Saturday, September 14, 2013

Emily's Roast Beef Tea Sandwiches, Cheddar Scones and Short Bread Cookies

A great excuse to break out the china!

My grandmother loves tea. Actually, she really loves a lot of British - and specifically English - things, but tea is probably her favorite, so when I decided I wanted to do a tea for Emily's first feature on the blog, my mom suggested that we invite her and a couple other people over to try out the recipes with us.

This also means that this post features our first official guest appearance! Read on to hear what we decided to do.

So, as anyone who has read Molly's series knows, Emily is an English refugee who is coming to live in America with her aunt, but ends up needing to stay with the McIntires for a few months while her aunt is in the hospital. Molly learns a lot about how the war is and has been a much more serious part of Emily's life than it has been for her. While black out drills are annoying and almost exciting to Molly, they remind Emily of the very real danger of the Blitz, and how the Germans send bombing raids over England almost every single night. Rationing has also been a lot stricter in England than it has been in America, which means that a lot of food items Molly has been taking for granted are things Emily hasn't had much access to since the war started.

Molly has never been one to enjoy being left out of things, so she was invited to tea, too.

Great Britain had been at war with the Axis Powers since September of 1939, when Emily would have been about four years old. This means that it's almost difficult for her to remember a time before the world was at war and thus a dark, scary place, which makes things like being able to have a birthday party all the more special.

Instead of making authentic meals people would have enjoyed (or made do with) on government rations, we decided to make our tea party in a way Emily would have been able to enjoy after the war was over - although for the record, rationing in Britain didn't stop until 1954, almost ten years after the war ended!

Traditionally, tea involves some combination of sandwiches and savory and sweet baked goods. We decided to do one of each.

To start, we decided to make the dough for the short bread cookies. We used a Martha Stewart recipe, and it's actually the only recipe that isn't necessarily authentically British, even though shortbread is certainly something that's served at tea.

We ended up with two discs of dough after rolling them in our hands a little once we were done with the mixer. These cookies were pretty simple to make, and we could have finished them after chilling them for over an hour, but we decided to wait until the morning of to finish them off, and left them in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, we started things off with a recipe for cheddar scones from BBC Good Food, which was a little bit of an adventure because as it's not an American recipe and thus required a little brainpower when it came time to figure out how much flour I actually needed. As I've mentioned before, I'm a former history major and a current BA in American history holder and only had to take one science class in college to meet my division requirements, so basically it's been a really long time since I've been expected to do things like convert anything into grams, and at first, I was a little terrified this was going to be a disaster. My math teachers and their ultimate fates reads like a list of Henry VIII's wives (seriously, several of them retired, were fired, and one even died either during or after the year I had them), so at first, I tried to find a similar recipe with American measurements. When I couldn't find one that looked similar enough, I just decided to go with it and see what happened.

My saving grace was that my mom keeps a scale on hand to do measurements for things like how many almonds, berries or chocolate chips she's putting in her yogurt, and fortunately I remembered enough of Honors Chemistry from sophomore year of high school to know what I was doing.

But even then, I was wandering in slightly foreign territory! The recipe called for self rising flour, which we didn't have in the house and it seemed kind of absurd to buy an entire thing of it for one recipe. I turned to the internet for advice on how to make it yourself, but of course, the instructions were in American measurements, so I just sort of had to wing it and hope for the best, even if the ratio wasn't going to be 100% perfect. I'm happy to report that it did actually work out just fine!

So then we had this dough. I suppose I could have cut it out with a cookie cutter to make heart shaped scones or something prettier, but I ended up going with my tried and true method of grabbing a cup, dunking the rim in flour and cutting out circles. It's how I do most things that require anything more than hand rolled balls or can be made with an ice cream scoop, although people seemed confused by this when I retrieved one to make hamantaschen earlier this year.

The dough was extremely goey, and since it was basically wet flour with some cheese and oatmeal rolled in it, it kind of felt like glue. I don't know if anyone else did this as a kid, but when my sister and I were very little and wanted to "help" my mom bake, she would put some flour and water in a bowl and let us mix it so we'd be occupied and make less of a mess than if we had any actual responsibility in making the cookies.

