Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Foodbuzz 24 x 24: Tea Party for Ovarian Cancer Research

A woman is like a teabag.
It’s only when she’s in hot water that you realize how strong she is.
– Nancy Reagan

Saturday, September 4th, my great-grandmother’s tea set awaited guests atop an embroidered tablecloth that lay just-so over the dining room table. Among the fragile tea pots and flowered tea cups, were tiers of crustless sandwiches and plates piled high with cookies, scones, and tiny cakes. Each place setting was adorned with linen napkins tied in ribbons of teal--the color of Ovarian Cancer Awareness.

Much to my pleasure, I was chosen to take part in Foodbuzz’s September 24 x 24; each month, the food blogging site selects 24 of its Featured Publishers from around the globe to post about a unique meal that occurs within a 24 hour period. This month, Foodbuzz and Electrolux have joined forces to donate $250 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund for each participant hosting a meal. All together, that is a $6,000 contribution!

I immediately knew that I wanted to host a tea party. Afternoon tea is all about women taking a break, getting together to be fabulous, fashionable, and girly. They’re classy, steeped in tradition, and are deliciously abundant with dainty sweets and savory finger foods. I’ve always thought about having one, and this was the perfect time. What better occasion to get the girls together than to help support a cause and each other?

Anna, the Duchess of Afternoon Tea
The custom of serving food with tea and the rituals we have come to associate with tea parties began and evolved in England. According Koren Trygg and Lucy Poshek, authors of the book Afternoon Tea, snacking during tea time is often accredited to Anna, Duchess of Bedford in the 1700’s. The Duchess began serving tea and light fare to her guests at around 4 o’clock to hold them over between meal periods which then consisted of a large breakfast, light lunch, and late dinner. She was quite the trend setter, as ladies soon began inviting friends over to do the same. As time went on, afternoon tea became a social practice where proper etiquette between the hostess and guests were values to be judged for. From the conversation down to the lace tablecloth, how a woman served her tea dictated the kind of lady that she was.

Today, gathering for tea is rooted in much the same purpose as when it first began: it is time to unwind in a pleasant atmosphere while enjoying the company of friends. Although the rules of appropriate etiquette surrounding tea parties are strict and often debated (what’s with the pinky? Up or down, rude or not? I’ve read arguments on both sides), it is fun to just relax and act as proper as you consider appropriate.

Guests at the tea party were my Grandma, Mom, Aunt Jo, Cousin Eloise, and family friend, Ann. All in pearls, we put on our best British accents and said things like, “one lump or two?” A table full of New York girls, we laughed at our exaggerated and often unsuccessful attempts at being overtly proper and dainty. The accents quickly faded but the laughs remained as we conversed over the aromatic scent of steeping teas. Classical music played softly between the clinking sound of spoons against china, and our plates piled with seconds and thirds of the spread offered before us:

Assorted Hot Teas


Fruit Platter

Cakes and Cookies:

**Click on each menu item for full recipe.**
All recipes are also available in the "print recipes" tab under the link "Tea Party Menu."  

Assorted Tea Sandwiches: Cucumber and Watercress with Herbed Cream Cheese; Gorgonzola and Pear; Turkey with Goat Cheese and Mango-Cranberry Chutney 
Tea sandwiches, light, and usually crustless, can easily be devoured in just a few bites. When preparing the sandwiches, I made sure that there were at least three for each person. Cucumber is the classic, and is typically the first kind of sandwich that comes to mind when one thinks of a tea party; I also added watercress to mine. The pear and gorgonzola sandwich was good; it was kind of like eating the elements of a cheese plate in between bread. Overall, the turkey with goat cheese and homemade mango-cranberry chutney was the favorite of the group.

