There aren’t many hills I’m prepared to die on, but teatime being vastly superior to afternoon tea is one of them. Although at first sight, the two have many things in common – timing, food, tea – they are very different beasts. Afternoon tea is designed to be refined: best china, finger sandwiches, tiny cakes on towering stands. But I am not refined. I am clumsy and greedy. Teatime is more my bag.
Teatime takes all the best bits of afternoon tea – ritual, a break from whatever dull task is consuming your time, a steaming cup of something delicious – and makes them even more wonderful. Teatime treats are certainly less elegant than their afternoon tea counterparts, but they tend to be toasted and generously buttered, and so much the better for it.
Teatime, of course, isn’t unique to Britain: the Swedish and Finnish have fika, the Germans and Austrians, Kaffee und Kuchen; the desire to decompress, to take time out of increasingly busy days with friends or colleagues, or even on your own, is a universal one.
The teacake is the archetypical teatime treat: sweet, but not too sweet, made to be toasted, and the perfect vehicle for a lot of salted butter.
The teacake is the acceptable face of the hot cross bun outside of the Easter period. Dried fruit and spice enveloped in a soft enriched dough, split in two and toasted. Great British Bake Off aficionados will have seen Paul Hollywood decree that fruit shouldn’t be on the surface of the teacake, for a combination of aesthetic and sultana-burning reasons. Frankly, I like my teacake to look like a teacake, and that means visible fruit. I soak my fruit in whisky whilst the dough is proving, for a gentle background hum, but also softens it, meaning it’s less likely to catch in the oven. Make sure you flatten the teacakes down before the second prove, or your teacakes will begin to look more like the hot cross buns you have to pretend you aren’t emulating. It goes like this…
Whisky-soaked fruit teacakes
Makes: 8 fat teacakes
Takes: 4 hours, including proving
Bakes: 15-20 minutes
500g strong white bread flour
30g caster sugar
30g golden syrup
10g quick yeast
150ml whole milk
200g mixed peel and sultanas
1 egg, for glazing
Vegetable oil, for kneading
1. Tip the flour and other dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl, making sure the salt and yeast are on opposite sides of the bowl. Melt the butter, and add the milk and golden syrup; these should be melted and combined, but just warm, not hot. Add these to the mixing bowl, and half of the water. Bring the dough together with your hand, or on a low setting on a stand mixer, adding the water until all the flour has been picked up by the dough – you may not need all of the water.
2. Now whack up the speed of your mixer, or grease your elbows: knead the dough for 10 minutes, until it is soft and smooth, and loses its wetness. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, clingfilm the bowl, and leave for two hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
3. While you’re waiting for your dough to prove, soak your fruit in the whisky.
4. Turn the proved dough out of the bowl and onto a clean surface, lightly oiled with vegetable oil. Flatten the dough, drain the fruit, and tip the fruit into the centre of the dough. Knead the fruit into the dough until it is equally distributed – this can be harder than it sounds, as the slippery fruit will not want to be enveloped by the dough: persevere.
5. Line two trays with silicone mats or baking paper, and divide the dough into eight even pieces. Take each piece and form it into a tight ball by caging your hand over the top of the dough and circling it around and around the dough until it becomes a smooth and taught bun.
6. Spread the dough balls across the two trays, giving them lots of room to expand, and flatten each with a rolling pin or the palm of your hand, so that it is about half an inch thick. Lightly cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for another hour, until they are doubled in size.
7. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Remove the clingfilm from the buns, and brush gently with beaten egg. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the buns are burnished gold.
8. Allow to cool completely on a rack. To serve, cut down the middle of the bun with a bread knife, toast and slather in butter.