Easy Holiday Fare That Fits to a Tea

At one time, serving tea meant high formality. Today, it has come home in a more casual manner. What could be cozier than inviting friends in for late afternoon tea--whether it be by a roaring fire in the living room or around the kitchen table?

Tea is also a good fit for the holidays because it allows for easy food and service with far less cost than a cocktail party.

Consider these three recipes as the anchors of your tea get-together: the ubiquitous (and always popular) watercress sandwiches flavored with a touch of smoked salmon, orange pecan scones with orange marmalade butter and carrot madeleines with two cranberries.

Depending on the number of guests, these can be augmented with bowls of mixed nuts, dried fruits (including apricots, pears, cranberries and cherries), candied ginger and Christmas candy. A dish of fudge truffles often brings it all together for chocolate lovers.

Mix a few silver pieces in with colorful assorted China serving dishes. Line them with paper doilies and garnish the plates with tiny crab apples, small pine cones, galax leaves and holly berries.

No need for flowers. Arrange pomegranates and Seckel pears (small, russet-colored pears with a sweet spicy flavor) with green leaves in an attractive bowl and place a few votive candles around it.

For those guests who might not prefer tea, a sweet sherry and/or a bottle of chilled sparkling cider could be placed on the side on a tray with small stemmed glasses.


1/3 cup chopped fresh cranberries

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups shredded carrots

1 large egg

1/3 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Put chopped cranberries and 1/4 cup granulated sugar in small microwaveable dish. Cook in microwave oven on high power (100%) until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Or cook in small saucepan over medium heat until berries are slightly soft.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, allspice and cinnamon. Set aside.

Puree shredded carrots, cooked cranberries, remaining granulated sugar and egg in food processor fitted with metal blade, about 30 seconds. With processor running, slowly pour oil and vanilla through feed tube. Mix well. Spoon flour mixture over mixture in processor. Quickly pulse just to mix; do not over-process.

Spoon batter into greased and lightly floured madeleine pans. Dot each madeleine with 2 to 3 dried cranberries; they will end up on underside.

Bake at 375 degrees until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Let rest in pans 10 minutes before removing to cooling rack. As soon as they are completely cool, place in an airtight container to keep their texture. They will keep up to 5 days at room temperature. To serve, lightly sprinkle powdered sugar through fine sieve on tops of cakes.

Makes about 12 to 16 servings.

Each serving contains about:

181 calories; 77 mg sodium; 18 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 29 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.46 gram fiber.


Using margarine makes these scones rather soft, actually perfect for tea. To serve, split them and fill with the soft orange marmalade butter. Slightly warmed, they are perfect with a hot cup of tea.


1 1/2 cups flour

6 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda


1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

7 tablespoons chilled unsalted margarine, cut into 6 pieces

1/3 cup pecan pieces

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

2/3 cup buttermilk

1 large egg

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt and cloves in food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add margarine and pulse quickly to cut margarine into flour until coarsely crumbed. Sprinkle pecans and zest over mixture. Pour buttermilk evenly over. Pulse quickly only until batter comes together; do not over-process.

Gather dough into a ball; it will be moist. On well-floured board, knead dough until cohesive and smooth, about 30 seconds. Roll dough into circle 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Use 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter to cut dough into rounds. (Dip cutter into flour each time if dough tends to stick).

Place on greased baking sheet. Brush any excess flour from scones. Mix egg with 1/2 teaspoon salt and brush on scones. Bake at 375 degrees until tops are golden, about 15 minutes. Cool on baking sheet.


2 tablespoons orange marmalade

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/2 tablespoon orange juice

Stir together marmalade, butter and orange juice in small bowl until well combined.

When scones are cool, use sharp knife to split open. Use 1/4 teaspoon Orange Marmalade Butter on each. Close scones.

To serve, reheat, covered with foil, in 250-degree oven until warmed through, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

288 calories; 330 mg sodium; 34 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 32 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.16 gram fiber.


1/2 cup light cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup light sour cream

1/4 cup roughly chopped watercress leaves

2 tablespoons minced green onion (white part only)

1 tablespoon drained capers

1/3 cup finely diced smoked salmon (about 2 ounces)

16 thin slices fresh white bread

1 large bunch watercress

Mix cream cheese, sour cream, chopped watercress, green onions, capers and salmon in small bowl. Can be made several hours ahead and refrigerated; let come to room temperature before using.

Trim crusts from bread and cut into 3-inch squares. Spread each slice with 1 tablespoon mixture. Divide bunch watercress sprigs among 8 slices, letting leaves extend slightly beyond edge of bread. Cover with remaining 8 slices. Using sharp knife, cut each sandwich in 1/2 diagonally. Sandwiches can be made several hours ahead, arranged in single layer on baking sheets, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.

Makes about 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

161 calories; 352 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.07 gram fiber.


Kitchen Tip

Madeleines are baked in a special shallow pan with scallop-shell indentations. They can be found with various sizes of indentations in cookware stores. Buy the larger size.

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