Sarah Hodges has been the pastry chef for 12 years at 5-star hotel and spa The Headland, in Cornwall. The Cornish hotel hosts various themed Afternoon Teas throughout the year and we asked her about the secrets to serving the sumptuous British tradition.
Top tips for a perfect afternoon tea
Bake the best scones every time
Don’t mix or handle the mixture too much. When you have your mix on the side, don’t roll the whole thing out and then roll it and roll it. Take little bits at a time. The less you handle it, the lighter it’ll be. If you handle it for too long it’ll stretch the gluten in the flour.
Once you have a good recipe (sugar, butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, milk), and you know how to look after it, you can produce very consistent scones.
We usually weigh our ingredients the night before, then we come in the next day and mix it for five minutes, roll it out for five minutes then cook for 14 minutes – so we can make scones in around 20 minutes.
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Presentation is everything
An Afternoon Tea consists of cakes on the top tier, scones on the middle tier and sandwiches on the bottom tier. The cakes are probably the most important, because that is what people see first.
Presentation is crucial – every cake has to look exactly the same. I have to be precise and organised and make sure I follow the recipe to the letter. The sandwiches should be served with the crust off.
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Is there a need for a showstopper?
No need for a showstopper, everything has to work in harmony to make the stand itself the showstopper.
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Make what you like
I spend quite a lot of time doing my homework before designing the menu and I vary what we make according to the time of year - for example, peach melba cheesecake when peaches are in season.
We’re currently making a rather nice French chocolate tart – it’s like a jaffa cake base, then a chocolate ganache which is drizzled with white chocolate. We always do a hot item too and for the summer Afternoon Tea it is a creamy leek and thyme vol-au-vent.
Keep it fresh
Once we have decided what we are going to make, in conjunction with the executive chef, we do the tasting, then everything is prepared the day before the launch day. Scones are made fresh every day.
Jam and cream or cream and jam?
Personally, I put jam on first, even though I’m from Devon!
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Don’t be hasty with your pastry
We have a sweet pastry which we use for tartlets, or if we have a savoury element we use the short crust for quiches etc. Puff pastry uses a lot of butter. I like to put a little retro item in like a vol-au-vent – it’s good to be different.
Does a particular type of bread work better for sandwiches?
It can’t be a challenging bread. Anything too crunchy or chewy will make the event harder work than it should be. Yes, having afternoon tea is about eating nice food, but also socialising. You can’t let bread get in the way of small talk!
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What beverage or drink do you think best accompanies an Afternoon Tea?
Tea or Champagne. I normally have both!
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