Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Ooh la la! Let them all eat cake!

As Marie Antoinette once said “Let them eat cake!” Well actually, to be more accurate, what was said was "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche.” (Let them eat brioche) and reputedly it was Marie Therese the wife of Louis XIV who said it. There’s no disputing however that the French love a good tea party!




Tea first arrived in Paris in 1636 (22 years before it appeared in England) and quickly became rather popular among the aristocracy who thought it was able to heal all kinds of illnesses.  Because of this popularity tea became a symbol of royalty, and when the French aristocracy was beheaded one after the other, the tea culture seemed to be dying too. Years passed and tea became popular again, this time due to English fashion. Today tea is extremely popular in France, in fact some of most powerful teahouses in the world are based there.

We return to pre-revolutionary France to take our inspiration for a very French afternoon tea. This theme is perfect for a special party, perhaps a thirtieth birthday or even a sedate hen party. Think excess and opulence. Dainty sandwiches, maracons, éclairs, beautiful vintage china and of course lashings of sparkling champagne!

Le Menu

Sandwiches
Serve open sandwiches on thinly sliced baguette the small thin kind (Ficelle) is daintier if you can get hold of one.  Top the baguette with pâté such as Ardennes or  Pate de La Campagne or if you are vegetarian/ don’t like pâté a good cream cheese mixed with chopped herbs such as  basil, tarragon or thyme makes a delicious alternative.

Scones
Make or buy traditional scones and top with clotted or gently whipped cream and a lavender jam. Wolds Way Lavender makes several including Strawberry or Blueberry & Lavender Preserve and Apple & Lavender Jelly.

Cakes
You can of course make macarons but it is quite a skilled art, if you fancy having a go it’s best to take a class or purchase a good book like Mad about Macarons! by Jill Colonna (Waverley Books Limited) ISBN 1849340412).  If in doubt buy them in, Ladurée  (at Harrods London) or Hermes (at Selfridges London) are the best,  but if you are not London based or can’t stretch financially, English Rose Bakery and Macaronique both make beautiful, less expensive versions which are available by post.

If you are out of time you can also buy some chocolate éclairs but they are surprisingly easy to make and if you make them yourself you can vary the filling and toppings. Just change the chocolate or substitute the berries to make this recipe your own.

Petite Blackberry Éclairs


You will need:

For the pastry and topping
125ml water
50g unsalted butter, chilled
65g plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, lightly whisked
360g dark chocolate, broken into squares (choose a good quality high cocoa version)

For the blackberry filling
120g fresh or frozen blackberries
1 tbsp icing sugar
2 tsp Chambord (optional)
470g double cream

How to make the éclairs:
Preheat your oven to 200°C or Gas Mark 5.  Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
Place the water and butter in a saucepan over low heat and cook until the butter has melted. Turn up the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the flour and salt with a wooden spoon until well combined.

Put the pan over low heat and cook, stirring all the while with the wooden spoon, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan (about 30 seconds). Set the mixture aside to cool for about 5 minutes and then use a wooden spoon to gradually beat in half of the whisked egg. Repeat with the rest of the egg, beating until the mixture is glossy and thick.

Fill a zip top plastic bag with the choux dough and cut off the corner or use a piping bag and 1cm nozzle. Pipe twenty 2 inch logs onto the baking tray. Bake in oven for 15 - 20 minutes until golden and puffy. Cut a slit into the side of each éclair and bake in oven for a further 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to thoroughly cool.

To make the filling, mash blackberries with the icing sugar and Chambord in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk cream until firm peaks form. Add the blackberry mixture to the cream and fold until just combined.

Cut each éclair in half horizontally. Spread the inside of each éclair with blackberry cream.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan half-filled with simmering water (make sure bowl doesn't touch the water). Drizzle melted chocolate over the éclairs. Place in the fridge until set. Bon appétit!

Drink

Tea
The French love black tea served white so choose Assam or Darjeeling teas that can hold up to a splash of dairy. In fact first person ever recorded to add milk to tea was Frenchwoman Madame de la Sablière. This was simply because she enjoyed the taste of it but it also had the added benefit of protecting the delicate china of the time from cracking from the heat of the tea.

Fizz
Buy the best champagne you can afford, pink champagne is a nice touch if you can run to it, serve in coupes or pretty vintage china cups. We stock a good range at Dormouse and The Teapot . For tee totallers make citron presse by juicing half a large lemon add the juice to a glass and stir in sugar to taste.  Top up with still or sparkling water. A votre santé

Mise en scène

The decor

You can have great fun decorating the table for this tea. Try to stick to a pastel palette of duck egg blue, sugar pink and white to make the most impact.

Instead of using place cards tie small parcel tags with your guest’s names written on to paper fans. Use pretty ribbons and feathers to decorate. Plain white paper fans are available from Yellow MoonUse a white sheet in lieu of a tablecloth. Blowsy flowers like roses and peonies in a single colour tone look amazing en mass along the centre of the table.

Now is the occasion to use glass and china cake stands and cake plates to display your cakes and sandwiches.  Get out your finest china and silverware, and lay each setting nicely.  Light lots of candles.

Music
Listen to Mozart, Haydn Beethoven, Bach or music from composer Christopher Glück to whom Marie Antoinette was patron.  If you want a modern soundtrack to your tea, cast a nod to the Coppola film Marie Antoinette and purchase or listen to the soundtrack via Spotify