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Ask The Chef: Tips for Holiday Entertaining with Afternoon Tea

High tea at the Savoy in London

Dear Chef Coco,

I want to hold a good old fashioned Afternoon tea this holiday season for my girl pals. Can you give me some tips and tricks to make it a smash?

- Jen L

Dear Jen L,

I have always been a big fan of afternoon tea service. Years ago I was lucky enough to have a tea historian walk me through the ultimate afternoon tea experience. I recall loving all the teapots made of china and the starched napkins in our lap as we leisurely sipped and reminisced about our favorite tea service at hotels we had been to over the years. Still today when I travel, I look for the five star hotels first for tea service as they are required to serve it to maintain their five star status. Every year for numerous years I used to go to the Drake hotel in Chicago the day after Thanksgiving as a annual girlfriends ritual to kick off the holiday season. The harpist, fountain and decorations were always a draw for the weary miracle mile shoppers.

Fast forward three decades and I was given a authentic scone recipe from England which I used for afternoon tea. The menu could be simple to grand, depending on the occasion.

Finger sandwiches, scones and a show stopper dessert are my go to menu items.

Holiday High Tea Menu

Coronation Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Smoked Salmon and Dill

Cream Cheese and Cucumber

Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam

Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch Salted Caramel Sauce

For the holidays I would decorate the house and have a afternoon tea to catch up with my girlfriends before things got too frantic with parties and company. A leisurely Saturday or Sunday afternoon would serve as a perfect break from the holiday madness that we all seem to get caught up in. For the scones, I would buy them from the local bakery since they are available all over now. The tea sandwiches can be made a day ahead and chilled. I like to use Pepperidge Farm brand (usually in the freezer section of my grocery store ) very thin white and wheat bread for the sandwiches. I make them ahead of time and cut off the crusts right before serving. If I have time, I roll the edges in mayonnaise and dredge the edges in fresh chopped parsley or chopped nuts for a elegant touch.

My favorite December dessert of all time is Sticky Date Pudding or known in the UK as Sticky Toffee Pudding. Made with Dates and served with a Butterscotch salted caramel sauce, it can't be beat for a festive, easy afternoon tea delight.

Sticky Date Pudding with Salted Caramel Butterscotch Sauce

This classic Australian dessert has roots in England. However it's on almost every dessert menu in Australia. The cake and sauce freeze beautifully and the sauce can be a go-to dessert topping for just about anything sweet. The recipe can be doubled for a 9 x 13 casserole sized cake.

Serves: 8


  • 1 1/4 cups dried seeded dates (sugar coated in a box works great)

  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/2 stick butter, softened

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • 1 cup self rising flour

  • Salted Caramel Butterscotch Sauce

  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 5 tablespoons butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 inch cake pan with non stick spray and place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan if it's not non-stick.

2. Combine dates and water, bring to a boil, turn off heat. Add baking soda and let stand 5 minutes.

3.Blend or process the date mixture with vanilla extract, butter and sugar until pureed. Add eggs and flour.

4. Pour mixture in prepared pan. Bake uncovered, in a 350 F oven for 30-45 min. It will be done when you insert a toothpick and it comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate.

5 . For butterscotch sauce, combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened.

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