Jane Asher’s Tips for a Stress Free Tea Party

A portrait of Jane AsherCelebrated baker Jane Asher shares her best tips for ensuring your Time for a Cuppa event runs smoothly. Don’t forget to sign up for your free fundraising pack, it includes an exclusive recipe from Jane and other renowned bakers.

So how can  you ensure your Tea Party is stress free? Jane says,

Well of course that’s impossible really… stress is an integral part of life – I don’t suppose I’d ever get up in the mornings without a certain amount of stressful guilt about all the things I should have done and haven’t. But I’ve never, thank heavens, been a perfectionist about entertaining, and would always rather have a relaxed, fun event than worry about everything being perfect: life’s too short.

But there are a few things that can help to take the inevitable worry out of it, and, above all, never be afraid to ask for help. If you’re hoping to have a large number of people (and the more you have the more fundraising you’ll achieve, which will definitely make all the angst worthwhile) then rope in some friends or relatives to give you a hand – people are always pleased to be asked to join in, whether it’s by bringing a favourite home-made cake or by tackling the washing up.

Here are a few thoughts that may be helpful:

  1. It’s an obvious thing to say, but make lists… it’s so easy to forget something in the lead up to the party, and little things like having to find teaspoons or check the bathroom for loo paper at the last minute can add to stress. Sit calmly a few days before and make a comprehensive check list: very satisfying to be able to tick it off as time goes by!
  2. If you haven’t baked before, it’s a good idea to begin with an all-in-one recipe – this means that the cake will be fool-proof and easy to make. All-in-one recipes have some extra baking powder in the ingredients, which means that, instead of the lightness of the cake depending on the beating air into the creaming of the fat and sugar at the beginning, everything is just put into the mixing bowl at once and beaten together either in a mixer or by hand. The cake is guaranteed to rise and will taste and look fine – particularly if it’s flavoured, like a chocolate or lemon cake for example.
  3.  Scones with jam and cream are perfect for a tea party – make them ahead and freeze them as soon as they have cooled after baking. On the day, let them defrost at room temperature, then warm them in a lowish oven – around about 160C/fan140C/gas 3 – for ten minutes or so. You can even whip the cream a couple of days ahead: put it into pretty little serving dishes and cover with cling film: it’ll keep perfectly well for three to four days in the fridge.
  4.  If you’re expecting quite a large crowd it’s worth hiring a proper urn for making the tea: endless kettle boils will be stressful and keep you away from your guests. Make sure, though, that it’s a proper tea urn that you’re getting – one that’s been used for coffee in the past will undoubtedly give your tea an unpleasant coffee twang!
  5.  Do consider using paper plates – there are some very pretty ones around now for a reasonable price, and it will save you so much time and clearing up. If you feel bad about producing a lot of rubbish, at least use them for the serving plates. Real cups, though, are essential – tea out of paper or plastic cups just doesn’t taste right. Never worry about matching them, though – I’ve been told by some very posh people that it’s far smarter to serve an assortment of differently patterned china! Borrow from friends if you haven’t enough, or keep an eye out at charity shops for bargain bits.
  6.  Savoury sandwiches are always appreciated – you don’t want to serve only sweet food. I don’t think it’s a good idea to make up them too well ahead, but it’s certainly worth getting all the fillings ready the day before and storing them, covered, in the fridge. To make elegant little finger sandwiches, for once I don’t recommend using good, artisan-type bread, but a thinly-sliced packet loaf (not always easy to find, so check out where you can find it). On the morning of the day, set up a production line of fillings and bread. To be really fancy, cut off the crusts. Use a fatty layer such as butter (mixed with a little mustard even better), mayonnaise, guacamole etc on the base of the sandwiches to help prevent sogginess, position the dampest ingredients towards the top and avoid tomato at all costs unless you add it at the last minute: it’s one of the worst culprits for leaking into the bread. Some claim that a dry lettuce leaf on the top helps insulate the bread too. Wrap them as soon as they are made, to stop curly edges, and store them in the fridge, bringing them out in good time to come to room temperature, and un-wrapping them only at the last minute.