Friday, April 05, 2013

Tea Sandwiches and Angel Food Cupcakes

When I moved to DC, I thought that it was an East Coast city that got snow regularly and that it had the infrastructure to handle snow.  How wrong I was.  This city can't handle more than an inch of snow.  Normally I just make disparaging comments comparing DC to Chicago, but at the end of January I ended up cooking for a baby shower twice due to DC's lack of snow skills.

My friend Y was pregnant and her due date was the second week of February.  I met Y at work and became friends with her and C, who are both great.  So C and I arranged to have a baby shower for Y.  We sent out invites, reserved a room, assigned various people to bring food and/or drinks - the whole shebang.

Three days before the baby shower, we found out that there was a major storm heading towards the East Coast.  The weather people were predicting 6 to 12 inches of snow in one night.  But then the predictions began to be downgraded and nobody was sure how much snow we would get.  C and I decided that we would do the baby shower and if work was closed due to massive snowfall, then we would just have some extra food at home to eat instead.

In the end, we got no snow at all but work was still closed down.  Why?  Because they got a half inch of snow.  Seriously.  So I was stuck with 36 angel food cupcakes and a whole bunch of tea sandwiches, all of which needed to be eaten in the next day or two.  I ended up having a spontaneous get-together at my place with a bunch of friends to eat all of the baby shower food, and then I made it all again the next week.

It all worked out in the end. Y had her baby three weeks early, a couple of days after the rescheduled shower.  But I learned a hard lesson about DC: the idea of snow makes everything shut down.

On the other hand, I can assure you that it is really easy to make angel food cupcakes and tea sandwiches.  Trust me, I made them twice in a week.

Tea Sandwiches

Tips: my version of tea sandwiches are not the authentic English tea-time sandwiches that show up in Downton Abbey and Agatha Christie novels.  I am way too lazy to pull off something like that.  But there is a very easy way to make a quickie version of tea sandwiches: cream cheese.  Let the cream cheese sit out for several hours to soften up,and then puree it with whatever filling you like.  The cream cheese makes it easy to fill a tiny sandwich and the flavor of the cream cheese is mild enough that the other ingredients will cover it easily.

There are lots of different sandwich filling combinations.  I made four: cucumber and smoked salmon, avocado egg salad (with lettuce), proscuitto and fig, and tomato with something else that I've completely forgotten.  I used cream cheese for the smoked salmon and fig fillings.  I took 4 ounces of cream cheese and blended it with smoked salmon for the first batch of sandwiches, and blended 4 ounces of cream cheese with dried figs for the second batch of sandwiches.  I kept adding smoked salmon or fig to the cream cheese mixture until I liked the taste.  Then I just sliced up a cucumber and bought pre-sliced proscuitto to finish the sandwiches.

I can't find the recipe I used to make the avocado egg salad filling, but the basic idea is simple: make your egg salad like you normally would but stop right before you add in mayonnaise.  Instead, take a ripe avocado, mash it up, and stir it in to the egg mixture like it's mayo.  If you feel like the egg salad is too dry, you can add in some mayo (½ teaspoon at a time) until it gets to the right consistency.  I didn't add any mayo at all.  You may want to add some extra pepper and salt when using an avocado.  This is a really nice alternate, lower cholesterol version of egg salad, and can be switched out for regular egg salad wherever it's used.

There are several different ways to slice tea sandwiches.  For half of the sandwiches, I used a heart-shaped and a circle-shaped cookie cutter to get regular-shaped bread pieces.  For the other half of the sandwiches, I cut off the crust and sliced the bread into four triangle-shaped quarters.  Then I put the filling on one small piece of bread and just stuck another, matching piece of bread on to finish the sandwich.

The bread for the sandwiches was store bought.  You can use really nice bread or bake your own.  I used a couple of standard loaves from the supermarket because I needed to make enough sandwiches for 30-40 people.  I bought wheat and white bread.  The cucumber and salmon and avocado egg salad sandwiches were made with wheat bread, and the fig and proscuitto and tomato sandwiches were made with white bread.  There wasn't any particular reason for putting those fillings with those breads.  I just wanted to break up the visual stack of sandwiches with different fillings and breads.

There is no recipe for these sandwiches.

As I said above, I didn't use a recipe for the sandwiches (except for the egg salad).  I basically made it up as I went along.  I knew about the trick of blending smoked salmon with cream cheese because Oldest Sister once dated the son of a man who owned a chain of bagel shops.  For the fillings, I just picked foods that I thought would blend in a Cuisinart with cream cheese and which had a strong enough taste.  The fig/proscuitto combination came from my friend B's party, where she made a fig proscuitto pizza and everybody said it was great.  I had been to tea before and knew that cucumbers and egg salad are a classic tea sandwich filling.

When deciding which fillings to make, remember that they need to be able to hold a small sandwich together and be solid enough that they don't make a mess when you pick up and eat a sandwich.  The fourth filling was some kind of cheese and tomato slices, which didn't work very well in finger sandwiches.  The other three fillings were solid enough and sticky enough to keep everything together.

Some kind of chicken salad is also a traditional tea sandwich filling.  There are lots of variations involving curry chicken salad.

You can do a google search on tea sandwiches to get lots of ideas and visuals for this type of thing.  Most teas also involve small finger-food desserts as well.

Tea sandwiches are really easy to transport (which is why I decided to make them for a baby shower).  Pack them up gently into tupperware containers and they will be fine as long as the filling holds everything together.

