What better way to enjoy the world’s most famous horse race – or indeed any other family gathering – than with a spot of afternoon tea. Casey Foot provides some inspiration
The ground is being prepared, the horses trained and the world’s greatest steeplechase is nearly upon us. As excitement mounts, my household also gets in to a state of frenzy for our annual Grand National tea, which will be held on 11 April this year.
It’s a tradition that started years ago with the family enjoying a few scones while watching the big race, but nowadays it has grown in to quite an event, with a group of friends who have a taste for a glass of bubbly and a tea to rival an afternoon at The Ritz.
As the horses gather at the post, we’ll tuck in to sandwiches and, by the time their pounding hooves reach Becher’s Brook, we’ll be sampling the array of sweet treats.
The excitement of the food matched by the excitement of the race, we have a sweepstake and our house is filled with screams of delight (or disappointment) as the horses battle it out.
As well as being a favourite when it comes to sustenance when working out on a tractor, sprayer or combine, the sometimes humble sarnie is also a winner for an afternoon tea.
Obviously the approach for the two differs. An afternoon tea sandwich is often delicate, but if you’re feeding hungry workers at lunchtime, you need to get serious – so make sure there is ample filling for each bite. The last thing you want is one layer of wafer-thin ham cowering between anaemic slices of bread.
My favourite is a lovely granary bread with roast chicken, parma ham and cucumber. I toss the chicken in a teaspoon of vinaigrette, or a dollop of crème fraiche with salt and pepper.
Even if you’re not a Grand National fan, with Easter upon us, an afternoon tea is great for family days and entertaining.
Using seasonal ingredients, your cakes and pastries will be a sure bet. Rhubarb is delicious right now so we have an easy recipe for rhubarb and coconut loaf, followed by luxurious ganache tartlets.
The final dish – given all the talk about the Grand National, perhaps I should I say final hurdle – and essential component of an afternoon tea is the fluffy scones.
After the inevitable debate over jam then cream, or cream then jam, they will ensure you and your guests cross the finishing line with a smile.
Rhubarb & coconut loaf
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 50-60 minutes
- 150g unsalted butter, softened
- 220g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 140g natural yoghurt
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 175g self-raising flour
- 50g desiccated coconut
- 150g rhubarb cut into 2cm chunks
- 2tbsp flaked coconut
- Heat oven to 160C and line a 1lb loaf tin with baking parchment.
- Put the rhubarb in a saucepan with 2tbsp caster sugar. Cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar has melted and the rhubarb is coated and softening but still al dente, then strain.
- Place the butter, sugar, eggs yoghurt and vanilla in a bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in the flour and desiccated coconut. Fold the rhubarb in to the mixture and pour the mix in to the lined loaf tin. Sprinkle over the flaked coconut.
- Cook in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn it out on to a wire rack. It will last for up to five days in an airtight tin.
Chocolate ganache tartlets
These are relatively easy to make, and if you don’t fancy making pastry or are time constrained, you can buy ready made mini-tart cases.
Preparation time: 45 minutes (including chilling)
Cooking time: 10 minutes
- 30g ground almonds
- 150g plain flour
- 20g caster sugar
- 75g unsalted butter, chilled
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp water
For the almond pastry:
- Place the almonds, flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and blitz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Then, with the motor running, add the egg yolk and blitz for 10 seconds. Then add the 2tbsp water while pulsing for as short a time as possible. The mix will thicken. Stop the motor and tip out on to a clean work surface.
- Bring the mix together with your hands to form and ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface, to 2-3mm thickness. Cut into rounds with a 6cm cutter and line either mini-fluted-pastry-tins, or mini-muffin tins. Prick the base with a fork, line with baking paper and fill with baking beans or rice.
- Bake in an oven at 200C for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool.
For the filling:
White chocolate: Break 100g of white chocolate into small pieces. Place the chocolate in a bowl, and put the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Ensure the bowl does not touch the water. The white chocolate won’t take long to melt, be careful that it has only just melted, it has a tendency to ruin easily and go grainy. When it has melted, take it off the heat, and add 100g of natural yoghurt. Mix well to combine and set to one side.
Passion fruit flavour: Scoop the seeds out of a passion fruit and mix into the white chocolate mix. Taste for flavour, if you want it stronger add another passion fruit. Fill the pastry cases with the passion fruit chocolate mix.
Cherry with kirsch and pistachio: Use the same white chocolate mixture. You can buy jars of cherries in kirsch in the supermarket. Half fill the pastry case with white chocolate mixture, place half a cherry inside, then top with more white chocolate. Top with some finely chopped pistachio nuts.
Dark chocolate orange filling: Place 100g dark chocolate in a bowl and melt in same way as for white chocolate. Pour in 100ml double cream and mix well. Let it cool for three minutes and add one large egg yolk, finely grated zest of one orange and six drops of orange blossom water. Test for “oranginess”. Add more zest if required. Fill pastry cases with chocolate mixture and top with either some candied orange peel or, at the last minute, grated orange zest.
Rich buttermilk scones
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
- 300g plain flour
- 12g baking powder
- 32g caster sugar
- 120g unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 100ml buttermilk
- 80ml double cream
- Beaten egg to glaze
- Heat oven to 160C.
- Place the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl and combine. Add the butter in cubes, and rub in with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, (some lumps can be slightly larger).
- Mix the egg, cream and buttermilk in a bowl, then gradually pour into the dry mix, using a metal spoon to “cut” the mix together, so it is just binding without overworking it. The mix should be quite sticky, and not a uniform dough, which would indicate overmixing.
- Pour on to a floured work surface and bring together with your hands, then roll out to about 3cm thick.
- Use a 5cm cutter to cut out the scones, place on a lined baking sheet and put in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they are just golden. Serve with clotted cream and jam.