Having worked in the tea industry for a while now, I can confidently say that almost anything goes when it comes to tea-time sweets. Most of the time, the portions are kept small, but the sky is the limit in terms of what can be served with tea. Cake, such as a simple sponge cake served with whipped cream and fresh fruit, is a big favorite for Americans and English alike. Rose’s English Gingerbread would be perfect, as well as the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Cookies are also a big favorite. We serve Almond Shortbread, Linzer cookies, Lime Cornmeal Cookies, Brown Sugar Cookies, Orange Sugar Cookies, and even the simple Chocolate Chip Cookie. Tarts are also a tea-time standard: Frangipane fruit tarts, Lemon Curd w/ fresh berries, Lemon Meringue tarts, pecan tarts, etc. All of these are good and simple enough to do!
Tea time sweets need not be fancy, and simple flavors and preparations are better companions to tea.
Here is my recipe for Almond Shortbread. This is by far, our biggest seller in the tea room:
Note: you need a 6 qt mixer for this, otherwise split it in half, or you can do the creaming part with a hand mixer in a large bowl and just fold in the flour by hand.
Makes 16-32 pieces, depending on how you score the dough.
6 oz sliced almonds, toasted
2 tsp. table salt
1 cup of sugar
1 # unsalted butter
1 TBS. almond extract
4 cups of all purpose flour, sifted after measuring onto parchment
2/3 cup of coarsely ground whole almonds for garnishing
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
Line 2 six inch cake pans with parchment, but do not grease. Put 1/3 cup of the coarsely ground almonds onto the bottom of the cake pans, spread them evenly over the parchment.
1. Grind the sliced almonds with 1/4 cup of sugar and the salt in a food processor until very fine
2. Cream the butter with the rest of the sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl once or twice (about 6-8 minutes)
3. Add the ground almonds and the almond extract and beat until combined and fluffy again, scraping at least once
4. Add the flour to the creamed butter and mix on low speed until dough is thoroughly combined.
5. Remove from the mixer and use a plastic scraper to scrape the dough into a ball. Divide the dough between the the two pans. Firmly press the dough into the pans.
6. Line two baking sheets with parchment and flip out the dough rounds onto the pans, rapping firmly to loosen the rounds from the pans. The coarsely ground almonds should face up.
7. Score the rounds into 16 pieces for small portions or 8 pieces for large portions, using a pie cutter or a large knife, press firmly into the dough so the scores reach the middle.
8. Bake the rounds for about 40-45 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through baking, until the rounds are puffed, set, and browned. Allow them too cool on racks for about 5 minutes, then cut the rounds into pieces through the scores, leave the shortbread pieces undisturbed to cool completely.
Kept airtight, the shortbread will stay fresh for about 4 days.