A Rose Tea Party


One of the highlights of the summer season for me is the invitation to a friend’s Rose Tea Party. It’s a proper, deliciously old-fashioned afternoon tea in the dining room of a beautiful country house with starched linen tablecloths, lots of delicate China and an assortment of teapots. Flamboyant flower arrangements tumble out of family heirlooms and epergnes, and we all dress up in our summer frocks and linen blazers.
First, we gather in the drawing room for a glass of fizz laced with some super delicious elderflower cordial made by our host, it’s his summer specialty. We’re a motley assortment of eccentrics, me included, having fun catching up on each other’s lives. Eventually, we all amble through the charming old gardens admiring our hosts collection of roses, fastidiously gathered over many decades. Some are familiar like Albertine and Paul’s Himalayan Musk which romps with gay abandon over the wooden pergola. Each rose has its own story. Those that couldn’t be originally identified, now have a name connecting them to the place where they were discovered, perhaps rambling over an old ruin. Others are now rechristened with the name of the person who rescued it from an old ditch or a thicket of brambles.
There’s Derreen with Kerry connections and Patrica Cockburn named after the lovely lady who rescued it from obscurity.
There were cucumber sandwiches on generously buttered white bread with crusts removed, salad sandwiches too and egg mayo and chive, my absolute favourite. Scones of course, tiny little ones topped with softly whipped cream and jam. The pièce de résistance was an irresistible featherlight sponge cake, generously filled and topped with fresh summer strawberries and cream, scattered with deliciously scented rose petals.
Memories came flooding back of afternoon tea parties in the local rectory when we were children. We would dress in our Sunday best, me in one of my pretty smocked dresses with satin ribbons in my hair, the boys in their ‘long pants’ with freshly laundered shirts and tie and their tousled hair brushed into submission. We were warned to behave, to wait until seated at the big mahogany table and then there was a protocol. Only speak when you are spoken to, start with a slice or two of thinly sliced bread and butter from the plate nearest you, no grabbing or stretching, next a sandwich or two, then a scone or jam tartlet and eventually a slice of cake. I particularly remember a Victoria sponge sandwiched together with Granny Nicholson’s homemade raspberry jam and a moist and delicious coffee cake sandwiched together with coffee butter cream, then iced with a smooth glacé icing and decorated with walnut halves. When we couldn’t eat another bite, we were allowed to run out to play on the swing and see-saw, – is that even a thing anymore? We played tig, a chasing game, blind man’s buff, willie wag tail, 123 and giant steps…Oh my Goodness, I really am on a trip down memory lane!
An afternoon tea party is a wonderful way to entertain a few friends with or without their children even if you don’t have a collection of aromatic roses for them to admire.
Here are some of my favourite treats to enjoy.

Almond Tartlets with Raspberries or Loganberries and Cream

Save this recipe for these adorable little tartlets, they are a doddle to make. Raspberries are in season at present but other summer berries like loganberries, boysenberries, tayberries will be delicious or even a few slices of peach or nectarine.

Serves 12

Makes 24 tartlets

110g butter

110g caster sugar

110g ground almonds


fresh raspberries or loganberries

300ml whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.


little sprigs of sweet cicely, mint or lemon balm

For this recipe, choose two trays of round bottomed, rather than deep tartlet tins.

Cream the butter well and then just stir in the sugar and ground almonds. (Don’t over beat or the oil will come out of the ground almonds as it cooks.) Put a teaspoon of the mixture into 24 small patty tins.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.  The tartlets will be too soft to turn out immediately, so cool in tins for about 5 minutes before carefully sliding out of the tins.  Do not allow it to set hard before removing or the butter will solidify, and they will stick to the tins. Cool on a wire rack.  If this happens pop the tins back into the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts, then they will come out easily. 

Just before serving, arrange whole raspberries or loganberries on the base.  Glaze with redcurrant jelly. Decorate with tiny rosettes of cream. We love to garnish them with sweet cicely or tiny lemon balm or mint leaves.

Redcurrant Glaze (optional)

This shiny glaze gives a professional finish and a bittersweet flavour to the tartlets.

The quantities given above make a generous 300ml of glaze.

350g redcurrant jelly

1 tbsp water approx.

Melt the redcurrant jelly with the water in a small stainless-steel saucepan for 1-2 minutes, stirring gently. Do not whisk or it will become cloudy.  Store any leftover glaze in an airtight jar and reheat gently to melt it before use.

