Tea Time: Spring Tea

Finding myself newly married, enduring my first gray Pittsburgh winter, and holed up in a tiny second-floor apartment surrounded by concrete, I decided to invent a family tradition: tea on the first day of spring. I can’t remember what the menu was for that first tea, but I remember spending a good bit of time preparing and then pulling out the teacups for my husband and I to enjoy the feast together.

Over the years our tea has changed. Many years it is now just the children and I who partake as my husband might be busy with work. One year I was too sick to bake anything and I think we had to buy a baked good to enjoy. Two things are now absolute tradition: we use the early spring flowers embroidered tablecloth I found one day in a secondhand shop and we always have strawberries. On the day of spring tea I don’t care that strawberries are out of season and taste like watery styrofoam. They are a harbinger of things to come and that’s what our spring tea is all about.

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2 pounds strawberries
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. lemon zest (optional)
chocolate to decorate (optional)

Wash strawberries. Cut a tiny bit off the bottom of each berry so it can stand on a plate. Cut the green leaves off the top and, using a strawberry huller or small melon baller, gouge out a bit of the inside of the strawberry.

Soften the cream cheese and beat in an electric mixer until smooth. Add the heavy whipping cream and sugar as well as lemon zest if using. Beat until the cream and cream cheese combine and thicken. Transfer cream cheese mixture to a piping bag and pipe into the strawberries. Refrigerate if not eating immediately. Optionally, you can add a flake of chocolate to the top of each strawberry.


Tea Time: Orange Whole-Wheat Scones

This time of year is when we want something warm and comforting, but also healthy, having just come out of the abundance of the holiday season. Orange Whole-Wheat Scones fit the bill, providing the comfort of a warm scone with the assurance that the whole-wheat and honey are doing your body good, not evil. To make your tea-time even healthier, consider drinking an herbal tea such as Orange Spice, or perhaps some decaf Constant Comment.

(originally from The Kitchen of Two Sisters)

2 ½ c. whole wheat pastry flour (preferrably ground fresh, but store-bought whole-wheat flour will do)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ c. butter
2 Tbsp. honey (or try agave nectar)
¼ c. orange juice
2 tsp. grated orange rind
¼ c. milk

Preheat oven to 400F. Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in butter and rub in with fingers until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine wet ingredients and add to flour mixture, mixing lightly to combine. If dough feels too wet, add just a bit more flour. Knead dough lightly and pat out on a flat surface. Cut rounds or triangles.

Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes.

Makes 12.

Entertaining 101: Holiday Tea

I love a good tea party! Whether it is impromptu with my children with only cups of tea and toast, or planned a few days in advance with a friend or two, or a big, fancy affair with lots of people and a buffet full of tea foods. Christmas is a perfect time to bring out the teacups and sit down with someone special to drink in a few moments of the passing season.

So many of the holiday foods are well-suited for a tea party: cookies, cheese ball and crackers, chocolate truffles, muffins, cranberry-orange tea loaf, squares of gingerbread, chicken salad sandwiches with dried cranberries, cut pineapple sprinkled with lime zest, homemade candies or chocolate dipped pretzels, etc.  Holiday teas abound too. Think Gingerbread, Earl Grey, Orange Spice, Constant Comment (which now comes in decaf!!!), Chai, Sugar Cookie, or Candy Cane Lane.

Several recipes that I particularly like around the holidays are Gingerbread Muffins, Cranberry Bread, and Scottish Shortbread. Every year I watched my mother make her ritual batch of shortbread, using the handwritten recipe card from her grandmother who had immigrated from Scotland. It is simple but rich and is a perfect accompaniment to tea.

Gingerbread muffins are a wonderful invention. Doesn’t everyone want to smell gingerbread scents wafting from their oven? Muffins are easy to make and easy to serve with the same delightful aroma of real gingerbread.


1 ½ c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 egg
1/3 c. oil
¼ c. molasses
1/3 c. sugar
½ c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line muffin tin. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. In another bowl, beat egg, oil, molasses and sugar, mixing well. Pour mixture into flour mixture. Mix until just moistened; add boiling water and mix until just blended. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins are done. Makes 12.

(Note: the pillow-like object behind the teapot is a “tea cozy”. You can find them for sale here.)

(Grandmother Christina Winterbottom)

6 c. flour (if you like more texture, you can substitute 1 cup of flour for 1 cup of rice flour)
1 c. sugar
2 c. butter, softened (I prefer salted butter here)

Mix the flour and sugar together then incorporate the butter – this must be done with hands to soften the butter into the flour mixture. Mix with hands until soft and doughy. Depending on the softness of your butter, this may take 5-15 minutes.

Spread dough in a 10×15” pan and prick evenly with a fork (allowing the fork to touch the bottom of the pan).

Bake 1 hour at 325F until edges just begin to golden – cut into 1-inch squares or 2-inch fingers while hot.


2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. orange juice
2 Tbsp. butter or vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. roughly chopped fresh cranberries
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Chop the cranberries and walnuts and set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the orange juice, orange zest, egg, vanilla and butter. Fold in the chopped cranberries and walnuts.

Spread the mixture evenly in the greased loaf pan and bake in the oven at 350F for 55 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. Will cut best if left to rest for several hours.


Tea Time: Treacle Scones

My favorite scone for fall tea times is the Treacle Scone. I love them.  I first tasted this scone on a chilly, wind-whipped day in Scotland, and ever since have found it to be a spicy comfort accompanied by a hot cup of tea.

With a pinch or two of ground ginger and some pumpkin pie spice, along with just a touch of molasses (otherwise known as treacle in the UK), these scones give you the faintest hint of gingerbread. Serve them straight from the oven with some butter, or, even better, whipped cream. A steaming pot of chai tea would be an ideal accompaniment, but any tea will do.



3 cups flour
1/4 c. sugar (1/2 cup if you like sweet scones)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or British mixed spice)
6 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. molasses
3/4 c. buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400F. Mix dry ingredients together. (I use a whisk to give a sifting action to the dry ingredients and incorporate air.) Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix the molasses and the buttermilk in a separate bowl and then add to the flour mixture.

(Note: if you don’t have buttermilk, you can make some by adding 1 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar to your milk. This milk may be thinner than buttermilk, so don’t add all the milk at once — just add as much milk as you need to make a dough.)

Mix the dough together and knead until it is smooth. Don’t over mix. Pat the dough out to 1/2-3/4-inch tall. Cut with a round biscuit cutter. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Makes about 12.