I've got this set of cake stands ("tiered pedestal serving plates - set of 3" from Target), which work really well for tea sandwiches because the three tiers aren't connected at all so you can lay out three complete sets of sandwiches without having to worry about having space for the next tier's legs.  In the pictures, you can see that I've got them separated.  They also stack nicely and look like they're attached when you stack all three up.

Angel Food Cake/Cupcakes

Tips: The angel food cupcakes are really easy to make, and they bake quickly.  This is the same recipe as an angel food cake.  If you halve the ingredients, you get about 15 cupcakes.  I used the full set of ingredients and got about 32 cupcakes.

Angel food cakes use a lot of egg whites.  You will need to figure out what to do with the leftover egg yolks.  A good idea is to find a recipe that uses only egg yolks and then make the angel food cake and the other recipe in the same week.  You can store either the whites or the yolks after the eggs are separated for up to a week.  Many custard recipes used more yolks than whole eggs.  You can also just buy egg whites or egg white substitutes instead.  I found that 12 large eggs produced slightly more than 1 ½ cups of egg whites.

Make sure to let the egg whites sit out to warm up to room temperature.  It will help when you are beating them.  Cold egg whites will not beat as well.

Make sure to sift the flour and powdered sugar together three times.  You need a lot of air in an angel food cake - that's why it rises when it's hot and deflates when it's cold.  The triple sifting adds in more air than just beating the egg whites do.

Add the sugar very gradually to the egg whites as you beat them.  You want to start adding the sugar after you've been beating the egg whites for a minute or two, when they have the foamy consistency of bubble bath.  Then very slowly add the sugar while beating.  I measure out the sugar into a small bowl, and then held the beater with my right hand while I picked up handfuls of sugar with my left hand.  I added the sugar in a small stream to the egg whites while still running the beater.  If you've got a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, this part is quite a bit easier.  I timed this part: 10 minutes to add 1 cup of sugar.  That may sound like it's overkill, but I prefer to be a little bit paranoid at this point because I really don't want to waste 12 eggs.

Once the cupcakes are baked, take them out of the pan and let them cool in their paper cups on a rack.  There is no good cupcake equivalent to turning a tube pan upside down.  The cupcakes will deflate a bit as they cool.  Once they're about room temperature, you can take them out of the paper cups.

The cake and cupcake will have very sticky sides.  The cooked cake will stick to your fingers if you're not careful.  When arranging the cake or cupcakes, you may want to use a little bit of water to moisten your fingertips.

To top the cupcakes, I just melted some good quality milk chocolate chips in my homemade double boiler and spooned the melted chocolate over the tops of the cupcakes.  Then I stuck a raspberry on top.  Make sure you've dried the raspberries if you do this because you don't want water to touch the chocolate.  You can also just melt the chocolate in the microwave.  Heat it in 10 second intervals, stirring in between.  Don't rush and put it in for 30 seconds or you will burn the chocolate.

You can top the cupcakes with whatever you feel like, or use nothing at all.  The cake has a wonderfully light taste and texture.  I have also thought about putting these cupcakes or cake slices with lemon curd and mango, or some kind of sorbet or gelato, or whipped cream with fruit.  Almost anything you can think of will work because the cake is firm enough to hold up a decent amount of weight.

It looks like I may have gotten this recipe from here, and she says that she got it from

Ingredients for cake
12 eggs (approximately 1 ½ cups)
1 ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

Separate eggs and discard yolks.  Measure egg whites to get 1 ½ cups.  Place in a mixing bowl and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sift confectioner’s sugar and flour together 3 times and set aside.  Add cream of tartar, extracts, and salt to egg whites.  Beat on high speed.  Gradually add sugar, beating until sugar is dissolved and stiff peaks form.  Fold in flour mixture, ¼ cup at a time.  Gently spoon into an ungreased 10 inch tube pan.  Cut through batter with a knife to remove air pockets.  Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cake springs back lightly.  Immediately invert pan.  Remove cake from pan when completely cooled.

For cupcakes: halve all ingredients (see below).  Makes 15-18 cupcakes.  Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes.

Ingredients for cupcakes

6 eggs (3/4 cup egg whites)
½ cup + 2 tablespoons cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup flour
¾ teaspoons cream of tartar
¾ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar

Thinly sliced large cucumber.  Once cucumber makes a lot of slices!
Bread sliced into triangles and stamped into circles and hearts with cookie cutters.  Starting to add the fillings.
I mixed the different types of sandwiches on one stand.
The cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches with the avocado egg salad sandwiches.

Approximately 1 1/2 cups of egg whites.

Sifted dry ingredients.

Egg whites beaten until stiff, so that the extra egg whites dropped from the beaters stay firm.

You want the dropped egg whites to stay visible for several minutes instead of immediately sinking down into the bowl.

Folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites.

This batter is very, very sticky!  I used a large serving spoon and spatula to get the batter into the cupcake holders.

You only want to fill up the cupcake cups 1/2 to 2/3 of the way.  Any more than that, and the  batter will rise over the paper tops and burn on the metal.

Completely risen cupcakes, hot from the oven.

As the cupcakes cool, they will sink down a bit.  This picture was taken about 30 minutes after the picture directly above.

Using a home-made double boiler to melt the chocolate chips.

The cupcakes with chocolate glaze and one raspberry.

No comments:

Post a Comment