rolls
Butternut squash muffins

Whatever choice I go for, there will always be something light and something fruity and with sharpness to balance any of the richer items. Although sometimes for the sweets I have been known to serve a macaron medley (in which case several flavours is essential) and little more.

And not forgetting the tea itself. A small selection of leaf tea always goes down well. I purchased several individual teapots a few years ago in a sale which fit the bill beautifully for Afternoon Tea.

The fun is in the planning and the preparation

If it all seems like a lot of hard work, surprisingly it isn’t: the challenge is often in deciding what varieties of sandwiches, sweets and savouries to have and when to draw the line. It is far better to have, say, 2 or 3 different bakes done well which can then shine, than building up stress levels by planning and baking 6 or so types!.

The baking of many of the components can be done way in advance: macarons and many sweets freeze well and benefit from making double batches at a time for just that purpose. Usually it is making up and cutting the sandwiches that takes the time, but you can buy good quality breads if you don’t want to make the bread.

It might all seem a bit over-the-top, and arguably Afternoon Tea more than flirts with camp, but why not? Besides, Afternoon Tea is not an everyday occurence, at least not for me, but whenever I have Afternoon Tea it always is a special event!

Further suggestions for what could be served for Afternoon Tea if preparing it at home, and how to plan for it in a stress-free manner are on my Afternoon Tea ideas page.

Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

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