During the early nineteenth century, people traditionally ate two meals a day: breakfast and dinner served later in the evening. Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, complained of a "sinking" feeling during the later afternoon. Her solution was a pot of tea and a light snack. Later, she included her friends in her afternoon habit, and other socialites in London picked up on the afternoon tea. It didn't take long for afternoon tea to become popular: who wouldn't like the idea of sitting down with friends, enjoying some nibbles, and a warm cup of tea? "At half past three, everything stops for tea."
The tradition of tea started early for me. When my sisters and I were little, the Ritz-Carlton's Teddy Bear Tea was a special Christmas tradition. Children enjoyed a kids' version of afternoon tea treats with visits from Santa, Mrs. Claus, and a Teddy Bear while the adults savored traditional afternoon tea. My sisters and I used to play with miniature tea sets; as you can see from the picture (that's me on the far right), we used to pretend that we had our own Teddy Bear Tea. As I became older, I always preferred tea to coffee and was the only person in the house not to drink coffee. Even now, I still prefer tea. A cup of tea just makes everything better. I only drank coffee while studying for the bar exam (hey, desperate times called for desperate measures).
Surprisingly, several places around Denver and Boulder offer traditional afternoon tea. It's great to see the afternoon tea tradition continuing! Each place has been so different and unique in its own way. If afternoon tea makes you think of old ladies pouring tea, think again. :) There is quite a mix of ages, and each place creates such a unique ambience. Some places have plush chairs with antique artwork and fancy silverware, other places have felt like sitting in your grandma's dining room, and there have been places that have been more modern and contemporary. Christmas Tea at the Brown Palace has been my favorite, and here's a picture from last month. Tea in the Brown Palace's fancy atrium has such a grand ambience and is like stepping back into time. The tea outings are always such a fun, relaxing afternoon at tea, and this week end we will be "tea-ing" it up at the Boulder Teahouse.
Right before Christmas, my mom, youngest sister, and I had a bridal shower tea for my middle sister, who is getting married in May. Since the Teddy Bear Teas meant so much to us when we were little, a tea seemed like a special way to celebrate her shower! While my maple bacon scones are a hit, since my sister is a vegetarian, I made plain vanilla scones for the shower, along with some berry jams; after all, scones and jam are a good combo. The afternoon was full of happy times with friends and family. Everyone enjoyed the homemade tea sandwiches, scones, pastries, and treats galore!
This past week end, Denver had a snowy Saturday, which made for perfect baking weather. I made a batch of vanilla scones. When it comes to making scones, cold butter is what makes the scones flaky and tender. I use cold butter when making the scones, and then I freeze the dough before baking it. The butter melts into the dough while baking, and this creates steam pockets and flaky layers in the scones. I love the speckle that the vanilla bean adds to the scones. A scone with a cup of warm tea and a good book made for the perfect lazy afternoon.
Life is like a cup of tea: it is how you make it! Like CS Lewis said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Next time you are having one of those crazy days, take a little time, and enjoy a cup of tea. I bet it will help!
Yields 12-16 scones
11 1/2 oz. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (8 tbsp. or 1 stick) butter, frozen and cut into pats
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
Sift the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in the butter, and mix it until the mixture is very crumbly (if using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment). The mixture will not be even, so don't be worried if there are larger chunks of butter.
In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla extract, vanilla bean, and the milk. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until the mixture is moistened and holds together. Scrape the dough onto the parchment paper, and divide it into half. Round each half of dough into a a 6 inch circle about 3/4 inch thick.
Place the pan with the dough, or carefully move the parchment paper with the dough, into the freezer for at least an hour uncovered. Later, when ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Using a sharp knife or a bench knife run under cold water, slice each circle into 6 to 8 wedges. Carefully separate the wedges on the pan so that there is a half inch between each wedge.
Bake the scones for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Remove the scones from the oven, and allow the scones to cool on the pan for a few minutes before removing.