Éclairs with lots of riffs

It’s brilliant to be able to make a batch of choux pastry, one can do so many shapes and make sweet and savoury variations. I like to keep them small for afternoon tea, so one can enjoy several!

Makes 20/Serves 10

Choux Pastry

75g strong flour (Baker’s)

small pinch of salt

110ml water

50g butter, cut into 1cm cubes

2-3 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)

Chocolate or Coffee Glacé Icing

Crème Chantilly

300ml whipped cream

½ -1 tbsp icing sugar

2-3 drops pure vanilla extract

parchment paper

9mm round éclair piping nozzle

Make the choux pastry in the usual way.

Sieve the flour with the salt into a bowl.  Heat the water and butter in a high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil, remove from the heat.  (Note: Prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough).  Immediately the pan is taken from the heat, add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan to form a ball. Put the saucepan back on a low heat and stir for 30 seconds – 1 minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, break one egg into a bowl, whisk and set aside.  Add the remaining eggs into the dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Make sure the dough returns to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet. 

The choux pastry may be used immediately or kept covered and refrigerated for several hours.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 7.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with a few drops of cold water.  Fill the choux pastry into a piping bag with the round éclair nozzle.  Pipe the dough into strips of your choice (7.5-10cm), 3.5cm apart to allow for expansion. 

Bake immediately in the preheated oven, for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 200°C/Gas Mark 6, for a further 15-20 minutes or until they are crisp and golden. Rest the tray on the opened oven door.  Make a little hole in the side of each éclair to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven and bake for approx. 5 minutes more – they should be very crisp. 

Remove to a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the chosen glacé icing or icings (see recipe). 

Sweeten the whipped cream to taste with icing sugar and a dash of vanilla extract, put into a piping bag with a small nozzle.  As soon as the éclairs are cold, fill with chantilly cream through the hole where the steam escaped, (alternatively, split lengthways and fill). 

Dip the tops in the icing and arrange on a wire rack over a tray to catch the drips.  Éclairs are best served within 1 or 2 hours of being made.

Note: If the icing is too thick, add a little warm water, it should be a thick coating consistency.

Delicious as they are but one can have fun with roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped pistachios, walnuts or pecans. I sometimes add a little crushed cardamom to the coffee icing, ¼ teaspoon is enough for once the recipe.

Dark Chocolate Glacé Icing

110g caster sugar

75g butter

4 tbsp water

175g icing sugar, sieved

50g cocoa powder, sieved

In a saucepan, stir the caster sugar, butter and water over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients in a bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools but thin with warm water as required.

Coffee Glacé Icing

scant 1 tbsp coffee essence

225g icing sugar, sieved

2 tbsp boiling water approx.

Add the coffee essence to the sieved icing sugar in a bowl and enough boiling water to make an icing the consistency of thick cream.

My favourite Coffee Cake

This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made – and we still make it regularly. Everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee.

Serves 10-12

225g soft butter

225g caster sugar

4 organic eggs

scant 2 tbsp Camp coffee essence

225g plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 tsp baking powder

Coffee Butter Cream (enough for crumb coat, filling and decoration)

150g butter

330g icing sugar, sieved

3–6 tsp Camp coffee essence

Coffee Glacé Icing

450g icing sugar

scant 2 tbsp Camp coffee essence

about 3-4 tbsp boiling water

To Decorate

toasted hazelnuts, walnut halves or chocolate-covered coffee beans

2 x 20cm round sandwich tins

Line the base of the tins with circles of parchment paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon or an electric hand mixer, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition, finally add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and fold (do not beat) gently into the cake mixture.

Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared sandwich tins and bake for 30 minutes. When the cakes are cooked, the centre will be firm and springy, and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tins – a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake will come out clean. Leave to rest in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cakes doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cakes to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, beat the soft butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to beat until light and fluffy.

To make the coffee icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water, 3-4 tablespoons approx., to make the consistency of a thick cream.

When cold, sandwich the bases of the cakes together with the coffee butter cream. Spread a thin layer of buttercream around the sides and over the top of the cake. This is called crumb coating.

Pour the thickish glacé icing directly onto the centre of the cake and allow it to flow slowly over the top and sides of the cake. Use a palette knife dipped in boiling water if necessary. Decorate with the toasted hazelnuts, walnut halves or chocolate-covered coffee beans. 

Alternatively make extra coffee butter cream, ice the top with coffee icing then decorate with rosettes of coffee butter cream and toasted or caramelized hazelnuts, walnut halves or chocolate coffee beans. 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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