You’ve baked a truly spectacular cake and it’s risen to perfection. What now? Most likely your friends and family are going to eat it in a couple of mouthfuls with a ‘that was nice, dear,’ – if you’re lucky. Are there times, now and again, when you feel that you want just a little bit more? Here’s our guide to giving your cakes the serving graces they deserve.
The Tea Party
These days not many people go in for Afternoon Tea parties; they’re seen more as the domain of the older upper classes. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t hold one! It’s a lovely way to raise money for your favourite charity, or simply to enjoy some time with your friends.
Yes, as a rule you’d invite people round, make instant coffee in mugs and hand out biscuits from a packet. But the tea party is a more formal affair. You’ll amaze them with a carefully-laid coffee table, cups and saucers, and a plate or two of your home-made cakes.
Why not? If you feel like something a bit different and a bit special, here’s how to create a truly authentic tea party – without the Mad Hatter!
First Things First
First of all, your tea party doesn’t have to be in the afternoon. Mornings are often more suitable, especially if your guests include young mums who’d have to rush off at 3 o’clock to pick up children.
Secondly, tea isn’t compulsory! Although if you’re serving tea, some people would insist that a teapot is. But you can read more about that in The Perfect Cake and Cuppa. For now you’ll want to offer a choice of tea or coffee.
Laying The Table
If you don’t have a cloth to fit your coffee table, or other small table, head straight for your nearest charity shop. There you can often find old lace or linen cloths – and they’ll be a lot cheaper than you’ll find in antique shops – as well as china cups and saucers. It doesn’t matter if they don’t match: a mix of prettily-decorated china is just as attractive.
You might find a two-tiered cake stand in the shop or, if not, there are always plenty of large plates as well as side plates. Sometimes you can find a whole matching set or a few matching pieces. Choose the more traditional fine china for an authentic style tea-party, or you could opt for the retro look with 60s-style chunky cups. Browse around the charity shops, or on eBay, and you’ll find plenty of choice. Why not go the whole hog – and find a sugar bowl to use with sugar lumps and tongs?
To doily or not to doily? It’s all a matter of personal preference. Packets of paper doilies can be bought from most large supermarkets or, again, you might find some small lacy cloths in a second-hand shop.
You’ll also need to think about pastry forks. Fruit cake is manageable with fingers but your guests would, no doubt, appreciate a fork if they’re having a slice of sponge, especially if it’s dripping with jam and cream. And a custard slice is an example of a cake that really needs a knife too! So think about what you’re serving and decide what would make your guests feel most comfortable.
Similarly for napkins. If you want to have a proper tea party they’ll have to be cloth. The good thing is that they won’t get very dirty and won’t take much washing afterwards!
For the final touch to set the scene, add a small (low) vase of pretty, wild flowers to the table.
Serving The Cake
After you’ve allowed your friends time to gasp and say how wonderful it all looks, and they’ve got their hot drinks, it’ll be time to serve the cake. To do the job properly you’ll need a cake knife and server. A cake knife should be serrated; this will allow you to saw the cake, helping it to maintain its shape rather than being crushed. Slide the server under the cut slice and lift it out onto the waiting side-plate, using the knife to ease it off the server.
Then all you have to do is sit back and wait for the groans of appreciation …
Thank You For Having Me
The tea party is more formal than the casual ‘drop-in for coffee’ affair. But just because it has the air of being formal doesn’t mean everyone has to sit up and make polite conversation! It should also be more leisurely, more relaxed; the time that has been set aside is something to relish and not rush. It’s a time for the small pleasures of life: good company, a warming drink, and delicious cake.
Home-made cakes will make the time very special. Your friends will appreciate the effort you’ve gone to, and their parting words to you will be, ‘When can we come again?