Afternoon Tea Week – an interview with The Headland’s pastry chef
Afternoon Tea is one of those quintessentially British traditions which never falls out of fashion.
The chink of bone china and the sampling of sweet treats in a desirable setting make it the perfect pastime to while away a couple of hours.
From August 8-14, Afternoon Tea Week will be enjoyed across the land and top Cornish hotel, The Headland is already planning to celebrate the 19th century custom.
The five-star hotel’s pastry chef of 12 years, Sarah Hodges, took time out of her busy schedule to lift the lid on the magic-making involved in creating an Afternoon Tea.
Sell an Afternoon Tea at The Headland to us!
It’s delicious. We do different themed teas throughout the year – for Valentine’s, spring, summer, The Witches at Halloween, mid-winter and Christmas. We also do special occasions such as the recent Jubilee. Each menu is different, but what is on the menu is what I have made.
What’s the secret to a perfect scone?
Don’t mix or handle it too much. When you have your mix on the side, don’t roll the whole thing out and roll it and roll it. 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 I can make scones in around 20 minutes.
What’s the difference between Afternoon Tea and Cream Tea?
A Cream Tea is scones (jam first!) with either tea or coffee. 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.
What’s your most popular themed Afternoon Tea?
Definitely The Witches. For ten days during October half term, we do 130 Afternoon Teas every day. The Grand Witch, who is quite scary, walks around the hotel and frightens the children! It is so popular because of the hotel’s connection with the film. It tends to be non-residents rather than residents who come in for Afternoon Tea, because it is a real treat. We do them for all sorts of occasions too – hen dos, birthday parties, weddings, etc.
You’ve devised the summer menu (which launches in July and will be available during Afternoon Tea Week) – is it based on what you like to eat?
Choosing the menu is the hardest part. I go home in the evening and spend lots of time researching recipes for the next theme. Personally, I prefer savoury – I don’t have a sweet tooth at all, but the most important thing is giving the guests what they want. People ask me if I bake at home but I’m surrounded by it all day. I’d rather make myself a nice dinner.
Is it hard work as the hotel’s pastry chef?
It can be. One day I did 9kgs each of plain and fruit scones, because we had a wedding as well as 120 people booked in for Afternoon Tea. That’s around 500 scones in total. We make them fresh every day so although people can walk into the hotel without prior booking and order them, once they’re gone, they’re gone.
What’s the most satisfying part of the job?
The end result. We have excellent customer feedback and that makes it all worthwhile.
The Headland’s summer Afternoon Tea is available in The Samphire restaurant from July 1, between 2-4pm every day. Cream teas are available in The Terrace between 12pm and 4pm.
Summer Afternoon Tea Menu
Creamy leek and thyme vol-au-vent
Salmon with lemon mayonnaise and dill
Ham and wholegrain mustard
Cornish gouda and cider chutney
Egg mayonnaise and cress
Strawberry panna cotta with Pimm’s jelly
Clotted cream sponge with raspberry and rose water
Peach melba cheesecake
Lemon meringue pie
French chocolate tart