English Afternoon Tea (and How to Make Perfect Scones)

This year it fell to me to organise our office summer party (because it is well known I love a good party!) so I set about coming up with something a little different to the usual picnic which is inevitably rained off and then eaten in our library instead. I wanted an activity that would be good whatever the weather, would involve yummy food, and also an activity that would be interesting for everyone. No small task then! Importantly, it also had to be teetotal, which was probably the biggest challenge.

I think I did pretty well in the circumstances, and a wonderful afternoon was had by all (followed by a fun ‘after-party’ in the pub, for those of us that way inclined!). We were really lucky with the weather too, having perfect sunshine all afternoon.

The first part of the afternoon was a barge trip along Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to Little Venice. We went with the London Waterbus Company, who have pretty little barges which leave right from the centre of Camden and drop you in the centre of Little Venice. They can even drop you off at London Zoo on the way past, with a reduced-price entry ticket and no queues! I am definitely going to take advantage of that one day. The only downside was a lack of commentary (which some other companies offer), so a lot of the time you are not really sure what you’re seeing, though the very helpful lady on the barge gave us an unofficial guide to some of the sights. It was very relaxing and a great insight into life on the canal, which I experienced in detail a few years ago when my little sister lived on a barge in Islington. It’s a whole part of London that you never really know exists until you get on to the canal and experience it yourself, and if permanent moorings weren’t so darned expensive, I’d be tempted to live there!

Afternoon Tea |Anna International

Once we had disembarked in Little Venice, we walked the five minutes to Clifton Nurseries, a garden centre right in the heart of the area, that you would hardly know is there unless you look for it. A little side passage between two Georgian terraced houses opens up into a large yard full of stunning plants, beautiful displays, garden furniture, greenhouses and even a large cafe and gift shop. The gift shop was a genuine gardeners paradise – not your average place which sells ornaments and odds and sods – everything was carefully curated with the gardener in mind, and I especially loved the collection of serious coffee table books. If they hadn’t been so heavy I might have taken one home!

Afternoon Tea | Anna International

At the back of the yard in a little greenhouse I spotted the most amazing looking arts and crafts shop, but sadly it was closed. I will be back here one day when it’s open. In the meantime I am enjoying how prettily the glass distorted my photo and the nursery reflection appeared:

Afternoon Tea | Anna International

We weren’t here for the gift shop though, or the plants really, though a few people went away with one – their orchids in particular were beautiful, and had I not bought two the week before, I’d have been tempted to go home with a little olive tree! We were here for afternoon tea at the Quince Cafe, located in a beautiful old palmhouse to one side of the garden centre. They do lunches and light snacks and cakes etc, but we were after the full afternoon tea. The selection of cakes and pastries and tarts was impressive, and their huge meringues looked so tempting, but being from the West Country (known for its cream teas) I had to opt for one of those, and I’m glad I did, though the scones were so huge I could barely move afterwards!

Afternoon Tea | Anna International

I love the way they have displayed all their produce in vintage French apple crates. I just bought three of these last weekend, and am waiting for the perfect project for them, but I think shelving along these lines would be very pretty. If anyone (UK-based) would like some, contact John and Charlie at Taddle Farm Tents, who still have a few to sell (also good for marquee hire in the West Country, as the name might suggest!).

Afternoon Tea | Anna International

I am rather fond of the square shape of the scones. I usually make mine round, but I think the rustic appeal of squares might just have changed me. I haven’t made them in ages, so I can’t show you any photos of my own freshly-made scones, but I can divulge my recipe, which is a combination of my Grandma’s and Delia Smith’s, and turns out beautifully every time (if I do say so myself!).

