Where are all the tea parties? So many cookbooks have sections devoted to tea parties and when celebrities are interviewed they often extol the virtues of afternoon tea. I never get invited to tea parties. In fact, I think my one and only tea party was when I was a student and an American exchange girl liked the idea of an English afternoon tea, so she invited everyone round for outsized mismatched and chipped student-style mugs of PG Tips, with chewy Sainsburys scones, a Sara Lee chocolate cake and a packet of digestives; we sat around on the floor and on the bed, because she didn't have a table. She called it afternoon tea, but it was just a formalization of normal student behaviour - that is, sitting around drinking endless mugs of tea and eating biscuits (no one should be surprised that we moved seamlessly from tea to gin and tonic, and eventually onto the local pub when the gin bottle ran dry). Hardly afternoon tea as I imagine it, with delicate, crustless cucumber sandwiches, homemade scones with jam and clotted cream, Earl Grey in little china tea cups, and doilies (there has to be doilies. I don't own any doilies, but I do recall biscuits appearing on doilies during my childhood). Anyone out there who wants to invite me to afternoon tea, please feel free - I've been missing out. Although I'm not entirely sure how afternoon tea fits into a busy working schedule...
These musings are not entirely irrelevant to fairy cakes, because Jamie points out that they are great to serve at tea parties. I can't imagine Jamie at a tea party. The photo is incongruous, of a tiered cake stand with cutesy little cupcakes in shades of pink; it doesn't look like the sort of picture you would tend to find in a Jamie cookbook. The icing is not immaculately smooth, though, which it might be in a different kind of book; moreover, the icing has fresh fruit in it, which raises these little cakes up a notch, or at least sets them apart a bit from the standard fairy cakes that everyone can make.
At the risk of sounding like a fairy cake bore, which I am not, all fairy cakes are not the same. Nigella's fairy cakes, which I usually make, contain milk and vanilla extract; Jamie's have lemon instead, and you can taste the lemon in his sponge, which makes a difference (I don't know which I prefer. They're just different). The sponge recipe is the same as for the Victoria sponge
that I made recently, so I won't repeat it; the difference here is simply using bun tins and cooking for a little less time. The icing is the interesting part: mash up some fresh berries (raspberries, strawberries or blackberries) and mix with icing sugar, then drizzle over. Jamie suggests adding crystallized fruit petals for decoration, but I used a heart-shaped bun tin so I thought mine were cutesy enough.
The fresh fruit icing is unsurprisingly delicious, much nicer than plain icing; mine was runny, as you can see, because I wanted a lot of fruit in the icing (Jamie's is runny too). The only problem is that the fresh fruit icing doesn't last long, which means you have to eat them up quickly - in some ways that isn't such a problem since they taste good and are little mouthfuls of sweetness. I only made half the suggested recipe amount, and gave some away immediately...
I like cupcakes, fairy cakes, whatever you want to call them, because I like food in miniature; I prefer cupcakes to muffins. Sometimes in a coffee shop the muffins look obscenely enormous and off-putting, whereas a cupcake slides down easily. I made cupcakes for our wedding last year, because I had to work up until the evening before and didn't want to make a cake because we were having an untraditional wedding and would have had to carry uneaten cake to the next stage of the proceedings; it seemed a bit complicated. I liked the idea of the guests taking a little cake home each. Here are our wedding cakes:
I bought the stand (above) from an Ebay seller to hold the cupcakes for the wedding (it was a small wedding - only 26 of us). It occurs to me that I now have a cupcake stand, so maybe I should host an afternoon tea, and give in to my urge for crustless sandwiches and scones, and fragrant Earl Grey, plus fairy cakes, this time with the fresh fruit icing. Part of me sees afternoon tea as horribly upper class - and not only do I have no desire to be upper class, but also they wouldn't have me even if I did. That said, there is no reason why afternoon tea has to have anything to do with social class. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged, as Jane Austen might have said but didn't quite, that everyone likes cupcakes.