Like the three tiers of trays themselves, traditional afternoon tea has a structure. The meal is steeped in tradition.
Served between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., the afternoon meal is meant to invigorate and tide one over until dinner. The bottom tier will contain finger sandwiches; the middle tier scones with cream and jam; the top tier dessert.
Even within those restrictions, Deidre Conroy, owner and chef at Le Petit Café (301 N Broadway Ave., Rochester) finds plenty of room for local flavor and improvisation.
"We’re using some fabulous local ingredients," she said. Those local ingredients create fresh takes on various European dishes.
"We want each ingredient to be in its best element," Conroy said.
Some of those ingredients come from Conroy’s own acreage. The jam of the day when 507 sampled afternoon tea was a black raspberry. Black raspberries aren’t available in England. The ones used in this jam came from Conroy’s land. The maple syrup for the maple buttercream atop a Guinness chocolate cake was from sap from her maple trees. Cranberries used in a cream filling between biscuits were grown on her property.
All the ingredients in a spread are generally light.
"We use fresh vegetables, herbs, subtle flavors in the desserts," Conroy said. "We’re not hiding anything behind a jar of Hellman's (mayonnaise)."
And as you’d expect, the finger food is served with tea, or sometimes lemonade, prosecco, madras or other sparkling, light refreshment. Conroy serves multiple beverage choices including coffee and locally sourced tea from Rochester-based supplier Gardenaire.
"Nothing overpowers in afternoon tea -- it’s meant to revive you," Conroy said. "It’s a good entry into localized European cuisine."
Although adding local ingredients gives Conroy some freedom, she gives herself some constraints.
"There’s some elements I won’t mess with," Conroy said.
For example, the top desserts will always feature one cake and one macron. Scones are always served with cream and jam.
Whether you dip your scones in the cream first, or jam first, is a question of geography. In South England, people will say scones must be dipped in the cream first. People in North England maintain the opposite. In Minnesota, take your pick.
"It’s a matter of which do you want to touch your nose as you’re eating it," Conroy said.
Afternoon tea is served Sundays at Le Petit Café from 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. Reservations are required and must be made by 3:30 p.m. for same-day service.