Alice Part Deux: A Mad Tea Party

It is a very short chapter in Alice in Wonderland that touches upon the Mad Tea Party. However, of all the food-related events that happen in the book, this one is probably the most iconic. Which is ironic. Considering NOTHING is actually consumed in the chapter.

Before re-reading, I thought to myself “well, I will just design a little tea party based on what they eat and drink in the book”. Then I read over the chapter and discovered that Alice gets as far as pouring some tea but never even drinks it before stalking off. However, we do get a clue later in the book. The Mad Hatter is spotted with his tea and a bit of bread and butter, so I decided a bread product of some type was necessary.

Here is another unique little gem about teatime in Wonderland: it is ALWAYS teatime because TIME has been MURDERED!! What?! Explain that. You can’t. Although perhaps the fact that Time is described as being a “he” helps explain things. Because Time has been murdered, it is always…tea o’ clock, I guess we can call it. This Time standing still concept requires quite a bit of mind gymnastics and a re-reading of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time if you dwell on it for too long.

Of course then I realized that perhaps Lewis Carroll is just saying that tea is a great way to kill some time.

The take home message for me, really, is that teatime can be anytime, and teatime can be almost anything you desire it to be. Sure, it can be a formal event in England. Or an ornate ceremony in Japan.But a tea party can also be a can of Coke and chocolate chip cookies consumed sitting one the floor of one’s furniture-less studio apartment in Koreatown with a visiting parent. I had this precise experience and it was so delightful that my papa declared, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” This declaration is either a sign that A) we are both minimalists B) cookies conquer all or C) my dad and I need higher standards. I say B.

Point is, the only requirements for tea are a beverage; a nibble and a companion The companion can be a dormouse, a Cheshire cat, a friend on skype, or even a stuffed animal if that is what floats your beverage boat.

Ideally there is a pretty teacup involved. And in case you are wondering, yes that is wine I had in my teacup in the picture. I told you teatime was flexible.

If you want to go the extra mile there is also a fancy hat involved. Not a beanie or fedora. You have to be drinking PBR or a bitter no one has ever heard of if wearing that. But  a hat is just butter on the proverbial crumpet. Not that I made you crumpets. No, I wanted to be classic, so I made you scones. I may be the Book Cook but I also want to recommend a cookbook. The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham is one of my favorite tomes to cook from, after The Joy of Cooking and anything from America’s Test Kitchen Cook’s Illustrated.

These scones were on one of my lengthy “to-cook” lists. Which are housed next to my “to read”, “to watch” and “to do” lists, which are next to the Post-it Note Abuse Hotline number. I have issues.

The dough can be pretty sticky, but have a little patience and add a bit more flour or milk as needed. Chilling the dough once it is patted out, but before cutting it was also helpful. If all else fails you can just scoop gobs of dough onto a baking sheet. Either which way you will have delicious hunks of bread-y goodness to dunk into your tea or spread with jam and butter. Or if you are like me you can dunk your scones into wine. Long live teatime.

Brown Scones (adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham)

  • 1 ¼ cups flour plus more as needed
  • ¾ cup wheat bran
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 4 Tbsp. butter (Earth balance butter-y stick if you want, because “butter-y stick” is fun to say)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3-1/2 cup almond milk (I used almond, but I’m pretty sure regular would be fine too)

For glaze:

  • 2 Tbsp. almond milk (or regular)
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Heat oven to 450 Fahrenheit. Whisk together flour, wheat bran, sugar, baking powder and salt. Use a fork, pastry cutter or fingers to work the butter into flour mixture until no bigger than the size of peas. In a small bowl whisk together the egg and milk. Stir into flour mixture just until blended. If the dough is too damp add a tad bit more flour. But don’t be overzealous. This is a sticky dough and too much flour will make for tough scones. Flour a board and turn dough out onto it. Knead briefly, adding yet more flour if you need it, then pat into a round about ½ inch thick. It is sticky. You may need to chill it for a little bit in the freezer to firm up.

Right before slicing, whisk glaze ingredients together and brush on top of dough.  Cut into wedges. However many you please. I like big scones, and got eight out of this recipe although the original recipe says cut into twelve pieces. If you like tiny scones go for it. If, like me you like the satisfaction of polishing off a more substantial bread product, cut into six or eight pieces. Put on a greased or sprayed-with-nonstick-spray baking sheet and bake until…done. Baking is all about instincts. It should be between 8 and 18 minutes but ovens are variable so keep an eye on your goodies.