How to create a Christmas afternoon tea
Afternoon tea at Christmas? Why not! Gather friends and family and give your tea party a festive spin with our handy guide, including suggested themes and decoration ideas, the secrets to a perfect menu and our best-ever festive afternoon tea recipes. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Creating a Christmas afternoon tea
Give afternoon tea a Christmassy spin. Plan ahead, pick a date and send out old-fashioned paper invites, if you have time: people get booked up at this time of year. If you usually host family on Christmas Eve, it could also make a lovely alternative to a buffet or big dinner, and get everyone in the mood for the big day. You could even host one in the days after Christmas for visiting guests – when there’s leftover turkey to make turkey finger sandwiches, and people are in the mood for bitesize morsels after the excesses of the big day.
A Christmas afternoon tea gives you carte blanche to get creative with the decorations and tablescape. Do you fancy a traditional Christmas theme with sprigs of holly and ivy, a winter wonderland with a white tablecloth, papercraft trees and a village of ceramic Christmas houses, or an OTT look with candy canes and jewel-bright baubles?
If you’re feeling extra creative, follow the lead of many London hotels who offer afternoon teas inspired by books and films (think The Nutcracker, Elf, The Snowman or Frozen – especially if it’s a family gathering with young children).
And be sure to use your best china cups, cake plates and a cake stand (charity shops are a great source of second-hand tiered stands). Our expert guide to throwing a classic afternoon tea at home has more planning tips.
Planning the menu
Start with the savouries. Think finger sandwiches with a mix of timeless fillings like cucumber or smoked salmon, plus a couple of festive options such as vintage cheddar with Christmas chutney. Other savoury options could include cheese straws, smoked salmon pinwheels or Christmas sausage rolls.
Scones are a must. Opt for plain scones to contrast with the rest of the rich flavours on the table (there is definitely such thing as too much mincemeat). Don’t forget the butter, cream and a strawberry or even cranberry jam as red as Rudolph’s nose.
Fill the upper tiers of your cake stand with mince pies, macarons, cupcakes and other Christmassy small cakes and bakes. If you want to impress, have one large showstopper bake, such as a triple layer cake or our eggnog tres leches cake (below) to cut and serve separately.
Choosing a festive tea
A pot of freshly brewed tea is a non-negotiable – you’ll need it to cut through all those rich flavours. Afternoon tea expert Kate Cartwright recommends offering a selection of classic teas such as English Breakfast or Earl Grey. Delicate white tea and refreshing green tea are also good options, or try out some of the festive blends from tea companies like Bird & Blend or Whittard.
If you fancy a glass of fizz or a spritz, check out our Christmas cocktail recipes.
12 of our best Christmas afternoon tea recipes
Choose from novelty cupcakes to decorate, classy cakes, savoury bites and elegant macarons…
Mince pies without too much faff… Clementine zest and a tot of sloe gin make shop-bought mincemeat taste homemade.
These dainty meringues sandwiched with hazelnuts and chocolate cream are a traditional Christmas treat in Romania and other parts of Europe.
A cute bake to decorate alongside the kids. Top classic vanilla cupcakes with chocolate icing, then use an up-turned jaffa cake, pretzels and sweets to make reindeer faces.
A gorgeous chocolate and ginger sponge with boozy Christmas buttercream.
It’s hard to beat a sausage roll or a pig in a blanket as a savoury Christmas nibble – and as you’d expect, when you combine the two the results are totally crowdpleasing. Mini pork sausages are wrapped up in puff pastry with bacon and a dab of cranberry sauce. See our cheese straws and mini yorkshire puds, too.
These delicate slices of roulade look so impressive arranged on a platter. The appetising cream cheese filling is flavoured with lemon zest and pink peppercorns to complement the smoked fish.
Evoke the magic of The Nutcracker with these sugarplum fairy cakes. The cupcakes contain hidden nuggets of marzipan and are topped with lemony buttercream and cardamom-caramel fairy wings.
Macarons are an elegant addition to your cake stand. These ones have a subtle yuletide twist thanks to the pairing of chocolate and chestnut, a classic festive flavour duo in France.
Sausage rolls, eat your heart out. These moreish bite-size pastries are vegetarian-friendly, and get their tangy, savoury impact from pickled walnuts and mature cheddar. It will be hard to stop at one…
Tres leches is a traditional milk-soaked cake from Mexico. This version has eggnog spicing and can easily be given an extra Christmas flourish with an icing sugar snowflake on top, making it the ideal centrepiece for a winter wonderland-themed tea.
If you’re catering for plant-based guests, bake up a batch of these vegan mince pies with a yummy crumble topping.
These fragrant stollen muffins have a fair few ingredients but making them is a breeze. Top with a blanket of snow-white icing.
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