If you have not tried a classic English cream tea, I suggest you get hold of some fresh jam or preserves (strawberry for correctness, but I am allergic to strawberries so raspberry is my scone-jam of choice and it still tastes great) and some clotted cream (a deliciously thick cream with a lovely sweetness to it – if you can’t get it, use extra thick double cream whipped with a little sugar instead), and give this recipe a try. I’m afraid it is for plain scones, I’ve never been a fan of fruity ones, but to transform it to the latter, just add some sultanas at the end, and you’ll have fruit scones.

As to how one should eat a cream tea, opinion is divided: jam then cream, or cream then jam? Tough question, and rather depends on where you are eating it! Traditionally cream teas hail from the southernmost counties of England, Cornwall and Devon. If you are from Devon, you eat your scone by slicing it in half, and first spreading it with cream, and then topping with jam. If you’re in Cornwall however, you would spread the cream first (and sometimes even butter before it) and then add the jam on top. I am from Somerset, the next county along, and we eat them however the heck we like! Personally, because it is technically easier and less messy, I always spread the jam first and then dollop some cream on top, as it is nigh on impossible to accurately spread the cream because crumbs of scone break off and go everywhere when you try this, and then getting the jam to balance on top of it without sliding off is tricky. If it’s your first go, perhaps try both ways, on either half of your scone, and then decide on your preferred method for your second (and third….) scone.

Plain Scones for Afternoon Tea

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Afternoon Tea | Anna International

Ingredients

  • 225g self- raising flour
  • 40g butter AT ROOM TEMPERATURE(!)
  • 1 ½ tbsps caster sugar
  • 110ml milk
  • pinch of salt

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC, and grease and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. With your fingers, rub the butter into the flour as quickly as you can, until combined. Stir in the sugar and salt.
  3. Using a knife, slowly mix the milk, a little at a time, into the mixture. It should become a soft dough – you may not need all of the milk so add it gradually, but you may need to add a little extra if it feels dry.
  4. Put the dough on a floured surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll it out to 3cm thick. (Do not knead the dough before rolling).
  5. Using a round pastry cutter, tap shapes out of the dough, or if making squares, slice into the dough in equidistant lines to create squares.
  6. Place the scones on the baking sheet, dust with a little flour, and put them into the top of the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until risen and slightly golden brown. Cool them on a wire rack and serve them warm with jam and cream.

I’m bringing a big plate of these scones (or I would be, if I’d made some!) to this week’s Fiesta Friday at the Novice Gardener. I hope you all enjoy my traditionally English offering, and let me know which you prefer, jam or cream first!

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55 thoughts on “English Afternoon Tea (and How to Make Perfect Scones)

  1. I love this post oh how I would love to do all of that. How long was the barge trip and can you stand? Id love those crates too. Afternoon tea is my fav I’m a crockery girl and earl grey and my fav place is the Dorchester for tea a real treat! Loved this post thank you x

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    1. Earl Grey is my fave too! Sometimes lapsang souchong though, as it reminds me of my childhood and my Grandpa who used to drink it. The barge trip is 45 minutes, and you can stand up and move about if you like, but you can see everything pretty well from your seats, and many of them are by huge open windows so you can lean out for photo opps. Totally recommend it! £9 one way (I think I forgot to mention). x

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      1. I rarely have lapsang but have it as a treat 🙂 when out. Don’t have it at home. Id love to do the barge trip I can’t sit long because of my back but might manage that if drugged up lol! Might take the kids sounds great x

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      2. The seats are not the most comfy, it’s true, but there is plenty of room to stand. And also you can kneel on them which might help as well (helps me when my coccyx is playing up). It was really fun, but definitely do one with a commentary if you’re taking the kids, as otherwise it might be a bit tame for them! x

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  2. Lovely post. I just bought some clotted cream in a British shop (here in Ontario) which I almost forgot about. Now I feel tempted to make your scones and some really posh tea. Thanks.

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    1. Ooh, wonderful! I love the idea that clotted cream can be bought in Canada! Was it made in the UK? The great thing is, it does last forever before you open it so I guess it can easily be shipped. I hope you enjoy your tea!

