Who among us doesn’t love their “cupán tae,” especially when it’s a formal afternoon Christmas tea, that lovely tradition where a fondness for tea and a penchant for sweets comes together most agreeably mid-afternoon. While we may be more of a nation of coffee drinkers these days, the ritual of afternoon tea is still alive and well in many parts of Wilmington, Delaware.
Historically, the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and appeared in England in the mid-17th century. Tea was imported to Ireland in 1835 where it became popular with the wealthy crowd, but it was not until later in the mid-1800s that it spread to the countryside and all of Ireland was hooked. Small grocers were opened in the towns and villages and they started exchanging butter and eggs for tea and sugar. The practice of having afternoon tea, however, wasn’t established until about 1840, a time when lunch was eaten quite early in the day and dinner wasn’t served until 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening.
A proper afternoon tea is made up of three-courses — sandwiches and savories, scones and tea breads, and decadent sweets. If you plan to keep the tradition going any time soon, you might want to try these apple scones and tea sandwiches.
3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 small green apple, peeled, cored, and grated
1 large egg
1/3 cup raisins
Sugar crystals for sprinkling
Softened butter or clotted cream for serving
While currants and raisins are the most traditional addition to a batch of scones, dried cranberries or blueberries, candied ginger, fresh berries, even grated apples can be added. See Variations that follow.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl, and then stir in 1 cup of the buttermilk until soft dough begins to form.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and with floured hands, knead in the raisins and apples. Divide dough in half, and then form each half into a ball. Flatten each into a 1-inch-thick disk. With a serrated knife that has been dipped into flour, score the dough into 6 wedges. Arrange on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle the tops with the sugar crystals. Alternately, you can bake these in large (8) or mini (16) cast iron scone pans.
Bake the scones for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a skewer inserted into one of the wedges comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Makes 12 scones.