An important distinction to note: in Australia what we know as "High Tea" is actually "Afternoon Tea" in its home country of England. From the late 1800s, Afternoon Tea was a meal for the upper classes taken around 4pm, pre-promenading, cards, theatre, or other social occasions, to bridge the gap between lunch and a later dinner. The middle and lower classes had a more substantial "high" tea later in the day, around five or six o’clock, in place of a late dinner. Something to keep in mind if you're inviting along an English friend, or looking for a High Tea in England!
The exact origin of High Tea is unclear, but credit is largely given to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, in the late 1800s, who remedied her "sinking feeling" in the afternoon with tea, bread and butter and cake. The idea went somewhat viral in Victorian-era terms.
Aside from having a selection of loose-leaf teas (no bags!) on offer, here are some of the essential components:
Pretty little cakes
You'll need individual bundt tins to make these sweet little cakes. They're light and spongey, and serve up a triple-hit of zingy lemon elegance: zest in the cake, a lemon syrup soaking, and a lemon juice glaze.
The shape of these enchanting fairy cakes is made by scooping out little cone-shaped mounds from the centre, slicing the mounds in half, filling the holes with whipped cream and jam, and arranging the slices into "wings".
A dazzling citrus makes for a dazzling citrus tart. Blood oranges have a richer flavour than regular oranges, with a raspberry-like edge, and create a curd that is vibrant, creamy and luxe.
Strawberry tarts made with Cointreau > all other strawberry tarts.
No high tea is complete without a ribbon sandwich, so why not go all out and make it one on dark rye bread, filled with cream cheese, watercress, roasted capsicum, black caviar, and crab meat?
It may sound like an odd combination of flavours, but these little finger sandwiches are actually the perfect little ratio of crunch, salt, soft, sweet and fresh, and balance out the other sweet flavours of a high tea.
A little honey in the biscuit mixture and a little passionfruit in the cream are the sneaky ingredients that make these moments really melt.
Whether you use mascarpone or whipped thickened cream to sandwich these delicate meringues together, these will absolutely pop on any plate. If you want to make more of a “green” statement, add a little green food colouring to the meringue mix before you shape it.
Rich chocolate icing sandwiched by roasted hazelnut shortbread... see how long you can resist dunking these in your tea.
Savoury tartlets and bites
These tartlets use a homemade yoghurt pastry shell. Adding yoghurt to pastry dough results in a light, crisp, and smooth-tasting pastry shell with a hint of tang—the perfect complement to just about any filling, but particularly leek and bacon.
Earthy mushrooms and the dried-fruit flavours of sherry are a classic Spanish combination. Here, the combo gets a German touch with some butter, cream, lemon juice and egg, which is all sauteed together then spooned into pre-baked puff pastry shells—you can use bought puff pastry to keep things simple, as you'll no doubt have your hands full with other High Tea prep.
Lobster sounds (and tastes lavish), so is a natural topping along with avocado and a smear of sour cream for these fluffy, nutty High Tea pikelets. You could also substitute picked crab meat, hot or cold smoked salmon or trout, or a fish pâté.
Stuffed eggs, or "deviled eggs", are a High-Tea tier essential. Use a piping bag with a fluted nozzle, piping out the yolk mixture in a circular motion, to make the decorative rosettes.
These scones use a secret ingredient to make them extra soft, downy and creamy.
Rather than a jam filling for these shortcakes, strawberries are tossed with the sugar in a bowl and left to sit for 30 minutes to bring out their juices—because there's nothing quite like the burst of fresh berry with smooth, milky cream.
Mousses and mousse-y cakes
A good cheesecake makes you feel like you're swimming through cumulonimbus clouds, and this is just that type of cheesecake.
Because a special occasion deserves a layer cake.
Chocolate mousse is inherently elegant in its airy, soft texture. This mousse features mastiha, an exotically aromatic Greek spice with woody cedar notes. It can be found at Greek grocers and online, but if you're in a pinch the best substitute would be vanilla bean.
These charming little meringue kisses are peak High Tea.
A hint of blue food colouring (optional, but recommended for creating a vivid colour) and a filling of cranberry and mascarpone cream makes these macarons exceptionally fancy-occasion worthy.
This week on Luke Nguyen's Food Trail, Luke heads to the Blue Mountains and enjoys a spot of high tea with a breathtaking view. Tune in 8pm, Thursdays and visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.
The classic Cherry Ripe takes on a French favourite. If that vibrant pink colour is anything to go by, you know this recipe will be a crowd-pleaser.
This Italian classic is taken to a whole new level as elegant individual dessert cakes with a rich chocolate topping.
These sweet little morsels are traditional Viennese petits-fours. Their delicate sponge layers, punchy rum-spiked apricot filling and pretty pink exteriors make them rather addictive.