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.

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People who enjoy tea have a variety of teas from Rochester-based Gardenaire to chose from to pair with their meal.

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.

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Three-year aged cheddar from Red Barn Family Farms sits atop Irish soda bread. The sharp flavor of the cheddar stands out against the subtle flavors of the bread. The open sandwich is garnished with red vein sorrel sprouts for a tiny touch of tanginess.

“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.

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Microgreen onions from River Edge Gardens and fresh eggs laid by Conroy's own backyard pullet chickens. pair with the robust flavors of the marble rye. All the bread for the sandwiches is baked in house.

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).”

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The second tier always contains scones. Fruit but no sugar is added to the scones. The extra flavor comes from the cream and jam served with the scones. People in South England say scones should be dipped in cream first then jam. People in North England say the opposite.

"It's a matter of which one do you want to touch your nose as you eat it," Conroy said. 

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.”

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The top tier of tea holds the desserts. It will always contain a fruit bread, a cake and a cookie (the English would call it a biscuit). This Irish fruit bread was soaked in Irish tea. Filled with a variety of dried fruits and carrying a earthy tea flavor, this bread is a far cry from the doorstop versions traded around Christmas.

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.

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Macrons with apricot prosecco provide a sweet, rich but not at all heavy top off to the meal.

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.

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The moist Guinness chocolate cake itself carries a dry, chocolate flavor. The maple butter cream adds the sweetness to this piece. The maple syrup used in the butter cream is from Conroy's own acreage.

“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.

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General Assignment Reporter

John joined the Post Bulletin in May 2018. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with degrees in Journalism and Japanese. Away from the office, John plays banjo, brews beer, bikes and is looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter “b.”