Smoked Salmon bites with Dill and Chive Crème Fraiche on Rye

Devilled Eggs garnished with Chives and Cayenne Powder

Tea Scones and Mock Devonshire Cream
It just wouldn’t be a proper tea party without scones. Made with raisins, we enjoyed them the traditional way, topped with a smear of jam and a dollop of Devonshire cream (also known as clotted cream). Technically, it is not possible to make Devonshire cream in America as we do not have Devonshire cows, but an equally delicious substitute can be made simply by whipping heavy cream with sugar and folding in sour cream. The tender flaky scone with the sweetness of the jam and silky cream is a combination understandably fit for the Queen (and for us).

Spinach and Feta Quiche with Olive Oil Crust
All of the baking in this menu was a little bit challenging but rewarding all the same. It seems that baking never lets me win without a fight. Through frustration, minor panic, and emergency fixes, everything worked out fine in the end. One of the snags I ran into was with the olive oil crust for the spinach and feta quiche. After cooling in the refrigerator overnight, the dough had amassed into a crumbly, oily, brick. I was able to fix it with some water and extra flour, but unfortunatly am not confidant enough to give out the recipe. I am giving the recipe for the quiche itself, which ended up being one of my personal favorites. I literally ate the leftovers every day until only scattered crumbs remained at the bottom of the pie plate.

Light and airy lemon angel food cake compliments of the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.

Petit Fours
Be it in the company of the Queen sipping out of porcelain or the Mad Hatter giggling witlessly at the table’s end, the tea parties I’ve imagined are completed with a plate of dainty petit fours, just like these. I was most excited and simultaneously intimidated by making these darling little cakes. Enveloped in a glaze of white icing, three layers of sweet almond frangipane cake each spread with apricot jam sit atop an underlying sheet of marzipan. And they don't just look good, they taste great too! Think Italian rainbow cookie. They were definitely the star of the party.

Petit Four Assembly
Making the petit fours was a process, but went much smoother than I had expected. The only time it got a bit messy was covering them in the icing; the above photos show every step of the cake’s assembly up until that point. After baking the cake and cooling, then layering and cooling again, you cut the cake into squares (or any shape of your choice), and get to glazing. Petit Fours are often topped with a piped design or filigree. If you choose to go that route, make sure that the icing is dry. Decorative sprinkles such as the ones I used also make a nice presentation, but must be applied while the glaze is still wet.

Mini Cream Puffs filled with Honey Pastry Cream and Chantilly Cream
Pate a choux and pastry cream, the two components that make up the cream puffs are each complex enough for their own blog post, so I’m going to try and keep it as simple as possible. Pate a choux is a classic airy pastry famous for its use in éclairs and cream puffs. The dough is first cooked in a pot until it comes together and is transferred to an electric mixing bowl where the process is completed. The end result is more like a batter: it is so soft and creamy that is must be piped into its desired shapes. In the oven, it magically puffs up into the pastry we all know and love. Pastry cream is custard basically made up of milk, sugar, starch and eggs. It must be cooked and stirred vigorously over heat until it comes to a boil and thickens. The most intimidating aspect of making pastry cream is maintaining the balance between getting the mixture hot enough to thicken, without scrambling the eggs.

Linzer cookies with traditional hazelnut Linzer dough, filled with homemade raspberry jam from the farmers market.
  Grandma's favorite.

Check out these flowers. The florist was able to make this beautiful arrangement right inside of a tea pot.
How cute is that?
The tea party went as fabulously as I had always imagined having one would be. For a few hours, it was if my family and I had travelled back to the Victorian Era. Dressed in our most appropriate attire for the occasion, we acted like ladies, but in our hearts we were all just little girls playing tea party. The food and the company were all wonderful; as everyone’s first real tea party, it was a memory that none of us will soon forget. Knowing that this event was helping to spread awareness and benefit such an important cause as Ovarian Cancer Research made it all even sweeter.

Ovarian Cancer tragically takes the lives of thousands of women every year. It is a disease that often strikes unexpectedly. As early detection can save a life, The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund works to educate the public and fund research to ultimately find a cure. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Click here to learn more about the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and find out how you can show your support.

Thank you, Foodbuzz and Electrolux!


~Lisa~ said...