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  3. Thank you for the introduction to cream tea. Being from the US this is all new to me. I enjoyed the trip on the barge as well. Your description of how to make your cream tea depending on where you are from was great fun… it reminded me of Dr Suess’s Butter Battle book. 😉

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  4. Anna, I’ve always had a soft spot for Devonshire tea, and your scones sound like they would be perfect with a good cuppa. I’m a jam first, cream second person, as I agree it gets very messy when I try to put cream on the scone first! What a delightful recipe to share with Fiesta Friday this week!

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  5. Such a gorgeous post Anna! I love all that you planned for your colleagues and I’m sure it was enjoyed by everyone. What a delicious array of cakes and treats to choose from at the cafe… but yes, hard to go past a good cream tea! Thanks so much for sharing your recipe – I think it’s actually quite similar to the one I use too (‘Scones’ were my very first post on G&G – so rather close to my heart!) 🙂 Happy Fiesta Friday!

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    1. Great cold, but true, definitely at their best warm out of the oven! I did hear you can freeze them at the point of baking, then cook them from frozen, but I’ve yet to try this. Might have to and update this, how great would it be to have them on standby for whenever you fancy one?

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  6. beautiful pics, wonderful post. LOVE afternoon tea, had to come and see it. See you dont use cream of tartar, which makes it easier to make scones with what you have in the house 🙂

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    1. True, the raising agent is in the flour, but you can equally use plain flour and add bicarbonate of soda/cream of tartar. The only problem is that I may have all the ingredients in the house, but I rarely have clotted cream (or any cream) and without it, they just aren’t right! Maybe I can experiment with freezing some to see if I could always have a stash to hand!

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      1. ah clotted cream – yes without clotted cream scones are only half as nice……I cannot get it here so we use creme de la gruyere which is pretty much the same as clotted cream just a bit more fluid

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      2. I just did a little research into what clotted cream actually is, and I think it should be fairly easy to make yourself! Just full fat unpasteurised heavy cream, cooked slowly on a very low temperature until a thick skin (clot) forms. Found a recipe here, which calls for doing it in an oven (not v energy efficient!), but in the comments lots of people have said it can be done in a crockpot – may be worth a try! 🙂 http://www.cupcakeproject.com/2009/09/clotted-cream-recipe-making-clotted.html

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      3. Oooh google research, lovely ) good work and thanks for sharing, oven definitely not energy efficient but crockpot might be (although I would have to google that I dont think we have them here…..either way if you really want clotted cream to go with your scones you also arent going to have time to go the oven route….

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      4. Hi there thanks for sharing, if I am answering twice mea culpa, I started to reply then got side-tracked by something and lost the page. I think if I need clotted cream I will use Creme de la gruyere (which very probably is the same thing with a different name) or else fly to the UK and buy some 🙂 or pay 7 pounds to buy a cup at the local deli and not cry when I give the money to the cashier, however thanks for researching and sharing, who knows maybe one day I will need a recipe 🙂

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      5. You did! Not to worry, happens to me all the time! I even managed to switch blogs mid-comment once (no idea how!) and left the wrong comment on someone’s blog! :-S Do come and visit in the UK any time – I will get the clotted cream and bake some scones for you! 🙂

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      6. ooh what an offer 🙂 thanks for not minding I answered twice, I also left a comment somewhere on a blog, but what happened was I like the first article followed a link on the blog to a second article which happened to be on someone else blog, and then left a euphoric comment on the first persons about page on the second blog….ah well…it seme we are similar in that respect, lots of stuff in parallel. Ah and the offer to come over and eat home made scones at your house that would be WONDERFUL 🙂 happy tuesday Poli 🙂

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  7. Great post! thanks for sharing your wonderful pics. As for the scones, I am sooo tempted. I am going to have to make them scone. And yes please I will have some cream and jam on top – don’t care in which order but could use some right now! 🙂

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