Afternoon tea is usually reserved for special celebrations over here in the western hemisphere. Bridal showers and mother's day, usually revolving around a spring time theme. But a few years ago I started a tradition to bring together my closest family, friends and their mothers as the leaves turn to fall colours.
Thanksgiving is in early October for us Canadians, and often pulls us around the country to get together with family. Eating turkey and stuffing our bellies with pie is definitely a weekend selling point, but one weekend of pumpkin pie just isn't enough for me. I needed more. So each year I challenge myself to create a menu inspired by traditional Thanksgiving feast but dainty, to accompany the tea service.
This year was the fourth annual tea. Each year I think the menu gets bigger, more ambitious. I've taken inspiration from the turkey, stuffing, pies, sauces, every part of Thanksgiving.
This year’s menu:
Vanilla cardamom scones with homemade clotted cream
Earl grey macarons with white chocolate and pumpkin whipped cream
Japanese cheesecake with chai caramel sauce
Puff pastry bites topped with apple pie filling
Stuffing garlic pinwheels
Apple, havarti and turkey sandwiches
Turkey, cranberry and cucumber tea sandwiches with homemade herb cream cheese
I’m a baker and a maker so it was crucial that almost every item on my meticulously fall-themed menu was homemade, with the exception of the cheesecake. From the clotted cream to the macarons to the cranberry sauce on the sandwiches! But being employed full-time doesn’t leave me with days to prep in my kitchen, so I looked to include things that could be prepped ahead of time and frozen to be baked fresh the morning of the tea. I must admit, It worked incredibly well.
Prepped or almost prepped items can be frozen (or refrigerated) a week in advance. I knew the day of the tea would fly by fast, so I worked toward a goal of only having to bake items and setup on the day of the event.
For those of you with more than one oven, know that I am incredibly jealous!
1 week ahead of the tea
Starting with a simple apple pie filling, I cut apples into smaller than usual pieces (about 1/2 inch chunks) and followed a super simple recipe found on Pinterest, making a simple substitution of corn starch for flour. This holds up perfectly until the day of the tea to top freshly baked (cooled) puff pastry.
For the puff pastry, I used store bought sheets. Thawing for about 1 hour, I shaped the pastry into fancy squares following this tutorial. Such an easy way to add a bit of a special touch to simple (albeit delicious) puff pastry. Without topping or baking, I froze the shaped pastry pieces on a cookie sheet individually. Once each piece was frozen through, I bagged in a ziplock to make more room in the freezer.
Next I made homemade cranberry sauce, again another super simple recipe available from She Wears Many Hats. This recipe also freezes really well if you have leftovers, freeze in a mason jar until next year!
In the saucy spirit, I next made a simple caramel sauce with a chai spice twist. My favourite recipe is from my “Chew” cookbook because it’s essentially melted down granulated sugar with delicious butter and cream added in at the end. Perfectly classic! Though the internet can’t yet link to a recipe in one of my cookbooks, this recipe from Chew Out Loud is nearly identical to the one I always follow. To make it coincide more with my fall theme, I pulled together a chai spice mixture and added it before jarring my sauce. The combination starts caramelly and lands with a chai spice end note, a truly perfect topping to cheesecake and scones!
For the baked goods, I made each recipe and froze individually. Scones and puff pastry kept perfectly well following the sheet-pan freezer then ziplock method mentioned above.
Those delicious pinwheels were also found on Pinterest, but I added a tablespoon of poultry seasoning, my secret ingredient for a “stuffing” taste. This recipe is from the Kitchn and the flaky puff pastry makes the garlic-butter filling so delicious, you’ll want to double the batch!
Again, following a buttermilk scone recipe in one of my old fashioned cook books, I added in vanilla beans and cardamon after coming across this recipe from Savory Simple. Such a subtle and delicious twist on traditional scones. A must for any tea menu, any time of year!
These scones were delicious topped with my clotted cream and chai caramel sauce.
A few days before
This was the first time I ever made clotted cream. Luckily, I discovered this recipe well in advance, since my usual last minute Pinterest hunting wouldn’t have provided the necessary timeline for this recipe. Thanks to Barry from Rock Recipes for sharing his recipe, which requires an overnight low-oven session, followed by an 8 hour cooling session. Well worth the wait!
Tip: Be mindful when scraping the fat solids after the baking/cooling steps. I added a bit too much liquid before mixing my cream together and ended up with a runnier clotted cream than anticipated. But that’s the beauty of learning!
Contrary to what I’ve always thought, macarons aren’t at their best when just made. It’s best to let the shells and filling sit for a day or so to get acquainted. My earl grey macarons were an absolute hit for this tea (perfectly fitting) and the pumpkin, white chocolate whipped cream was so heavenly that I paired it with the other cheesecake/scone toppings. I’ll share the recipe in my next post.
A day before
Definitely a crowd favourite, these sandwiches are best made no more than a day ahead. I pulled together these turkey, cucumber and cranberry tea sandwiches on a whim last year and completely ran out. A faux pas for any host is running out of a hot menu item, so this year I doubled up. The combination is reminiscent of Thanksgiving leftovers, and always makes me think of a specific episode of Friends, The One with Ross’s Sandwich. I’d like to think these are as good as that sandwich!
Delicately thin cucumber on traditional white sandwich bread makes for a dainty tea sandwich, but the cranberry and turkey add the perfect amount of Thanksgiving.
Needing another hearty item, since this tea took place well after lunch but way before dinner, I wanted more apple on the table. Thinly sliced deli turkey in combination with honey-dijon-mayo spread, havarti cheese and granny smith apple were excellent paired together. However, I would recommend against a chewy bread like the baguette above. Though French baguette bread is absolutely delicious, the sight of guests ripping it with their teeth really deteriorates the high tea vibe. For year numero five, I’d probably reach for something else for these sandwiches.
Simple deviled eggs are an easy prep-ahead item, but be sure to keep the deviled yolks separate from the whites until just before serving. This item wasn’t as fall-inspired as I had hoped, and while my idea to pipe the yolks as pumpkins failed (welp), these would make super cute pineapple deviled eggs for any tropical themed event!
Day of the Tea
This day was reserved solely for baking and event prep-work. Starting around 8am, I turned on my oven and baked my frozen items, making them ultra-flaky. While everything was baking, I reached for the flowers I had bought at a local supermarket vendor to create some beautiful DIY floral arrangements.
Keeping the main table simple, I used white pumpkins (real ones!) in varying sizes and 2 large floral arrangements.
A long harvest table was fitting for the Thanksgiving occasion. The super long (12+ ft) table was covered by two similar cream coloured tablecloths with a simple roll of brown kraft paper from Michael’s.
An easy trick to pull mismatched tablecloths together for any occasion, especially if you’re using fold up tables that aren’t always in your dining room.
Each place setting had a vintage china tea cup, courtesy of my lovely grandmother, a side plate that I used as a charger, a tea stirring spoon, a tea bag holder and a super cute themed napkin from Homesense many years ago. Shopping Party City’s mini tasting section was perfect for finding tea-sized items for each setting. And although the side plates, tea bag holders and cutlery were all plastic, their durability allowed us to wash and keep for our next event. Reducing our environmental footprint can be that easy!
Annual traditions for any holiday can hold a special place in your heart. I love that my closest friends and family look forward to the event each year and I love challenging myself to create a menu that’s new and different but within the same theme each time.
Have you started any unexpected traditions around Thanksgiving besides eating turkey? Share them in the comments. And if you host your own Thanksgiving or autumn inspired tea, share and tag me in your Instagram photos @lilymuffinsblog!