Marisa, you have out done yourself! I love this post and what a great cause. From the presentation to the recipes, where was my invite??? hehe great job lady (= By the way I gave you an award! Stop by when you can.

Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron said...

Holy Moly Marisa! These look fantastic and what a great tea party!!Love it. All the food and pasties look so wonderful. I like that you guys tried a British accent haha. How cute. Job well done on this Marisa.

Eloise said...

It was a lovely day and everything was so amazing!!!! I think we need to make this a yearly tradition!! Thank you for inviting me to be a part of it :-)

Adelina said...

Marisa! This is amazing.... I wish I could have attended. How long did it take you to prepare this feast. It looks very laborious but fantastic. Everything looks phenomenal! Great post!

Chef Dennis said...

now thats a serious tea party!! Congratulation on food buzz choosing you for the 24x24!

Pacheco Patty said...

Hi Marisa, this is one perfect looking tea party spread and so lovingly done for such a wonderful cause, congratulations and thanks for sharing, Patty

Alice said...

That's beautiful!! I can't believe you made all that including petit fours!

Marisa said...

Thank you all so much for your very sweet comments! I appreciate it. I had so much fun hosting this event and I'm glad that I could share it with all of you guys!

alison said...

a great post for a great cause!these all look magnificent!congratulations!

mysimplefood said...

Wow!! This is beautiful and elaborate. What a great tea party, wish I was there :)

Stacey Hurley-Rider said...

This is just beautiful and so well done Marisa! Outstanding job! I love the little peak of hand crocheted gloves too! :)

Lazaro Cooks! said...

Wonderful job supporting a noble cause. Bravo!

Magic of Spice said...

Congratulations on 24x24...This is a most wonderful tea party :)

Koci said...

This tea party looks like it was so much fun! I love all the dainty finger foods and yummy desserts. Fabulous job, dahling! :D


Sounds like a fun party! Love the menu--especially the lintzer cookies!

MaryMoh said...

This is great food with great company! I always invite friends over for a meal, never thought of a tea party. Would be fun to do one and enjoy baking :)

Dina said...

what a great tea party! the Linzer cookies look adorable. i love Devonshire cream. i will have to try the mock version as i love everything creamy!

5 Star Foodie said...

Wow, this tea party is fantastic! So many incredible savory bites and heavenly sweets! Great 24 x 24 post!

Jason Phelps said...

I agree with everyone this tea party looks incredible.

I've been scheming with my mom to craft a tea party theme so that I can do some study and training on tea service and tea types for my sommelier exams. I am pretty excited about getting dressed up and snacking, drinking tea and talking with guests. I guess I am just a weird kind of guy. Non of my guys friends have bought the idea just yet.

Jason said...

Wow! You were busy! What a gorgeous spread of food and how awesome to choose your theme and support such a fantastic cause! Beautiful.... you really went over, above and beyond. I am amazed!

Foodessa said...

Marisa...your lovely personality has shone right through this gorgeous post. Your tea party is an excellent example of hosting an event with great meaning.
The menu is just what is needed to gather fabulously strong ladies who get together for any cause.
My Mommy is an Ovarian Cancer survivor who has shown incredible strength and courage thoughout my life and has served as a great example for me to follow ;o)

Thank you for hosting this tea party so beautifully ;o)

Flavourful wishes,

Eva said...

Not only are these some of the most beautiful and dainty foods I have ever seen, but you made them for a wonderful cause. Congratulations on the fund raiser and kudos for being so awesome :)

Rachel@Tasty Thailand said...

Absolutely gorgeous photos and what an amazing menu.

I'm British and I think you've outdone anything we Brits have done in the tea party department in a while :)

Karen said...

I just saw your tea party recipes on the Electrolux/Kelly Confidential website...very cool!

Keeping Up With DaFashionista said...

You are a woman after my heart. I have been dying to have a tea party, but I currently live in NV (from NY) where that's not something people are into...needless to say, it has made it difficult for me to have one. But your blog warms my heart and makes me smile, so I thank you for comforting my classy side.