Basically, that was almost the consistency of this dough before I really floured the counter.

Now, I am a very picky cheese eater (and sort of a picky eater in general), but I love cheddar, and was very excited to try one of these, so as soon as they weren't (as a certain comedian said it best) boiling lava hot, I decided I had to try one. I have to say, I think I enjoyed them better hot out of the oven, but they were good once they'd cooled down too. Everyone compared them - especially the cheese melted on top - to a Cheez-it, which is a family favorite snack cracker around these parts.

Once the scones were finished, we decided to get the shortbread going. Remember how I said we left the dough in the fridge overnight instead of finishing it off after an hour? Initially, I thought that might have been a mistake. I will say, while these cookies were absolutely delicious, the dough was very difficult to work with when it was cold. It was rock hard and had to be pried off the edges of the bowl. I'd had a similar issue with cookie dough like this back when I was helping out at an American Girl summer camp earlier this year. We were making pepparkakor cookies as a Kirsten themed activity, but we had to refrigerate the dough for almost two days because of the camp's schedule, so it was completely unworkable when I first took it out of the fridge. I had to warm the dough up in my hands before distributing it to my campers so they could roll it out and make a cookie.

The major difference here was that the pepparkakor dough when warmed up stuck together relatively well, and seemed to heat up more uniformly. This dough seemed like it was almost melting in your hands, while the core was still rock solid. Eventually, it became easier to work with, but next time I try this recipe, I might want to try cooking the dough after chilling it for an hour instead of over twelve.

My mom discovered this handy cookie cutter device in our neglected cookie cutter drawer. It made a nice variety of shapes, and made the cookies small enough that there were a lot of them, and you could eat one without feeling like you were breaking the calorie bank. Or, alternatively, eat a lot and not feel guilty about there being none left for anyone else!

Out of the oven, with a little bit of decorative sugar on top as a finishing touch.

The cookies were incredible. I've relatively recently discovered I love shortbread, and this had a really nice balance of being crisp without being too hard, and they really did melt in your mouth. I'll be happily enjoying the left overs for the rest of the week... assuming they stick around until the end of the week that is.

Finally, I got started on making the sandwiches. Again, we used a recipe on BBC Good Food: Roast Beef, Mustard and Watercress sandwiches. This was the only thing we made where we were a little concerned about not being able to get the ingredients. Apparently, crème fraîche can be a little hit or miss to find in the grocery stores around here, so I spent a little bit of time researching how to make a substitute out of more common ingredients. Fortunately, our local farmer's market/local farming empire had some in stock when I went to pick up the watercress, so it ended up not being a problem at all.

And it was good! Again, I'm a picky eater, and I don't usually love Dijon mustard, but I did enjoy this sandwich. It wasn't too difficult to make, and it was a little different and classier than the usual sandwiches I make for lunch, so it was a nice thing to do to shake things up a little.

We chopped up some cucumbers and added them to the plates to add a little crunch, and of course, made some tea!

It was nice to break out some of the china we don't usually get to use, and while we were looking for the rest of the pieces of the set we were using, my mom made a discovery I'd almost forgotten about: Felicity's tea set! When I was about nine, we went to Colonial Williamsburg for a family vacation. This was back when they did Felicity themed tours and activities for people visiting, and they also sold a people sized replica of her tea set! That's definitely getting some use if and when I do a Miss Manderly's themed feature.

When our guests arrived, we had some surprise visitors: Kit and Kristen! Kit had Grace with her, and so they joined Molly and Emily with another cool old tea set while we had our lunch.

 Kristen decided to go historical in honor of the day.

All in all, this was a really fun way to spend a Saturday. Tea as a meal isn't usually something I think to do unless it's suggested to me, although I do drink a lot of tea as a beverage on a day to day basis, but it is definitely sort of a fun, different thing to do for an afternoon meal. It's nice too because you don't need to eat too much, or make a million different huge things for people to eat. The recipes we made were all manageable (even for someone with terrible math skills), fairly inexpensive to make, didn't take too long to finish, and - most importantly - tasted pretty excellent, so I don't think I'm alone in declaring today a success.

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