As October rushes by and the weather begins to feel distinctly autumnal, I look back to find that, to my surprise, an entire year has passed since I first started the aspiring baker. It has been a year filled with ups and downs including writing my dissertation, sitting final year exams, playing my last concert with the university Symphony Orchestra, moving out of my university house and graduation, as well as my acceptance onto the Cordon Bleu Patisserie Diploma.
Of course, it has also been a year filled with many culinary adventures, both successful and disastrous in turn. Of all these, my personal favourite is unquestionably the Eton Mess cake, my much-simplified version of the Fraisier cake that featured so prominently as the technical challenge during The Great British Bake-Off’s patisserie week. (It’s a shame it’s not strawberry season any more, as I would greatly love to try my hand at the proper Fraisier, with its genoise sponge and creme patisserie, both of which are challenges that I have never attempted before. As I have mentioned, my own version was definitely a ‘cheat’s’ Fraisier, using normal sponge cake and strawberry mousse as substitutes! Still, it looked the part…) It was very much a summer-inspired cake, the perfect thing for a June birthday. However, as autumn drifts on and winter looms large on the horizon, I have one last culinary memento of the summer to share, and one which marks a milestone in my kitchen exploits; a full afternoon tea.
Firstly however, let me just explain one thing.
I’m not used to catering for a party. I’m the kind of baker who can turn out a nice cake or a batch of cookies mostly without too much difficulty, but I’ve never really baked for an occasion or an event before. Bearing that in mind, it might be easier to understand why catering for a full tea party by myself was such a big challenge (though one that I enjoyed).
So, afternoon tea.
Admittedly, it was only for six people; my parents, three family friends and myself. Still, when you think about all the elements of an afternoon tea, baking for six is no mean task. Sandwiches, scones, a selection of sweets. Everything had to be meticulously planned in advance, shopping lists composed, a timetable made up so that I knew when everything had to be done. Preparation started two days before the actual event and went on right up until an hour before the party. (I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in the kitchen continuously…)
I knew from the moment that we extended the invitation that I wanted to do it properly. By that, I mean that I wanted to bake everything from scratch, up to and including the bread for the sandwiches. When you add it all up, it’s a lot of work, but it all paid off in the end.
You can’t have afternoon tea without scones…these were served with strawberry jam and clotted cream.
Out of everything, perhaps the most difficult to put together were the cakes. The victoria sponges were made by baking one large vanilla sponge and cutting out smaller rounds, sandwiched together with berry-cherry jam and vanilla cream. However, the chocolate and orange petit-fours were more complex. A square vanilla sponge flecked with orange zest formed the basis; this was then sliced horizontally into four layers, each filled with orange cream. The petit-fours were then coated with dark chocolate (much more difficult to do than it sounds!) and decorated with milk chocolate piping.
These tiny macarons went down very well, even being compared with the genuine French article, a huge compliment indeed!
Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of the sandwiches, but there were three types; smoked salmon and cream cheese, egg mayonnaise and cucumber, all on homemade white bread.
Though not entirely perfect in appearance (the chocolate and orange petit-fours were not finished as cleanly as I would have liked – though they’re not bad for a first effort!) everything tasted good, which is after all the most important thing!
All in all, it was a lovely afternoon and the successful culmination of my first attempt at (sort-of) mass baking!