A quick glance at a table threatening to collapse under the sheer weight of plates of pastel macarons, mile-high meringue tartlets, fruit-laden pastries, mirror-shiny chocolate teacakes, and more savouries, cakes and bakes than you could shake an icing sugar duster at evidences how adept Will Torrent is at hosting an afternoon tea – even though it’s closer to dinnertime and we’re washing it down with flutes of fizz, not the more customary cuppa.
We’re gathered here to welcome Will’s latest arrival into the world. ‘Afternoon Tea at Home’ shares its surname with its two elder siblings, devoted respectively to domestic patisserie- and chocolate-making, and, like those cookbooks before it, is one its author should be proud to have parented.
Divided by theme and season, it’s a tasty trip through treats that range from the classic to the contemporary, all made accessible for the distinctively non-pro pastry chef by a man who most definitely is one.
Of course if you’re reading this here you’ll have one burning question on your mind: Is there chocolate? Yes, in fact there’s choco-LOT, with over a dozen cocoa-containing recipes scattered throughout the chapters like extra-delicious interludes. As with the other items, they include both Will’s own original creations and some choice morsels from fine dining establishments like The Dorchester, from whose tea menu the whimsical Beehive Tartlets come.
I’d argue that Chocolate & Peanut Butter Delices have never featured in any ‘classic afternoon tea’ I’ve sampled, although here they appear in the same-named chapter. But I heartily concur with Will when he describes these fancy fancies as ‘naughty little slices… rich and indulgent and not for the faint-hearted.’ The same could be said for the Triple Chocolate Cookies whose dough keen cocoa nuts need to get in their mixing bowls and lives alike.
Chocolate is a promiscuous ingredient, pairing perfectly with multiple partners; shacking up with orange here, getting down and dirty with salted caramel there, cosying up with coffee when none of its other lovers are looking – or sometimes even involving them too. It also likes to get merry with cherries; a fact that hasn’t escaped Will’s notice. In ‘Afternoon Tea at Home’, you’ll find a full on menage-a-trois of fruity beauties – Linzertorte-esque Chocolate & Cherry Tarts, Black Forest Fondant Fancies, and the Chocolate & Cherry Scones made into boozy floozies with Kirsch & Vanilla Chantilly Cream.
Will suggests you have a spring fling with his Mini Mocha Cakes, but there’s no month or indeed occasion that wouldn’t benefit from the presence of these cute cakettes, layered up with lashings of coffee meringue buttercream. So, too, the Passionfruit Jaffa Cakes that sit in the summer section.
Perhaps the Vanilla & Chocolate Battenberg is declared as apt for autumn because you can’t fail to fall for such a stylish number, its cocoa-and-cream palette a shade more sophisticated than its classically-gaudy pink-and-yellow counterpart.
If last Christmas you gave Harrods’ hybrid bakes your heart, Will’s Mince Pie Brownies will be your incoming amour; gooey, rich slabs, swirled with mincemeat and topped with a layer each of whipped brandy topping and shiny chocolate glaze. Don’t wait for the advent of Advent to whip up a batch – these sweets should be savoured all year round.
Some recipes are straightforward, some are to reserve, as Will himself puts it in the introduction for his Spiced Chocolate Domes with Brandy-soaked Raisins & Cacao Nibs, for when ‘you want to really impress someone’ (even if that someone is only yourself).
Although the final chapter’s title, ‘Something Special’, could actually apply to the full contents, this space is reserved for extra-elegant recipes like the Dark Chocolate & Yuzu Teacakes whose pleasing Japanese accent takes the familiar Tunnock’s treats to a whole new level.
Will Will do well with his brand new book? You can bet your best china on it. This is afternoon tea, Jim, but not as you know it.
- ‘Afternoon Tea at Home’ by Will Torrent with photography by Matt Russell is published by Ryland, Peters & Small, RRP £19.99. For more information and to purchase, click here
- For a review of (and recipe from) ‘Chocolate at Home’ by Will Torrent, click here
- For a review of ‘Rococo: Mastering the Art of Chocolate’ by Chantal Coady, click here
Image credits: Matt Russell